Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Secrets and Truths
Whitney Hill
This first installment in a new paranormal romance series from Hill (Eternal Huntress) offers a fun, sexy romp through a North Carolina that has been divided between magical Othersiders. Lya, a half-elven bounty hunter, and vampire Cade cross paths and immediately feel a connection. Complications ensue when Lya receives an offer of a lucrative bounty on Cade, enough to clear the debt she owes for having had a romantic relationship with an elven prince. Unsure as to why someone would be willing to pay so much money to have Cade killed, and conflicted about the possibility of carrying out the act, Lya is determined to figure out Cade’s secrets. Their relationship is made even more complicated by the fact that Cade, too, could pose a significant threat to Lya.

Hill has created a lived-in world in this spin-off to her Shadows of the Otherside series, using the background of North Carolina to create a structured society of “othersiders” and “mundanes.” She manages to keep the plot engaging and tightly-written, with adequate detail in her worldbuilding, and the themes of powerlessness, class, and race are handled deftly without dragging down the story’s pace—and still increase the stakes in a satisfying way.

Cade and Lya’s dynamic bond is complex and exciting. Readers who prefer a slow burn might feel that the two get together too quickly, but others will be relieved that Hill has avoided a protracted will-they/won’t-they lead-up to the relationship. While Cade and Lya aren’t quite enemies-to-lovers, fans of the trope will enjoy their banter and eventual team-up against a greater foe. Secrets and Truths offers a few spicy sex scenes, but some moments feel less natural, including stilted conversations between Lya and Cade during steamy interactions. At times, Hill sacrifices more powerful language in favor of the explicit, but fans of smoldering romance will look forward to more stories to come.

Takeaway: Paranormal romance enthusiasts will enjoy Hill’s fast-paced, steamy contribution to the genre.

Great for fans of: Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Blood and Ash series, Nalini Singh.

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

Click here for more about Secrets and Truths
Can We Be Friends?
Jessica Lee
Leon, an energetic five-year-old kindergartner, has an adorable pet guinea pig named Panda–and he is determined to make Panda his best friend, despite what the sensitive and jumpy pet may want. The two of them enjoy each other’s company dancing and playing, but when he gets too rowdy for the guinea pig, Leon faces rejection and the challenging emotions that go along with it. As he tries to come to terms with Panda’s reserved nature, Leon suddenly discovers the little rascal has escaped from her cage, and a hilarious game of hide and seek ensues–with Leon pulling out all the stops to corral Panda back to safety.

Writer and illustrator Lee’s endearing debut, dedicated to her son, is bilingual, with a Chinese translation of the story running alongside the English text. Her polychromatic illustrations burst with energy and character, illuminating funny moments in the narrative, such as Panda’s irritation when Leon “put[s] her in a bucket,” or her crafty hiding spot behind a toy car. Lee’s exploration of oppressive emotions is noteworthy, and when Leon expresses his anger, sadness, and all-around distress at Panda’s rebuffs, younger readers will immediately empathize. The parallels between learning how to interact with a pet and developing positive friendships with people add another layer of meaning to Lee’s educational tale.

While these lessons cover valuable (if familiar ground) Lee incorporates cultural awareness in a fun, easy way for all audiences to understand–and offers young readers a chance to pick up some new words while enjoying the story. Adult readers will appreciate the romanized version of Chinese in addition to traditional characters, and young readers will be smitten with the quirky black-and-white Panda and her comical reactions to Leon’s attempts to play. The ambiguous ending will leave readers wanting to know more about this entertaining duo.

Takeaway: A valuable story of consideration for others—including a charming guinea pig—told in English and Chinese.

Great for fans of: Mo Willems’s My Friend Is Sad, Jenny Offill’s Sparky!.

