Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Deseret Reckoning
Matthew L Huffman
Blending history, adventure, and a hunt for secrets involving a lost mine, Huffman’s time-crossed novel centers on Susan Kingsley, an ambitious assistant acquisitions specialist at the Smithsonian. In 1982, Susan lucks into a series of letters from 1870 detailing a wagon train’s journey down the Old Spanish Trail to the “Deseret Territory,” a stretch of the American southwest that the Mormons once sought to claim as a country of their own. As Susan begins to grasp the promise and significance of this find, and to hope it might lead to her long-deserved promotion, Huffman also dramatizes the experiences of the original letter writer himself, William Mitchell, a natural leader arranging a wagon train headed for “the fertile valleys of Vernal” to “carve out a homestead.”

Like readers will be, Susan is intrigued, eventually embarking on a journey to unravel the tantalizing mysteries in William’s letters, all while her ex-husband, Andrew Harrison, spirals into bitterness, closely monitoring her every move and making nasty cracks about “career women.” Huffman skillfully weaves narratives spanning across a century, between the post-Civil War West, prior to Utah statehood, and the chauvinistic 1980s, of Reagan’s war on drugs and rumors about J. Edgar Hoover’s sexual orientation. Huffman demonstrates throughout how each era’s ethos shape the choices of the characters, while their travels come with vibrant descriptions, enriching the dual quests. The temporal transitions are smooth and clear, and the different perspectives and vocabularies keep the novel feeling varied.

Huffman crafts a thoughtful but well-paced adventure, with Andrew’s inner turmoil and deceptions raising the stakes, right till the end. This novel is as much a journey of self discovery and newfound determination as it is a quest for retracing a historical trail. The welcome character of Kat, turning up deep into the story, represents female solidarity, guiding Susan’s growth, making it a tale of empowerment that will resonate with anyone interested in an exciting quest and convincing explorations of bygone socio-cultural moments.

Takeaway: Thoughtful, well-paced story of a Smithsonian acquisitionist on the Old Spanish Trail.

Comparable Titles: Serena Burdick’s The Stolen Book of Evelyn Aubrey, Lisa Wingate’s The Book of Lost Friends.

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

Click here for more about The Deseret Reckoning
As Maya Grows in the Natural World
Patricia Ambinder
Ambinder’s charming picture book for young children introduces readers to the joys of the natural world. The story centers around a little girl named Maya who loves exploring—walking along the beach with her father, searching a backyard garden for butterflies, enjoying nature-based sensory play with her friends. As the seasons change, Maya and her family go apple picking, play in piles of leaves, and paint pumpkins on the back porch. The singsong, rhyming prose reinforces Maya’s contentment: “See rainbows made by sun and rain, all with bright colors, yet no two the same, a rainbow just for you with your special name.”

This book succeeds in demonstrating the tremendous mental and emotional benefits nature holds for people of all ages. Seeing Maya delight in a variety of activities that don’t involve screens will give kids and parents new ideas to try. Importantly, many suggestions are accessible for everyone —for instance, not all families live near the beach or can take a day off to go hiking in the woods, but most people can find a moment to pause and appreciate autumn’s changing leaves or the tickle of a cat’s whiskers on their leg. Each page also features an inspiring nature-based quote to energize adults, since their participation will be required.

Soderberg’s crisp, colorful illustrations show brown-haired, blue-eyed Maya mostly looking calm and serene as she walks, sprawls, and digs in idyllic locations. Each scene is rich with texture and detail —one picture shows Maya and her friends playing beside a stream, with one child holding binoculars, one sharing apples with a squirrel, and another wearing polka-dot galoshes. There’s no shortage of wildlife, either, including friendly deer, turtles, pigeons, and even dolphins. Maya’s sweet adventures will encourage kids and their families to get outside—even if only in the backyard.

Takeaway: A little girl demonstrates the many ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Comparable Titles: David Covell’s Run Wild, Micha Archer’s Wonder Walkers.

