Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Allegiance
Darien Hsu Gee
In this arresting memoir, Gee (Friendship Bread) crafts engrossing and poetic scenes from her life that illuminate struggles with identity and feeling out of place as a Chinese-American woman. Her writing reflects both a lifelong weariness with these challenges and her resilience in carving out a maverick path as a writer and mother. Gee initially reflects on her childhood and relationships with her family; the second section discusses her own children, specifically as related to her writing career; and the final section details living in extraordinary times. Each section informs the others in distinct, nuanced ways.

Gee provides exceptionally rich and vivid detail. In “On Chinese New Year,” she describes a moment in which “smoke hangs in the air like ducks in the butcher shop, dripping fat and prosperity.” “Vine” shows off Gee's sense of humor, when she portrays herself as “a woman whose road most traveled is between the desk in her bedroom and the kitchen.” In “This Is Not A Drill,” she cleverly narrates receiving a mass text that her home of Hawai'i was being threatened by missiles, depicting the period when all she can do is wait with repetitive lines of only timestamps, written out with no text.

Gee insightfully encapsulates her experiences: in comparing a broken relationship with her brother to her father's career as a geophysicist, she writes, “fractures have their place—they allow for movement.” Gee's vulnerability regarding her flaws, fears, and hopes creates an intimate experience, giving readers an inside glimpse of her struggles, both personal and universal. This poignant, poetic memoir will draw readers in.

Takeaway: This poetic, introspective exploration of family, writing, and Chinese-American identity will delight readers.

Great for fans of: Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese, Anne Lamott.

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

Click here for more about Allegiance
Mommy, Daddy Please Teach Me!
Michael A Brown
Criminal justice specialist Michael A. Brown (What I Tell Myself series) delivers an enthusiastic call to action for parents to view everyday things as learning opportunities for their children. The book is narrated from the perspective of a child—observant and future-conscious—who challenges parents to teach their children skills based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from getting dressed and budgeting to building self-esteem.

The intended audience of this book is somewhat unclear. The simple rhymes suggest that the book is for children, but, unusually, the implied child narrator only addresses readers who are parents and seems to serve mostly as a vessel for parenting advice: “Work every day of the year?/ Don’t just work; teach me how!/ You make money for me somehow.” The book doesn’t have characters per se; the illustrations show a variety of families with children of different ages, and the narrator is not identified. The rhyming text is sometimes repetitive (for example, rhyming “me first” with “me first”) and occasionally vaguely ominous (“You gave me life. Now I am here/ For who knows how many years”).

Expressive digital illustrations by Zoe Ranucci breathe life into individual pages, depicting diverse parents and curious children engaged in everyday opportunities for growth together. The concept is unlikely to engage a child audience and therefore doesn’t quite mesh with its picture book format, but it boasts stimulating pictures and a sincere, well-intentioned message. This sweet picture-book poem encourages parents not just to care for their little ones, but to make the effort to impart practical abilities to them.

Takeaway: This sweet picture-book poem encourages parents to take time to teach their kids.

Great for fans of: Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop On Market Street, Judith Viorst’s Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday.

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

Click here for more about Mommy, Daddy Please Teach Me!
Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic
Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev
Mikheyev’s (The Hack) pleasantly unsettling science fiction follows Adam Micah—a man who can’t die, no matter how many times he’s tried. When he was young, Adam’s mother was killed in a car accident, and he was placed in the foster system. Stuck with a horrible family, he’s convinced his only way out is suicide. After shooting himself, Adam is surprised to wake up washed ashore by an ocean, with little memory of who he is. Over the years, he experiences horrific deaths multiple times, with severe headaches and memory loss worsening each time, until he is rescued by Lilyanne Beloshinski after drowning. Lilyanne and her father undertake a voyage to help Adam that unknowingly puts them directly in danger’s path. Meanwhile, DNA scientist Dr. Richard Bonn has been tracking odd reports of people with strange regenerative powers and incidents of people disappearing from the scenes of violent accidents.

As a student of philosophy with a graduate degree in theology, Mikheyev adds depth and thought-provoking passages to the story, including well-placed Bible references. Readers will enjoy the three-dimensional character of Adam, who is deemed a “romantic” from a young age. One scene finds the teenage Adam reading Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics of Love at a New York City bookstore.