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

Click here for more about Can We Be Friends?
The Charlottesville Diaries: Love, Literature and Life at Uva: 1976-81
Peter Gunter
Composed by Merton as a student at the University of Virginia at the end of the 1970s, these frank and engaging diaries reveal a young man and writer maturing in his academic chrysalis. In lively prose touched with wit, Merton’s journals find him rapidly gaining confidence as stylist and thinker as he makes his way through traditional experiences of college: romances and the misery of their endings; encounters with art and ideas; alternately being challenged, dismissed, and celebrated by professors; and the thrill of becoming, in others’ eyes, the person you’re aspiring to be.

After a fitful first couple entries, Merton soon distinguishes himself as a shrewd observer and thinker, a writer aware of the limitations of his own perspective (“Perhaps the last statement was chauvinistic,” he concedes, after generalizing about the behavior of young men and women at a dance) and often eager to mock (“The Sorrow of Young Merton”) the self-pity that creeps inevitably into any young person’s journal. His trip to Europe and a subsequent breakup are particularly arresting, the accounts alive with vivid detail, self investigation, and accounts of conversations and encounters where others get the best lines.

Wonderful collegiate bull abounds. “A writer should perceive three realities,” he declares after a visit to the Charles Dickens museum, and then persuasively delineates them. Then, an entry later, he announces “Actually, after a night’s reflection, I’ve come to suppose that this theory of ‘three realities’ is hogwash.” His utter certainty in both instances illuminates, with crack comic timing, much about young thinkers’ brains. Other highlights include his attention to the culture of the day, his disquiet at the 1980 election (won by “the Rhinestone Cowboy”), and his faceoff with a creative writing instructor who insists that there’s no place in literature for flatulence. Armed with Chaucer and Rabelais, Merton proves him wrong. The collection is unwieldy and not always flattering, but it’s a valuable contribution to the literature of growing up and the 1970s.

Takeaway: These frank, arresting diaries from a University of Virginia student in the 1970s reveal a mind and an era.

Great for fans of: Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie, Paul Duffin’s Not Too Bad.

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

AUSTRALIAN WOMEN CAN WALK : Gap Year 1979 India, Sri Lanka and Nepal
Veronica Caven Aldous
This memoir of visual artist Caven Aldous’s journey through India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal in 1979 is an ode to her feminist awakening and self-reflection on the directions of her life. She began her expedition with friends but wound up with quite different travel plans—completing the trek on her own—and, in telling the story, showcases a confident nature while always remaining humble and embracing the process of learning from experience. Caven Aldous’s writing is fluid, as she captures moments of transcendence (“Existentialism ... became very clear to me during the shikara trek”) as well as the vital details of the everyday (“wide winged eagles"), all of which combine to deliver an intriguing snapshot of her year-long journey through Asia.

Throughout, Caven Aldous finds her passion for travel and exploration intertwined with her aspirations as an artist; she beautifully mirrors these with the unexpected education she gleans from reading philosophical literature during her journey. She emphasizes the beauty of meeting strangers along the way, feeling “a wonderful closeness with them at times,” and shares her practice of Transcendental Meditation, which guided her through tough days on the road, aided in her decision making, and offered peace when she felt alone or overwhelmed.

Caven Aldous’s memory is remarkable, and the retelling of her travels intricately detailed. Readers will be able to easily imagine the far-flung settings and what traveling alone must have been like for a young woman in the late 1970s. As she explores the world, she also explores her ambition, anxiety, excitement, and weariness in subtle yet wholly human ways, while also threading crucial historical and cultural insight and context into her storytelling. Caven Aldous’s Aussie upbringing paves the way for her gap-year adventure, and the traveling methods of the era prove fascinatingly different from today, lending novelty for readers of younger generations. Fans of globetrotting and mid- to late-twentieth-century history will thoroughly relish this vintage travelogue.

Takeaway: A richly inviting diary-style memoir of a young woman’s trek through India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Great for fans of: Barbara Savage’s Miles From Nowhere, Dean Nicholson’s Nala’s World.