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

Click here for more about As Maya Grows in the Natural World
A Commentary on Shakespeare's Plays
Paul Baweja
True to his one self, Paul (author of the epic-length A Philosophical Treatise of Reality) offers commentary upon all 37 of the (extant) plays of Shakespeare, with an eye toward philosophy, psychology, theology, and what wisdom the Bard offers us in an era of “social media, the internet, smartphone applications, endless technology, and virtual reality” where “morality, ethics, and religion have diminished in their standing.” Each chapter offers a brisk summary of the genre, story, and themes of each play, and then considerations of key quotations, presented in the order in which they appear in Shakespeare’s text. Paul then extrapolates thoughts—and much practical life advice—from the playwright’s words, taking the opportunity to explore the sweeping host of concerns that power the dramas, comedies, and tragedies that form the very headwaters of the English language.

Paul’s exegeses are singular and personal, unburdened by the concerns and controversies of contemporary scholarship, interested above all else in timeless lessons and “the nuance and finesse of the human condition.” The Merry Wives of Windsor, for example, finds him contemplating what we each owe in our various relationships, how children’s observations of the world shape their development, the travails that come with wealth, the virtue of patience, the elusive qualities of love, the urgent power of prayer, and the nobility of “Honour, morality, reputation, conscience, character, integrity, steadfastness, righteousness, and trustworthiness.”

His approach is to consider these quotations less as the words of characters—with their own agendas, perspectives, and failings—then as a source of general wisdom, offering nourishment and illumination of all that matters most in life. Hamlet inspires him to celebrate the power of confession (“the opportunity to reflect on our shortcomings and improve our self-awareness”), while King Lear provokes thoughts on the imperative “to secure the ‘right’ balance between [individuals’] never-ending ambitions and their true potential.” The result is an accessible, encouraging, and companionable study.

Takeaway: Inviting analysis of Shakespeare’s play, with practical wisdom.

Comparable Titles: Marjorie Garber’s Shakespeare After All, Norrie Epistein’s The Friendly Shakespeare.

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

Click here for more about A Commentary on Shakespeare's Plays
The Pollutant Speaks
Alex Cochran
Cochran’s accomplished novel debut paints a possible future of humanity on the brink of both first-contact discovery and societal collapse. At its heart is Evans Ezra Evans, an author who once poured all my “broken parts and anger” into a book also titled The Pollutant Speaks, “a long, punk epic of discontent.” Evans finds himself on the brink of eviction and being hunted by the “Cannots,” a cult that uses his book as a manifesto to justify their extreme actions. At a time when humanity has spread to “seven miserable, overpopulated systems,” Evans is rescued by the love of his life, Annie Bugatti, who assists him in securing a spot as a candidate at the prestigious Border Institute for Languages, whose mission is to understand Para, the intricate language of the alien world with which humans are desperate to establish contact, and to train ambassadors to communicate with it.

“Was it any wonder that an alien super-culture wasn’t interested in talking to us?” Evans wonders. But the Border still prepares, and the diverse supporting characters that surround Evans not only breathe life into the narrative but also prompt Evans to confront his beliefs and shift his worldviews. Crossley, a self-proclaimed messiah, proves a formidable antagonist, orchestrator of the devastating “Crush” incident that led to financial ruin for Evans and countless others, and now dedicated to sabotage the Border’s efforts. Cochran cleverly uses dark developments to catapult Evans from passive protagonist to determined leader, armed with knowledge and a “Para ring” as he plans a meticulous assault on the formidable g-Russ, a five-headed being who possesses the key to Crossley's downfall.

Telling this surprising story with brisk efficiency despite rich concepts, a sense of poetry, and welcome literary ambition, Cochran deftly portrays the power of human minds to learn, teach, and stand up to the worst of our species. Evans’s journey of self-realization and redemption features fascinating and sometimes head-spinning development of Para language and future technology. This will delight lovers of thoughtful, ambitious science fiction.

Takeaway: Ambitious first-contact novel with humanity on the verge of collapse.

Comparable Titles: Peter Cawdron’s Whatever Seeds May Fall, Nancy Kress’s Tomorrow’s Kin.