Mikheyev takes readers for a spin on the darker side of immortality, portraying it as having sinister effects, attacking the body and mind, and attracting undesirable attention from opportunistic rich people desperate to grab it for themselves. The protagonist’s painful journey will resonate with readers, and readers will be hypnotized by the twists in this page-turning account of the catastrophic consequences of immortality.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a dark, philosophical take on immortality will find this sci-fi a page-turner.

Great for fans of: James Gunn’s The Immortals, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time.

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

Click here for more about Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic
Up the Creek
Alissa Grosso
Grosso (In the Bag) crafts an appealing supernatural mystery, centered around a family whose dreams have real-world consequences. Since childhood, Caitlin Walker has been able to predict the future while sleeping. With the help of a miracle drug, she lives a dreamless life, free of psychic disturbances—until her son, Adam, begins having eerily familiar nightmares. Meanwhile, Caitlin’s husband, Lance, has sleeping problems of his own, waking up in mysterious places. When Adam goes missing from Caitlin’s car, detective Sage Dorian is assigned to the case and realizes the Walker family may be the key to the unsolved murder of a young girl 19 years earlier.

There is never a dull moment in this novel, with a sprawling cast of characters and no fewer than four unsolved crimes. Certain elements, such as the relationships between Caitlin and Lance or Caitlin and Adam, feel underdeveloped, and the basic plot requires some suspension of disbelief (the characters are all remarkably unfazed by Caitlin’s psychic abilities)—but the inclusion of the otherworldly builds upon the novel’s unsettling atmosphere. To preserve ambiguity, some of the plot relies on characters remembering (and forgetting) important information from their pasts, and readers may wish for more detailed explanations for the varying and circuitous events of the story.

Grosso’s well-paced thriller deftly switches perspectives throughout, incorporating chapters that reveal the backstories for Caitlin, Lance, and Sage. The plot is engrossing, with enough twists and turns to be enjoyable despite some predictability and implausible elements. Grosso has created an immersive world of supernaturally flavored intrigue with this first series installment.

Takeaway: This psychic-centered whodunit is perfect for mystery lovers with a taste for the occult.

Great for fans of: Tana French’s In the Woods, Kay Hooper’s Touching Evil.

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

Click here for more about Up the Creek
Death in the Holler
John G. Bluck
Bluck’s (the Fantastic Tales Series) mystery pairs up Kentucky game warden Luke Ryder and his best friend, county sheriff Jim Pike, to solve the murder of Louisville gang member Carlos Rios. Ryder, a self-professed alcoholic on the brink of being fired, is pulled into the investigation because the murder occurred on a farm during black powder hunting season in 2029. His alcoholism haunts his attempts to become a respectable lawman; Pike clings to the notion that solving the murder will jettison Ryder into sobriety. The men join forces to piece together an ominous puzzle and bring justice to this small Kentucky town.

Murder, gangs, and black-market marijuana run rampant in this testosterone-filled thriller. Whether a given reader connects with it will depend on their tolerance for a few elements. Many of the men surrounding Ryder enable his drinking and, surprisingly, his eventual attempts at recovery don’t get much focus. He jumps into a romantic relationship with a woman within a couple of hours of meeting her. Racism is treated as a fact of life in the Holler in 2029; while Ryder, who is white, is shown to be actively opposed to discrimination and prejudice, he describes his sister Renee as “not a racist” even though she has held off on admitting Black children to the daycare she runs because existing white clients “don’t like that idea.”

But Bluck’s mystery keeps readers quickly flipping the pages with short, fast-moving chapters and weaves comprehensive explanations into the dialogue for readers who aren’t already familiar with hunting and black powder weapons. Ryder’s struggles raise the book’s stakes: he’s trying not only to quit drinking, to avoid losing his job and pushing away the people who care about him, but also to overcome a tragic past fueling his inner demons (“The dead man seemed...like a discarded puppet.... Seeing him as a kid’s doll is my defense mechanism kicking in”). And the mystery itself is twisty, with multiple potential suspects and motives. Southern murder mystery fans will feel right at home in the Holler.