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

Click here for more about AUSTRALIAN WOMEN CAN WALK
Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother's Walk through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing
Laura Formentini
Formentini’s singular, bittersweet debut collection of poetry and fables follow the path of a mother’s grief and healing after losing her son to suicide. The poems have been written as letters to her son, with the earliest revealing the fresh pain and anger of her loss—in the raw “One Thing,” Formentini hauntingly declares “One thing that makes me so pissed off, / is you leaving me like this”—and the later ones charting her path toward understanding and healing, building to sentiments like “You have never Ceased But Only Transformed.” Composed as preludes to the poems, Formentini’s playful, surprising fables, meanwhile, feature animals and happy endings that emphasize a sense of connection, in “Rapid Sparkle’s Wild Ride” and “The Mystical Lake of Loving Kindness,” as well as characters of storybooks and myth, like the gnome in “The Waltz of Honeybees” or England’s most famous dragon slayer in “The Boy and the Bronze Statue.”

Threading it together: the myriad of feelings that Formentini experienced and meditated upon throughout the healing process, as she found in writing a way to process grief while also helping others. Through her well-crafted prose and verse, she shares stories of overcoming hardships and sadness, using animals, nature, and mythical characters in a way that makes difficult subjects gentler and easier to broach. (“Silly Camel,” a spider says, “I’m right here with you even when I’m not with you.”) Her characters find their way through personal perseverance, the help of friends, and acceptance of who they are.

In addition to Formentini’s writing, the beautiful illustrations by Marit Cooper enhance each fable with memorable renderings of story and character. Cooper includes the most intricate details mentioned in the tales, as well as the recurring figure of Naeltim, the sylph of the air, who plays a special role in every fable, all with simple yet meaningful olive branches woven throughout. This moving collection is a testament to the power of storytelling—and to a mother’s love.

Takeaway: A journey through grief in fable, verse, and vivid illustration, crafted to help readers heal from loss.

Great for fans of: Alexandra Vasiliu’s Healing Words: A Poetry Collection for Broken Hearts, Ellen Everett’s I Saw You As A Flower.

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

Click here for more about Twentyone Olive Trees
The Harpers' Holiday Horror
Nayla Southworth
The holidays are always guaranteed to be a hectic and eventful time for any family, but you haven’t faced the heights of dysfunction and holiday hijinx until you’ve met the Harpers. Nine-year-old Aaliyah is sure that her brother is an alien; eighteen-year-old Matthew wonders why his mom only ever pays attention to “the baby,” Aaliyah; and the grandmas are up to no good. In a fast-paced and seemingly never-ending string of mishaps after misdemeanors, the antics of this larger than life family never seem to let up. Southworth’s The Harpers’ Holiday Horror is a playful and eventful second novel in the Big Brother Little Sister series.

Sure to entertain and delight readers with its outlandish antics—an exploding microwave! A stolen TV that causes a traffic jam! Grandmas in jail! A stolen raft at the Grand Canyon!—The Harpers’ Holiday Horror feels like a younger cousin to snarky yet heartfelt entertainments like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Packed with bumptious incidents and characters, this lively seasonal follow-up at times can feel bogged down or lacking narrative momentum, as it affords point-of-view passages to a host of Harpers and others, even if only for one sentence, including the dog, amusingly named Chicken. The POVs from strangers seem to underscore how odd and annoying the Harpers and their mischief can be, but many of these characters (including some Harpers) lack a distinct and unique voice.

The most compelling relationship in the book is between Aaliyah and Matthew, who feel like real, if exaggerated, siblings—constantly annoyed with each other and getting into arguments, but ultimately have each other’s backs at the end of the day. Ultimately an ode to the bonds of family, no matter how much they cost or annoy you, Southworth’s raucous story is a unique addition to the mischievous kids' tradition.

Takeaway: The holiday shenanigans of this family of mischief makers is sure to delight young readers.

Great for fans of: Caleb Zane Huett’s Top Elf, Kim Baker’s Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School.