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

Click here for more about The Pollutant Speaks
WELL REMEMBERED: A KALEIDOSCOPE OF SHORT STORIES
Folker Krueger
After writing his memoir, The Lottery of Life, Krueger discovered he needed to share more stories, in this case a series of globe-trotting adventures, musings on retirement, and the realities of “the harsh world of doing business.”From indulging in cigars and rum in Cuba, to freight forwarding and establishing new business in Vietnam, to learning how to pilot gliders, he sets a stage as vast and intricate as a kaleidoscope. This collection of tales could easily be called Well Traveled since his work as a freight forwarder covered three continents, with stops in Indonesia, Australia, and Europe with stints in Jakarta, Perth, and Singapore.

As the subtitle suggests, these wide-ranging stories (a weeping woman bangs on Krueger’s door late at night in Jakarta; his general practitioner orders a tour of his urinary tract) aren’t chronological and often have the feeling of pinned-down memories, those moments that it feels nourishing to revisit as life goes on. Krueger’s knowledge of dates, names, and events is remarkably detailed, and, thanks to his powerful memory and meticulous documentarian skills, stories from mid-century are narrated as if they happened yesterday. The most personal chapter, “Expat Kids,” features parents Kurt and Rebecca, whose family is challenged trying to earn a living and raise children in a foreign country. While most of the collection is written in the first-person perspective, here Krueger shifts to third, noting that he’s used fictitious names because at the time of writing it was difficult for him “to associate directly with that emotional time.”

He concludes with his epic adventure of learning to fly. His development of the finesse and skill it takes to achieve this dream is chronicled flight by flight, sometimes excitingly—“A weightless feeling in my stomach told me I was about to fall out of the sky”—and with the precision of detail you would expect from a pilot. Despite the perils, it’s gratifying to share the journey and insights.

Takeaway: Unexpected stories of flying high and a life well traveled.

Comparable Titles: Ken Anderberg’s Indonesia: An Expat's Tale, John and Edna Lewis’s One Adventure After Another.

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

Click here for more about WELL REMEMBERED
Martha May McKenzie: and The Magic Cake Big Mistake!
Brian Starr
In his zany and appealing debut, Starr delivers a fantasy-filled middle grade tale centered on eccentric witch Martha May McKenzie, who conjures up a magic-filled cake to cheer up her grieving grandchildren after their police officer father’s death. One bite is enough to trigger the magic—but Martha’s magic goes awry when she leaves her grandson Lucas in the room with the cake—and he eats an entire slice. Suddenly, Martha, her daughter Jamie, granddaughter Trinity and grandson Lucas are hurled backward in history to the Middle Ages, when Martha’s pet goat was a beautiful witch named Jezebel.

Imaginative world-building transports readers to a playful world and time when kings ruled the land, bows and arrows were the weapons of the day, yet windows have glass and kids still call each other “nerd.” The prevailing sense of fun encourages readers just to go with it, and soon enough the stakes get higher: when an evil duke sees Trinity’s cell phone, he proclaims it to be a black magic box and vows to kill the entire family. Hijinks ensue, with the plucky family eluding the duke’s murderous efforts. Starr takes the opportunity to impart positive lessons to young readers, including the importance of apologizing when appropriate, healthy eating, and following boundaries.

Starr excels in creating descriptive prose (“This old lady had an outrageously wild mountain of untamed hair, the likes of which belonged in a zoo, with never-ending locks of beautiful golden-brown curls that fell to the floor”) and appropriate middle-grade gross-out elements like a goat urinating on Jamie (“she stuffed her wet, smelly, disgusting socks into her shoes. They made a sloshy, squishy-squashing squidgy sound”), burp clouds, and a magical fairy who makes her home in Martha’s nostril. Starr keeps the excitement going until the very last page—although the story ends on a cliffhanger. Still, middle-grade fantasy fans will relish Starr’s well-plotted and hilariously imagined tale.

Takeaway: Funny middle-grade fantasy of magic, witches, goats, and gentle gross-outs.

Comparable Titles: Max Brallier, Jacob Sager Weinstein.