Takeaway: For Southern murder mystery fans, this whodunit and its heart-of-gold protagonist will hit a bullseye.

Great for fans of: James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux Series, Brian Panowich’s Like Lions.

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

Click here for more about Death in the Holler
The Crocodiles Will Arrive Later
Kathy McCoy
McCoy (We Don’t Talk Anymore) draws on her experience as a journalist and psychotherapist in this arresting memoir. She frankly faces her suburban childhood with an abusive father and the systemic ways in which generations of women in her life have been thwarted from achievement, and her story is powered by her determination to realize her full potential. McCoy’s opening lines irresistibly establish the stakes: “When I was five years old, at the dawn of the Fifties, my greatest fear was that I would grow up to be a San Fernando Valley housewife. My second greatest fear was nuclear annihilation.”

Painful yet witty, McCoy’s story lives up to its start, as she recounts being inspired as a child by women who dared to embrace life despite a patriarchal society’s cruelty, including her aunt Molly (a poet of model openness at odds with McCoy’s father, who abhorred sentiment) and an empathetic nun whose encouragement nudged McCoy toward a life of public expression. McCoy eschews any hints in early chapters of where her story is going, so readers will be surprised at her life’s direction: despite polio, a fungal lung disease, and a family disinclined to pay for out-of-state college, she studied journalism at Northwestern University and became a leading writer for teen publications at the dawn of the sexual revolution.

McCoy adeptly plucks readers’ heartstrings (“I marveled at how they lived so fully, even with their terrible sadness”) and, like that of any seasoned magazine pro, her sharp, polished prose abounds with candid reflections. McCoy’s recollections, both humorous and shocking, will reverberate for readers of all backgrounds.

Takeaway: This vital memoir of thriving in magazines after a difficult childhood will resonate with readers.

Great for fans of: Elaine Welteroth’s More Than Enough; Lizzie Skurnick’s Pretty Bitches.

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

Click here for more about The Crocodiles Will Arrive Later
Deliberate Duplicity
David Rohlfing
In this debut novel, a meticulously researched police procedural set in modern-day Bloomington, Ill., a team of all-too-human detectives squares off against a serial killer in a cat-and-mouse game that builds tension until the last page. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of "Fred," a mysterious sociopath, and a team led by senior detective Sasha Frank, painstakingly investigating a series of murders related by method—even though the victims seem to have no connection with each other. The police, aided by careful forensics, delve into the personal lives of the victims, until a surprise clue sets the deeply introspective Frank onto the right path.

Rohlfing has the police procedural formula down pat: each crime scene comes across in crisp detail, and the reader is right there with the detectives as they examine every detail of each body. He also shows us the techniques Frank uses to tease out the backgrounds of the victims, even down to how picked locks are investigated. Forensic fans will revel in the comprehensive autopsy details and how they interact with the overall investigation. Occasionally the reader will struggle to recall a character who hasn’t been seen in a while, but the main investigators move smoothly through each murder until the end.

Even among the technical details, the characters still shine as individuals. Detective Frank comes across with a rich personal life, including a girlfriend, two ex-wives, and grandchildren who expect his attention. Scenes where Frank doubts his junior partner’s competence and soothes a prickly medical examiner lend a welcome air of verisimilitude. The author also gives the criminals backstories and their own personal arcs, so their ultimate fates are heartbreaking—they’re not just cardboard villains. The fully realized characters and the impeccably staged investigative scenes guarantee satisfaction to any aficionado of police detective mysteries.

Takeaway: Fans of the traditional police procedural will rejoice in these well-limned investigations, populated by a cast of vibrantly drawn detectives and criminals.

Great for fans of: J.J. Marric’s Commander Gideon series, Joseph Wambaugh, Ed McBain.

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

Click here for more about Deliberate Duplicity
Juror Number 2
Efrem Sigel
Novelist Sigel (The Kermanshah Transfer) turns his sharp eye for detail to a beautifully written hybrid of true crime and memoir. After serving as a juror on a 2017 Manhattan murder trial, The People v. Abraham Cucuta, Sigel was moved to examine the societal ills that cause underprivileged youth in New York City to turn to selling drugs and joining gangs. He soon learned about decaying public housing projects, poorly run schools, and a broken criminal justice system, all of which fail to equip the children of poor families to compete in higher education or in the workplace. The only legacy these institutions bestow, he found, is generational poverty.