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

Click here for more about The Harpers' Holiday Horror
Journey of a Teetotaling Virgin: a memoir based on a true story
Fay Faron
With wit and an eye for the unexpected, writer and private eye Faron shares her coming-of-age quest to shake off a fundamentalist upbringing in the early 1970s, vividly capturing the challenge of self-discovery in a dangerous world. She lit out from Arizona in ‘72 to fulfill her “destiny as a Creative Writer”—she notes “nobody was creative enough to find anything to write about in Phoenix”—and embarked on a three year odyssey of travel in the U.S and Europe. She admits she was unprepared for the journey, though she found her expeditions exciting, albeit at times quite terrifying. Traveling mostly alone, she faced assault, poverty, language barriers, and punishing jobs (selling sewing machines; working at what turned out to be a puppy mill) to make ends meet.

Faron writes with buoyant humor, setting the stage for her travels and the era with cultural references (“*On the Radio: Mac Davis’ ‘Baby, Don't Get Hooked On Me’”) and acknowledging that maybe rather than a writer she aspired to being “a Creative Live-er.” Her targeted audience is adults, and women especially will enjoy the story, as much of Faron’s writing centers on the challenges she faced as a soul-searching woman during an era of change. She’s frank about having held attitudes that today seem retrograde—“nobody liked lesbians, not even the Woman’s Movement”—though the occasional dated expression supports the theme of Faron breaking free from her conservative upbringing.

Faron’s retelling of these experiences is engaging and impressive, with great attention to detail, and, for all the laughs, moments that stir real emotion. She’s open about her naiveté as she began to explore sexuality and the secular life, and at the heart of her narrative are richly complex friendships and romantic relationships. The story moves along at an enjoyable clip, as she shares amusing and intimate descriptions of people, places, and awkward situations. Faron’s photos—linked in ebook format—are a wonderful addition.

Takeaway: Faron’s ‘70s tour of the U.S. and beyond offers laughs, insights, and moments of real feeling.

Great for fans of: Ashley C. Ford’s Somebody’s Daughter, Tara Westover’s Educated.

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

Click here for more about Journey of a Teetotaling Virgin
Still The Night Call
Joshua Senter
In this philosophical man-against-society drama from Senter (Daisies), thirty-two-year-old Missouri dairy farmer Calem Honeycutt plans his suicide for nightfall. In under twenty-four hours, the impoverished Calem futilely attempts to tie up his life’s loose ends: assisting his bitter and aging parents, pleading with a callous banker, fishing one last time with his lonely best friend, and more. Meanwhile, Calem vents his frustrations on every imaginable current American controversy, targeting his supercilious sister Caitlyn and her liberal culture. “Everyone is telling me I gotta look out for everybody that ain’t a white, straight, gun-toting, undereducated man, but who’s looking out for me?” is Calem’s insistent refrain as he nears his chosen time of demise.

Without narrative context at the start, the rambling introduction, describing night depression, obscures the otherwise fluid, suspense-infused writing to come, as Still the Night Call offers poetic moments and thought-provoking scenes. Though impressively honest and perhaps realistic, Calem’s rampant bigotry—using “colored” to describe Black people, a vulgar insult to Africa, among many other examples—and his ranting, hyperbolic monologues against city dwellers and liberals quickly become redundant and will limit the novel’s audience. Those who share Calem’s sense of disenfranchisement, however, will value the affirmations and identify with his tragic persona. The character’s candor, affection for his family and country, and his contentment with a simple life make him understandable, if not likeable, despite his forlorn outlook.

Senter, an accomplished screenwriter, expertly balances the wrongs Calem has endured with an authentic regional voice that conveys his blend of nostalgia and raw anger. Chapters named for the hours passing before his presumed death heighten tension, and the broader theme about farmers nearing extinction awakens alarm whether you like the guy or not. Senter’s deft storytelling leads to an unexpected and fresh conclusion. Insightful and thought-provoking, Calem’s troubles will buoy those who agree with his grievances and political views—and inspire concern in those who don’t.