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

Click here for more about Martha May McKenzie
Under the Cocoon Moon: An Olivia Penn Mystery
Kathleen Bailey
A journalist seeking to enjoy the holiday season becomes embroiled in a jewel heist murder mystery in Bailey’s third installment of her Olivia Penn Mystery series (after Silence Says the Most). Journalist Olivia Penn has returned to her hometown of Apple Station, Virginia, where she writes a newspaper advice column, aided by her widowed father with testing out recipes for the column’s “recipe extravaganza for the Christmas season.” Olivia’s budding friendship/romance with local Detective Preston Hills seems to be going smoothly until his mother Bev is targeted by a blackmailer implicating Preston’s deceased father in the heist of a $15 million necklace with local criminal Stuart Carter. When Stuart is released from prison for another crime and ends up murdered, Preston and FBI Special Agent Paul Allen seek to find the connection between the heist and the murder. Despite Preston’s reluctance at involving her, Olivia volunteers to handle the drop for the blackmail money.

Bailey simultaneously paints the idyllic picture of a small Virginia town decorated for the holidays while contrasting it against crimes of murder and high-end theft, especially as Oliva continues to search for connections between the jewel heist and murder. She uncovers some disturbing evidence, hoping she can connect the dots without putting her own life in danger. The sense of community is strong throughout the fast-paced novel as evidenced by the support of likable figures like Olivia’s neighbor Sam, a gun-wielding former Marine who accompanies Olivia when she meets up with John Mack, a less-than-truthful private investigator.

While mystery is the primary focus which keeps readers guessing amid a plethora of twists and turns, the promise of a sweet Christmas romance between Olivia and Preston adds allure to the holiday setting. Olivia is a memorable protagonist, whose caring nature is equally matched with her intelligence. And while reading the previous installments would help provide backstory, it is a standalone novel sure to please fans of cozy, holiday mysteries.

Takeaway: Cozy Christmas mystery involving blackmail, murder and theft of a $15 million necklace.

Comparable Titles: Joanne Fluke’s Christmas Dessert Murder, Donna Andrews’s Twelve Jays of Christmas.

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

Click here for more about Under the Cocoon Moon
IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN
POLI FLORES JR
Sweeping, surprising, and alive with wide-ranging empathy and sociocultural insight, this slow-burn thriller—the debut from Flores, Jr.—surveys, from the vantage point of the late 1960s, the complex history of fictional Allen County, a stretch of borderland California transformed, by the “will, sweat and blood … of Okies, Mexicans, Filipinos, Chinese, Italians, Portuguese, Swiss, southern Blacks, hustlers, cattle thieves” and more “to one of the richest farmlands in the world.” The mystery, when it eventually comes, centers on issues of who actually owns land and water, as the scion of the wealthy Allen family considers bequeathing his expansive estate to charity, much to the chagrin of many interested parties, including a robustly corrupt sheriff who quotes John Wayne while shaking down motorists.

That plot engages, but the novel’s heart is in its inspired portraiture of the characters populating this milieu, chief among them occasional narrator, the youngest son of Allen County’s Mendoza family, and his older brothers, both of whom are serving in Vietnam. As that narrator comes of age in fractious times, playing baseball and feeling rite-of-passage humiliation at a school dance, he bears witness to the ways that war ravages the older men in his life, especially his brother, Curtis, who comes home with an out-of-nowhere wife and terrifying addictions. Flores, Jr., connects those changes to the trauma endured by older veterans, too, illuminating generational cycles of violence and abuse. Here’s a story of men and murder, legacy and secrets, that plumbs the depths of why its characters might be moved to violence.

First-person passages alternate with the perspectives of characters from varied backgrounds, exploring the workings, justice system, and deep-rooted inequities of Allen County, while newspaper clippings and other surprises (prayers, a confessional, letters to and from soldiers) offer crucial context. Lean prose touched with grace keeps the pages turning, even as In the Shadow of the Sun takes more pages laying groundwork than is typical for the genre.

Takeaway: Borderland California 1960s thriller with an incisive eye to history and power.

Comparable Titles: Ruchika Tomar’s A Prayer for Travelers, Attica Locke.