Sigel’s incisive reporting examines sadly common situations—such as children growing up in impoverished single-parent (often mother-led) households or relegated to foster care because their parents are incarcerated or found “unfit”—that provide a fertile breeding ground for gangs, violence, and ruined lives. The news is not all bad. Sigel ably profiles formerly incarcerated individuals who turn their lives around and then return to their old neighborhoods in an attempt to dissuade younger men from getting caught up in the losing game of guns, crime, and jail. One of these men, Omar Jackson, founded SAVE (Stand Against Violence East Harlem), which counsels youth to de-escalate precarious situations by finding ways to “quash the beef.”

Sigel’s gift for choosing evocative details immediately captivates readers. One of his fellow jurors “works nights at the Penn Station McDonalds and arrives pasty-faced and sleep-deprived.” When they’re shown photos of the shooting’s aftermath, “it looks as if most of the contents of a can of red paint had spilled onto the cement.” He adeptly recounts the events of the murder, making clear the gravity of the crime without resorting to sensationalism. Rather than dissect details from a lofty perch, Sigel shows empathy to everyone and sincerely examines his own privilege. Any reader will relish Sigel’s gripping and enlightening work.

Takeaway: True crime buffs and fans of memoirs will be enthralled by Sigel’s irresistible mix of clear reporting, empathy, and thoughtful examination of the link between poverty and violence.

Great for fans of Ann Rule, M. William Phelps, Gregg Olsen.

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

Click here for more about Juror Number 2
A Treatise of Morality
Amir Joy
Joy (I Tried, I Failed, but I Stayed Strong) chronicles the philosophy of morality and its multifaceted intricacies in this exhaustive work, pairing a pedantic approach to the historical background and transformation of moral beliefs with abundant musings on personal ethical convictions. After describing a six-stage concept of morality ranging from “Authoritative Morality (morality decided by external authorities)” to “Empirical Morality (morality examined through the use of science),” the work mostly omits original analysis, instead focusing on recapping prominent teachings from renowned philosophers.

Readers will need to have a basic understanding of, and significant interest in, the historical fluidity of philosophy and its impact on moral development; those who lack that grounding will find this textbook a struggle to read. Joy goes to great lengths to establish his anti-religious mindset and associate it with living “by logic” and perceiving “facts as the truth,” an approach that’s unlikely to resonate with religious and agnostic readers. He also detours into a discussion of racism that is insufficiently explored. The author’s overall deduction rising from his extensive review of morality is that it is “one hell of a matter to discuss,” which feels more like a starting point than a conclusion.

Though it will leave readers wanting more answers, Joy’s work offers an opportunity for self-exploration and application of moral theories. Some asides are tangential and extraneous, and attempts at humor amid a heavy topic often fall flat; however, the author unabashedly deals with current events and their moral dilemmas, which many readers will find an appealing theme. The illustrations are dark and out of place at times. More enlightenment comes from the topic summaries, a handy reference for readers craving a more organized understanding of the immense amount of information packed into this book. The work’s strength lies in its meticulous categorization of philosophical theories and moral beliefs that have shaped our understanding of ethics.

Takeaway: Atheists interested in the philosophy of morality will find this exhaustive chronicle a useful reference.

Great for fans of A.C. Grayling’s The History of Philosophy, Steven M. Cahn and Peter Markie’s Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues.

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

Click here for more about A Treatise of Morality
Value Trap
Brian M Nelson
Data “makes us feel like we are in control, but the conclusions can be misleading if the data isn’t used in the right way,” Nelson warns in his persuasive debut, which attempts to shift the market’s belief in quantitative models of stock analysis back toward a more traditional enterprise valuation approach. Nelson, the president of equity and dividend growth research at Valuentum Securities, demonstrates how quantitative evaluative techniques that base pricing and investment strategies on trends in large sets of past data can lead investors to mistake correlation for causation. This can lead to conclusions that, as he puts it, are “no more predictive than believing the divorce rate in Maine will fall if we just slow our margarine consumption” simply because those two statistics have risen and fallen together.