Takeaway: A pained, insightful, ranting drama about a farmer facing the end of his way of life.

Great for fans of: Daniel Woodrell’s The Death of Sweet Mister, Charles D. Thompson Jr’s Going Over Home: A Search for Rural Justice in an Unsettled Land, Paula vW. Dáil’s Hard Living in America’s Heartland.

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

Click here for more about Still The Night Call
God Creates Penguins: God Creating Animals Book Series
Charles Peterson
Peterson’s lighthearted children’s story, the second in his God Creating Animals series, takes place in heaven, where God is visiting with two penguins on their “creation day.” He calls the two birds into his office at the “creation station,” where they learn they’re heading to Earth and exclaim, “OMG! We’re so excited!” God goes on to tell them about themselves: they’re experts at fishing, they’re “amazing swimmers,” and they’re crazy about sliding. The only catch is that one penguin gets to live on a sunny island, while the other will call cold, snowy Antarctica home.

The birds quickly sort out this dilemma without much of a struggle and get dressed for their respective climates, with one in a hat and scarf holding skis and the other wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a surfboard under its arm. Throughout the story, Brian Russell’s illustrations are simple yet charming and effective, mostly showing the pair of penguins chatting with God in his corporate-looking office. The birds are expressive and friendly, their eyes wide and curious, while God sits behind a comically tiny desk with a coffee cup that says “#1 boss.” God’s skin is purple and glittering, like the cosmos, which younger children will find surprising.

This story is a fun, quick read, content to be silly without diving into deeper meanings. It doesn’t show the penguins overcoming any kind of conflict about their respective habitats, or teach readers many facts about these adorable flightless birds. The silliness, though, is engaging as the birds choose their respective destinations by playing “rock, paper, flippers,” and God sends them flying to their new homes on airplanes, which they both agree is not quite what they expected. While older children may desire more substance, this story is a delightful way for parents and younger fans to spend time together laughing and learning to enjoy reading.

Takeaway: This lighthearted story follows two excited penguins on their “creation day” as God sends them to their surprising new homes.

Great for fans of: Rowboat Watkins’s Most Marshmallows, Gianna Marino’s Night Animals.

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

Click here for more about God Creates Penguins
Drifters
Stuart Jay Silverman
Joining incisive observation with scrupulous form, rare precision of language, and a welcome sense of play, this assured collection from Silverman (Report From the Sea of Moisture) lives up to its title, as its poems and their subjects drift through the messy complexity of life. Silverman opens in the lower orders of the food chain, offering inspired studies of the activities of ants (one “minces Chaplinesque” and “rummages / by feelers”), dragonflies, and eventually monkeys and a beached Nantucket whale. One standout considers, in vivid detail, the reproductive cycle of toads (“the eggs cook, make themselves pearls” until “ready to pop out in gluey strings”) while another considers flies dumped from a jar: “they look like raisins fallen /onto the table in the morning.”

Silverman’s poems of wasps and bug-eating geckos pin down instinctual behavior with such crisp clarity that by the time he moves on to humanity and our own instinctual behaviors, in the collection’s middle, readers will likely find themselves acutely aware of our own animal essence. The inviting family history of “Sumner”–recounted in sharply conversational language–captures the drift of lives and nations in the tumultuous 20th century. A wistful wit colors Silverman’s survey in couplets of a class reunion (“Some, flushed with all they’ve become, / Others, contentedly humdrum”), evocation of a mid-century brothel, while his detached depiction of the life and death of an unhoused couple—one of whom develops “a cough that stuck / to her like a wet leaf”—generates tremendous feeling despite his restraint.

Often crafted into inviting quatrains and octaves, with rhyme that offers consistent pleasure, surprise, and illuminating emphasis, the poems of Drifters range widely, in technique and topic. Still, they all examine life and how it’s truly lived: a thumbnail history in couplets of one family’s history with maids and housekeepers over decades doubles as an examination of class, race, and migrations. That exemplifies Silverman’s approach, which hones in on everyday detail to reveal so much more

Takeaway: An accomplished, wide-ranging collection that moves up the food chain with insight, wit, and observational power.