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

Click here for more about IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN
Chasing the Monkey King
D.C. Alexander
The dark underbelly of tariff policy and international trade sends down-and-out Seattle investigator Lars Severin across the globe in this mystery thriller from Alexander (Blood in the Bluegrass). When two US Department of Commerce agents disappear after inspecting a shady export company in rural China, and the official inquiry proves “unusually thin,” a wealthy relative recruits Severin to find the truth. Accompanied by his old college buddy Wallace Zhang, who’s handily fluent in Mandarin, Severin retraces the steps of the missing agents through China, a trail littered with greed, corporate crime, espionage, and possibly murder.

While the investigation unfolds at a steady pace, Severin and Zhang spend their downtime drinking and exploring Severin’s troubled psyche as Alexander digs deep into his lead’s troubled state. Mired in depression, blacklisted by powerful enemies, and haunted by ghosts from his days as a homicide detective, Severin considers himself a “defrocked alcoholic burnout.” But once he takes the case the dust shakes of his wings: picking locks and pressing witnesses are second nature, even though hardboiled Severin insists on pretending he’s only in it for the money. Zhang’s companionship is also more important than Severin wants to admit, and it’s not until a violent attack leaves Zhang barely alive that Severin’s defenses finally begin to crumble, as he realizes Zhang is his last link “to how things used to be.”

The focus on Severin’s redemption is at times on-the-nose, but readers who love seeing down-and-out investigators bounce back will relish his transformation. Some incidental characters appear and vanish too quickly to register with much power, but the plotting is deep and layered, and fascinating settings are rendered in immersive detail, from a posh enclave in the San Juan Islands to colonial relics in old Shanghai. Alexander is a former federal agent whose knowledge of tariff policy and Washington bureaucracy lends authority to the finer details of “antidumping” investigations, an obscure topic readers will come away feeling expert in.

Takeaway: Slow burn mystery set amid a fascinating corner of international corporate crime.

Comparable Titles: Nelson DeMille, Brian Haig’s Man in the Middle.

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

Click here for more about Chasing the Monkey King
Making Sense of Cancer: From Its Evolutionary Origin to Its Cultural Implications and the Ultimate Solution
Jarle Breivik
Immunologist Breivik’s debut urges a way of understanding cancer and also death and life themselves, and what it means to be human. With an inviting tone, rigorous science, and a distaste for miracle cures, Breivik delves into what cancer actually is, how it develops (it’s “not just about genes that get damaged,” he notes. “It is about genes that replicate and evolve”), and what a potential cure would mean for humanity. "If we want to understand cancer, we need to see beyond the fearful monster," he argues, and he makes the case that we need to study the “elephant” that is cancer from new angles to achieve true comprehension. He breaks down the science—cell biology, gene mutation and regulation, how “Life, in all its forms, is about information.”

Making Sense of Cancer centers on the radical idea that there may never be a cure for cancer and that acceptance of this fact is key to arriving at new solutions to how cancer is viewed, treated, and prevented. Cancer does not always mean a death sentence, Breivik argues, making the case that cancer is an evolutionary occurrence in the cycle of life, human and animal. The result is a gently provocative, highly quotable (“We seem to get cancer from almost everything—especially the things that, for many, make life worth living”) book that urges greater preventative measures and takes many unexpected turns, all while inviting in both lay readers and the science-minded alike with lucid, engaging prose.

Breivik includes comic-strip style illustrations to lighten the tone, and he exhibits refreshing humility throughout this, at one point acknowledging the possibility that "some future cancer researchers will make me the laughingstock of the scientific community." Still, his exploration of questions like “Can we eliminate cancer and still be human?” is eye-opening. Readers who enjoy grounded-yet-bold medical research, contemplation of evolution, and in-depth scientific exploration will engage with Breivik’s searching, unexpected, powerfully argued vision.

Takeaway: Bold, well-argued case for accepting the potential incurability of cancer.

Comparable Titles: David Servan-Schreiber’s Anti-Cancer, Athena Aktipis's The Cheating Cell.