Nelson makes the case that “spurious” or statistically insignificant correlations mined from ambiguous past data aren’t just a danger for individual investors or investment managers, but in an era of unprecedented volatility, these strategies will continue to increase the market’s erratic tendencies (especially in the uncertain age of Covid-19). Nelson proposes instead that greater returns—and greater market stability—would come from resuming strategies based on enterprise valuation, with an emphasis on forward-looking causal data and companies’ available cash assets.

This second edition is updated with a hefty prologue that invites readers to evaluate Nelson’s track record. He surveys the relative stability of his Valuentum stocks—stocks that meet the criteria of his 15-point checklist—over the course of 2020, demonstrating them to have been at least “pandemic-resistant” when not “pandemic-proof.” Readers eager for a simple investing system may find Nelson’s thorough case-making frustrating, but this work was conceived as a cry for economic stability, not an entry-level guide, and more experienced investors will find it thought-provoking and worth their time.

Takeaway: Readers steeped in the stock market will appreciate this persuasive economic treatise, which sounds the alarm on spurious quantitative analysis.

Great for fans of Aswath Damodaran’s The Little Book of Valuation: How to Value a Company, Pick a Stock and Profit; Richard Barker’s Determining Value: Valuation Models and Financial Statements.

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

Click here for more about Value Trap
Beyond the Veil
Allyssa Izetta
This mystical debut poetry collection takes an earthy and spiritual approach to the issues of interconnectivity, trust, and consciousness. An energy worker and soundbath practitioner, Izetta sets the tone with an elaborate dedication declaring that “we are all just finding our way back Home,” and poems such as “Cosmic Love” and “Planet Earth” seek to evoke and describe that elusive place of spiritual belongingness. In the introduction, she frequently uses the word “journey” to describe the book’s structure, and the sense of continual and heady bewilderment is part of its appeal. As readers discover just over halfway through the collection, “What I saw/ were illusions/ and now/ I’m lifting the veil.”

Izetta is a declamatory poety, and her poems don’t so much preserve specific moments or images as advocate for positions. The beginning poems assert that “we want freedom,” order readers to “Open your eyes,” and—in line with the theme of journeys—state that “ we come from a place/ incomprehensible.” Such bold pronouncements are appealing for their naked confidence, but they lack specificity and imagery. When the poems do narrow their focus from the cosmic, such as in “Sadness Fairies of Love,” they are more memorable and idiosyncratic.

Izetta’s range of inquiry and aspiration will appeal to readers seeking poems that mine the fantastical from everyday life. Inherent mysticism is illuminated in “Shower Thoughts,” a poem focused on allowing one’s thoughts to be free to “whisper secrets to our conscious minds.” Izetta cultivates an open and meditative atmosphere of “infinite possibilities/ of experiences” that accumulate during the course of the journey, and any readers willing to follow Izetta to her destination will be rewarded with a new and liberated feeling.

Takeaway: This collection of free-spirited and psychonautic poems will appeal to readers with an interest in connectivity, spiritual journeys, and questioning reality.

Great for fans of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, Alice Notley’s For the Ride, CAConrad’s ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness.

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

Click here for more about Beyond the Veil
Smart Kids Rock
A.S. Roper
Roper’s simple but affirming and playful third picture book (after Smart Girls Rock and The Adventures of Smart Boys) encourages children to harness their inner superheroes for elementary school success. Showcasing boys and girls of varying skin tones, Roper stimulates kids’ curiosity by describing learning as a superpower. The clean digital clip art, paired with a white background and unobtrusive text, keeps the focus on each page’s featured character and their aptitude: “This smart girl likes to read Mystery. This smart boy likes to read History.”

The layout is plain, and some readers will crave more sophistication. Lacking an overarching narrative, Roper’s text becomes repetitive and tepid for older readers but will entertain children in pre-K and kindergarten. Roper touches on a variety of school topics (including science, art, reading, and math) and cleverly emphasizes the importance of positive social behaviors for children’s school success through several pages aimed at practicing good manners. Her premise that all youth are capable will gratify parents and teachers.