Great for fans of: Wallace Stevens, Edward Byrne.

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

Click here for more about Drifters
HALF A LION
kang oswald palle ekangwo
Oswald’s well-crafted debut creates a visceral experience of tribal warfare, betrayal, and courage set in a brutal fantasy world of shamans and horse warriors. Chief Kheng of the Lion tribe of Bamundia keeps an iron grip on his subjects and his three unruly sons. Haikachi, the eldest and heir, is a brilliant general who fights off the northern raiders. Cruel and selfish, seventeen-year-old middle son Neneh has his eye on the throne and isn’t above blackmail to get it. At fifteen, Sakhan, son of the chief’s second wife of the Edor tribe, has little chance to be chief because “The tribesmen already saw him as half a Lion.” After Sakhan’s girlfriend Adah is reportedly killed by the Bull tribe of Abun, Kheng declares war. But Sakhan suspects Neneh killed her because of an insult—and to create a campaign through which he can display his prowess for war.

Oswald weaves a rich, immersive world of distrust between tribes, magical rituals, and exotic animals. Fierce battle scenes show archery from horseback, war elephants, wildebeests, and fireballs. Jealousy and rivalry between the three brothers lead to lies and betrayal—“Blood is thicker than water, and bad blood is even more so.” As the complex story progresses, Chief Sheeru of the Abun searches for a magical talisman that will protect his people, last seen in Adah’s possession. And Kheng’s shaman Charchar fears a disastrous curse after the mystical ancestral sword, a symbol of peace between the tribes, goes missing.

Fantasy fans will eagerly follow along with the confident, proud, and diverse characters who display honor and courage, but whose flaws allow for betrayal and mistrust. The jungle location provides a refreshing setting, which helps make up for an overabundance of names and people to track—and a dearth of compelling female characters. Nevertheless, fans will like the intricate plot, intrigue, and sword battles of this well-written story.

Takeaway: Lovers of fantasy adventures will be immersed in this epic story with magic and fast-paced action set in an exotic world.

Great for fans of: Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy, Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld series.

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

Click here for more about HALF A LION
Dark Was the Night
Tania Lorena Rivera
Taking place one Halloween night, this focused, fast-paced thriller grabs the reader from the opening line (“What was that noise?”) and never lets go. Lucie Arnold has a loving husband, a sweet four-year-old daughter, and a secret fear of the dark. Just as she begins to explore what causes that debilitating terror, through therapy, Lucie finds herself facing her fears in the fight of her life. On Halloween night, while she and her daughter are alone, masked intruders ambush her in her home. The invaders cut the lights, plunging Lucie into her greatest fear—darkness. Caught in the shadows, she must fend for herself and her daughter, while facing her own past traumas.

Lucie is a character you can't help but root for. Despite her nyctophobia, she possesses the will and fight that makes her a strong protagonist. “I need a plan, and I do not have much time to come up with one,” she declares early in the invasion. Themes of mental health and family secrets are woven seamlessly and skillfully into the heart-pounding plot. While brief, and told with direct clarity, the story builds with confident purpose to its climax—and to a truly shocking twist that will leave readers satisfied.

This absorbing novella, Rivera’s debut, is straight to the point, alive with vivid action and mounting suspense as Lucie hides, holds her breath, studies her adversaries, and faces terrors past and present. Scenes of Lucie staring down a hallucination and rousing herself to keep up the fight have power, and Rivera’s attention to everyday detail—like how Lucie’s slippers lack grip--create a sense of authenticity. Dark Was the Night stands as a perfect read for thriller fans eager to curl up with a book as the nights grow longer. The scariest place to feel threatened is your home, and Rivera plumbs that universal vulnerability while teasing out serious thrills and chills.

Takeaway: A focused, fast-paced home-invasion thriller offering suspense and a killer plot twist.