Roper’s condensed offering is well-intentioned and broadly appealing, though its minimalism makes it easy to overlook in a saturated market. Despite an absence of attention-grabbing illustrations and exciting narratives, its emphasis on sleeping to recharge “superpowers” and the reinforcement of educational values still make this picture book a sweet read. For both kids who naturally excel in school and those needing more time and assistance, Roper delivers a commanding sense of reassurance and inspiration with portraits of happy and energized children empowered by the achievement that comes from working hard at school.

Takeaway: Early elementary whiz kids and struggling students alike will benefit from this cheerful and affirming book about working hard in school.

Great for fans of Andrea Beaty’s Questioneers series, Adam Rex’s School’s First Day of School.

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

Click here for more about Smart Kids Rock
The Wisdom of the Flock
Steve Gnatz
In this blend of 18th-century romance and mystery, Gnatz playfully reimagines Benjamin Franklin as part spy, part scientist, part patriot, and all lothario.The year is 1776 and Benjamin Franklin has been sent by the newly declared United States Congress to serve as the unofficial ambassador to France. Recently widowed and with his grandsons in tow, Franklin arrives in the city hoping to rekindle his relationship with performer Marianne Davies. But a new fad, mesmerism, has hit Paris, and claimed Marianne as a major disciple. Franklin’s personal and political plans are derailed when he is placed in charge of determining whether Franz Mesmer really has the powers he claims.

Fans of revolutionary history will find much to love in this adventure, including cameos by figures such as Pierre Beaumarchais, Marie Antoinette, and Pierre Cabanis. Though clearly a work of fiction, the novel captures a real-life event: Benjamin Franklin’s commission from Louis XIV to determine the science behind Mesmer’s theory of “animal magnetism.” Franklin’s reputation as a lover is equally historically accurate, though readers may have a hard time separating the historical image of Franklin as a wise, corpulent, goutish statesman from Gnatz’s characterization of a well-muscled and sexually vigorous grandfather. This dissonance is increased by occasional use of modern terms, such as Marianne and Marie Antoinette discussing how to “contract and relax your pelvic muscles” to encourage a lover.

With a bit of imagination, Gnatz keeps his audience hooked on this fast-paced quest that takes place at the dawn of two revolutions. A helpful bibliography and brief biographical sketches of major characters are sure to please history buffs. The narrative mixes historical drama with romantic fantasy and a heavy dash of occult intrigue that will whet readers’ appetites for the next entry in the series.

Takeaway: Romance and mystery fans will enjoy this exciting reimagining of Benjamin Franklin diving into Parisian love triangles, political machinations, and psychic powers.

Great for fans of Jeff Shaara, Bernard Cornwell.

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

Click here for more about The Wisdom of the Flock
Say Hello, Kiss Goodbye
Jacquelyn Middleton
In this smoothly written contemporary romance, Middleton (Until the Last Star Fades) effortlessly touches on mental health issues and their effects on personal relationships. Leia Scott married her high school sweetheart and supported his professional hockey career for years, but the relationship went sour. At 26, she’s a divorcee stuck in a part-time job she loves while struggling to launch her sustainable fashion line. Determined to live for herself, Leia has sworn off dating and complicated relationships, but a chance meeting with handsome property developer Tarquin Balfour threatens to change her resolve. The two enter a no-strings-attached, steamy relationship that quickly becomes tangled.

Leia and Tarquin’s chemistry sizzles from their meet-cute during a blackout in a London IKEA store on New Year’s Eve. Although the plot centers on their budding romance, Middleton smoothly blends aspects of their personal lives into beautifully interwoven subplots set against the backdrop of life in London and New York. The playful and racy banter between Leia and Tarquin is delightful. The heavy internal monologue and British slang may give some readers pause, but others will appreciate the insight it sheds on the characters’ motivations and actions.

Middleton elegantly balances the romance and sensuality by exploring challenges such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. While readers swoon over Tarquin’s wealth, good looks, and love of Star Wars, they also get to see a strong man’s perspective on struggling with mental illness. Leia’s gratitude journal entries throughout the story add depth to her character and plot, simultaneously highlighting an effective coping mechanism for depression and anxiety. The heaviness in certain scenes is quickly lightened by the characters’ quirks and heightened sexual tension. This sultry, yet sweetly heartfelt romance is a winner.

Takeaway: Fans of contemporary romance will rejoice in this story of falling in love through and despite mental illness.