Great for fans of: Dean Koontz’s Intensity, Stephanie Perkins’s There's Someone Inside Your House.

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

Click here for more about Dark Was the Night
WWII POWs in America and Abroad: Astounding Facts about the Imprisonment of Military and Civilians During the War
Gary Slaughter
Slaughter (Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer, 1956-1967) and co-author Joanne Fletcher Slaughter reveal little-known history about prisoners of war in the Second World War, with a focus on German and Japanese prisoners in the continental United States. Roughly 435,000 prisoners were held in America during the war, scattered in camps across the United States, far from the coast and important defense industries, and employed in civilian industry and farming. Slaughter’s emphasis is on captured German and Japanese soldiers held captive in the U.S., covering their everyday experience of captivity and their eventual journey home—though, he notes that many Japanese soldiers tended only to be captured when found unconscious on the battlefield. Although he describes escape attempts, he asserts that no one successfully escaped from a U.S. POW camp to make it back to their home country.

Slaughter discusses other prisoners held during the Second World War, such as American soldiers captured by the Japanese or Germans, civilians held by the United States in Japanese internment camps, and Jews and others murdered in the Holocaust (in the chapter “Other POWs in Axis Camps,” a title whose matter-of-fact diminishment of the horror seems accidental.) Photos and maps provide helpful context and immerse the reader into Slaughter’s stories of the “life within a life” POWs endured in captivity, and he includes excerpts from his previously published Cottonwood novels, which include POW storylines during the Second World War. Extensive appendices give welcome background, from a timeline of the war itself to a list of POW camps in Tennessee and Michigan.

An eyewitness of a prisoner of war camp in Owosso, Michigan—the setting of his novel series—Slaughter skillfully tells the story of POWs in America, and his extensive research is evident. His background in writing fiction brings historical detail to life. WWII POWs in America and Abroad ably illustrates one often hidden element of the home front in America during the Second World War.

Takeaway: History lovers will find much new and fascinating detail in this study of POWs on American soil in World War II.

Great for fans of: Arnold Krammer’s Nazi Prisoners of War in America, David Winston Fiedler’s The Enemy Among Us: POWs in Missouri During World War II.

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

Click here for more about WWII POWs in America and Abroad
Life Goes On: Wait, wait. There's more to the story!
John E. Budzinski
Budzinski (Nothing Special—Just a Life) delivers a lighthearted yet deeply thoughtful second installment of his planned three-book memoir series. Imagining a series of tongue-in-cheek conversations with St. Peter at the pearly gates, Budzinski revisits significant moments in his life that he feels may not be accurately reflected in St. Peter’s weighty “permanent record.” Declaring that there is nearly always “more to the story,” Budzinski undertakes a tour through a wide variety of his experiences, elaborating on spelling bees, bad bosses, dating through classified ads, always reflecting on his life and the legacy he will leave behind.

That tour through the past often finds Budzinski in a deeply introspective mode, mulling over the reasons behind his choices and considering how his strong opinions and nonconformist nature have affected how others see him. His self-analysis is nuanced and honest, giving just as much attention to his regrets and rough edges as he does to his strengths. Even as he focuses on himself, he never forgets his readers, addressing them often and continually inviting them into his stories by prompting them to think about their own. His casual, inviting tone and wry sense of humor give the book the feeling of a punchy but intimate late-night conversation in a coffeehouse.

The many subjects and stories often overlap, and Budzinski regularly circles back to previously mentioned ideas, making the book’s structure occasionally chaotic. But while his tales may appear to stack up haphazardly, readers will continually find gems of insight within them, some amusing, some heartening, some poignant. “Our stories do matter,” Budzinski declares, and in his last chapter, he reveals how telling his story led him to a discovery on the nature of legacy that is both surprising and satisfying. This memoir offers a lively but pointed examination of the author’s life, and encourages readers to take a similar look at their own.

Takeaway: An earnest, heartfelt memoir that invites reflection on life’s ups and downs.

Great for fans of: Dave Barry, Mike Royko

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

Click here for more about Life Goes On
Pitch, Yaw & Roll: Identity, Love & Addiction
Mary Taylor
The second book in Taylor’s Emotional Imprints Series, after Dinosaurs & Snow Angels, finds Beth Lawrence now 14 and in rural New Hampshire, where, still shaken by a tragic death, she faces the uncertainty of entering high school in a new town. It’s the end of the 1970s, and Beth, ever the outsider, doesn’t know how to fit in. Her first days in her first public school, she avoids eye contact, notes that the building is “two floors of gray,” feels jolted by the strangeness of being in classes with boys, and can’t help coming across as a “preppy snob” and “flatlander.” After all, she’s had years of French and has read Silent Spring.

Beth is an exquisite example of a young teenager of the 1970’s, facing puberty, grief, and family troubles, and her adaptation to this new environment powers a series of vivid, emotional, character-driven scenes, starting with her being questioned, at excruciating length and in front of her new peers, by the first teacher to call her name off a roster. She’s an engaging protagonist, but some secondary characters could use more development, especially as they and Beth face intense events such as suicide and aggressive, sometimes shocking behavior, such as the boy who, in a burst of raw language, calls her a tease after she refuses to drink on a date.

Though this is the second installment, readers choosing this book first will find the story clear and inviting—the plot is clear and powerful enough to enjoy on its own, and the length and pacing are perfect for young readers, who will connect with Beth’s troubles and efforts to make friends, despite the time period. The simple, apt, and beautifully portrayed metaphor of the title connects a plane’s movement to Beth’s attempt to orient her own life: inspired by the memory of learning what it means to “pitch, yaw, and roll,” Beth yearns to adapt to “this big unfurling pattern of the unfamiliar.”

Takeaway: Beth faces a new town, a new school, and old anguish in this engaging and relatable coming-of-age novel.

Great for fans of: Paul Zindel, Bonnie Sue-Hitchcock’s The Smell of Other People's Houses.

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

Click here for more about Pitch, Yaw & Roll
Ellery's Magic Bicycle
Maria Monte
This tender coming-of-age story is rich with emotion and nostalgia. When Ellery happens upon an old, beat-up bicycle, she is amazed to discover it’s magic–and eagerly asks it to come home with her. Thus begins an enchanted relationship between the two, with the bicycle entertaining her, protecting her, and even getting bigger as Ellery grows. The pair become inseparable, until Ellery is suddenly an adult with a family of her own. Eventually, Ellery forgets about the bicycle, one day replacing it with a new one for her own daughter, and the abandoned bicycle is relegated to a shed, where it longs to be part of the family again.

Adult readers will find themselves reminiscing about their own childhood after reading Monte’s (Eve’s Ducklings) powerful narrative. When Ellery grows too busy for more than “quick rides at sunrise” and stops depending on the bicycle, readers will mourn the loss of innocence right alongside her. Kids will adore the bicycle’s human qualities—such as the way it comforts Ellery when her best friend moves away or soars over jumps with her during adolescence—and cheer for its last-minute rescue from the “rubbish van.” Saunders’s dreamy illustrations add a cozy ambience to a deeply emotional story, highlighting the gorgeous natural backdrop of Ellery’s fanciful adventures.

Though Ellery’s fairy-tale-like discovery of the enchanted bicycle may leave some readers with questions, the beauty of the story will quickly sweep them up. Monte skillfully portrays the importance of belonging, nestled inside an inspiring tale of friendship, loyalty, and wistful memories of childhood. The empathy between Ellery and her bicycle will give adult readers some valuable teaching moments, and the feel-good ending brings Ellery’s journey full circle. This is a must-read tearjerker.

Takeaway: This tale of a young girl and a magic bicycle is alive with warmth and feeling.

Great for fans of: Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Patchwork Bike, Mark Pett’s The Girl and the Bicycle.

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

Click here for more about Ellery's Magic Bicycle

Loading...