Great for fans of Candace Bushnell, Alexa Martin.

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

Click here for more about Say Hello, Kiss Goodbye
Dream Wizard Escapes
Alexander Randall 5th
Randall’s inventive second Dream Wizard middle grade adventure (after Dream Wizard) follows a young boy, Sandy, and his clever sheepdog, Mr. Harris Tweed, after Sandy is kidnapped near his Boston home and held for ransom. Lucky for him, Mr. Tweed is extraordinarily smart—he’s “no ordinary dog”—and follows Sandy and his kidnappers to their hideout to rescue Sandy. Meanwhile, Sandy must draw on his experiences, including of the hidden back stairs in his historic home and the collaborative “Knight School” he visits in his dreams, to escape his kidnappers and reunite with his family and Mr. Tweed. Sandy’s Knight School companion, Kat, has her own mini-arc in which she is also kidnapped by Killian and Helmut and goes from Sandy’s dream acquaintance to his real-life friend.

The most exhilarating elements of Randall’s novel are the imaginative plot and evocative charcoal illustrations, which convey a wonderful sense of motion and vibrancy. Though the writing is unpolished and the dialogue repetitive, the captivating suspense of Sandy’s situation entices the reader to continue on. Sandy’s positive, can-do attitude and his meaningful relationship with Mr. Tweed somewhat redeem the verbal awkwardness. Other than Kat, the characters are not well developed, including Sandy’s younger sister, Rose, and his nameless parents, as well as the kidnappers, Killian and Helmut, and Sandy’s newfound policeman friend, Officer Miller.

In making two children the most developed characters, Randall creates a world where kids reign supreme. This is made literal in Knight School, where children are in charge. The author’s expertise in the psychology of sleep and dreaming is visible in this notion of a fantastical place that can only be accessed in slumber. Knight School allows children to collaboratively solve real-life problems through dream sequences, giving Sandy and Kat the chance to explore their imaginations and creativity. Younger readers will revel in the motivated, can-do attitude of Sandy and Mr. Tweed, particularly the problem-solving inspiration it provides.

Takeaway: Young fantasy and adventure readers will be inspired by the optimistic, positive attitude of two children and a clever dog, even in the face of danger.

Great for fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.

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

Click here for more about Dream Wizard Escapes
Elemental Natures: Selected Lyrics, Sequences, and Artwork with New Poems and the Essay "The American Voice"
Lance Lee
Lee (Homecomings) unites a selection of work from “old favorites” and poems he feels he has “neglected” in this cohesive and lyrical collection. Classic themes—such as love, pain and suffering, and religion—unfold amid vivid word imagery and profound symbolism, enveloping readers in a mix of “self and other, just as the present mixes with the past and any number of hoped-for futures.” Lee provides glimpses of a writer at work through the filter of time in this massive tome, packing a multitude of meaning into dramatic inflection and phrasing while challenging readers to open the wounds caused by being human.

Lee’s collected work shares elements of intensity and raw human experiences, from the powerful imagery of fixating on breast cancer scars during lovemaking in “Backrub,” to the merciless hard labor sentences of immigrants in “The Way Home.” He divulges his discovery of “how blood waters the earth/ how flesh is food and death” and reveals penetrating feelings of isolation and loneliness, making the selected writings read like a fragmented biography told through scenes of the author’s life. “Homecoming” presents as an homage to finding purpose through love - “I am caught in the hall of mirrors husband and wife become/ bound to the urban streetweb where only earthquakes/ remind us the world is real... here is my ocean, fog, light; my stone, my earth, my self/ my flight.”

Though the sheer amount of work presented causes feelings of repetition, Lee’s stunning writing about the natural world and bold descriptions of collective and fundamental experiences is enough to keep readers returning for more. Occasional black-and-white illustrations contextualize the works. Both returning and new readers will savor Lee’s compilation of work in various formats. This compendium will appeal to those who enjoy classic literature as well as poetry about archetypal themes.

Takeaway: This impressive collection organically mixes poetry, prose, and nonfiction and will appeal to thoughtful readers of classic literature and 20th-century verse.

Great for fans of Walt Whitman, Robert Lowell.

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

Loading...