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

Click here for more about Making Sense of Cancer
Hundred Beam Bridge: The Lions and the Pixiuss
Ted Marr
This gripping historical saga, set in China during the Song dynasty, opens with Hasan Arslan, an expert bowyer who aspires to be designated as an officer of the Imperial Court. Despite the unfair reality that no Gelolu has ever earned his ideal rank, he desires to achieve it with his innovative design of the Gaze Mountain Bow and his calculation of the exact date of the Winter Solstice. Failure in his invention and calculation means severe repercussions for him and his family. As the fight against the Xixia nomads ensues, his devotion to the emperor is tested.

Marr weaves an intricate, unpredictable plot and offers striking insights into the culture that thrived during the Song dynasty. Hundred Beam Bridge sheds light on the beliefs and ethos of the era, such as Hasan's conviction that their heirloom Pixius (a lion body with feathered wings and the head of the dragon) is the source of their prosperity and protection, a blessing he fervently desires to preserve for his family's future, while conveying a powerful message about enduring issues of human society, including racial prejudices, gender identities, diverse religious beliefs, and corruption in politics, all as urgent in the lives of Hasan's sons and grandchildren as they are today.

Scenes of sports, training, and battle are exciting, especially the horrors of siege warfare, and Marr’s interest in military technology, like the development of mechanized crossbows, will appeal to the history-minded. Meanwhile, the story spanning 88 years of rivalry, betrayal, love, and life, illustrates the problems of navigating familial pressures living in the Imperial Court, at a time when matters of inheritance and position held paramount importance. That scope means that the elaborate web of names and lineages demands readers put in some work to keep up, though Marr develops tension over who will survive in the fights against Xixia nomads and the Jurchen Jin Empire—and the fate of key characters’ challenges to traditions and norms.

Takeaway: Rich, sweeping story of war and love in ancient China.

Comparable Titles: Anchee Min's Empress Orchid, Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven.

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

Click here for more about Hundred Beam Bridge
The Strategy of Story: Why Story Works and How You Can Make It Work for You
Nora Barry
The debut from communications strategist Barry offers an action plan for those seeking to better engage clients, prospects, employees, and even friends and family on the basis of the way people actually think and learn: narrative. Based on the premise that we not only each enjoy a good story but that stories quite literally shape our brains and “how we perceive information,” Barry digs into why narrative is so powerful and how each of us can understand and apply it more effectively. While Barry takes a no-nonsense approach and emphasizes practical communication strategies, The Strategy of Story also dissects powerful stories from history before connecting ancient approaches, including oral storytelling, to contemporary life, with a nod to social media, artificial intelligence (AI), and our societal shift from the large screen to small ones.

No matter the era or medium, Barry argues, the essential structure of stories—and the urgency of an emotionally powerful hook—endures. She shares insights and anecdotes from renowned storytellers ranging from Plato to Patton to Groucho Marx, while also applying the principles behind their success to business and communication today, drawing on her experience as a consultant for top-shelf companies. Wide-ranging examples of business successes and even the speech Peggy Noonan wrote for Ronald Reagan after the Challenger tragedy persuasively demonstrate the power of establishing a narrative in challenging, inspiring, and forcing us to go deeper or see problems in a new light, something any goal-oriented business leader would desire.

In a direct, friendly style, Barry blends the conceptual and the pragmatic, boiling the heady stuff down into actionable tips like relying on graphics to reinforce one’s message, establishing clear beginnings, middles, and ends, understanding one’s audience to win its trust, and the power of gesturing, timing and humor. What resonates most powerfully is her conviction that, no matter how technology-reliant society becomes or how far we venture from traditional support structures, story will remain central to our lives. Why? Because it touches our humanity.

Takeaway: Potent, practical guide to the power of storytelling in business and life.

Comparable Titles: Philipp Humm’s The Storytelling Method, Janine Kurnoff’s Everyday Business Storytelling.

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

The Dirt Girl
Jodi Dee
Most kids encounter school bullies at some point, and the impact can be detrimental to their mental and emotional well-being. In Dee’s heartwarming picture book for young children, a little girl named Zafera demonstrates the power of being different. When Zafera first starts school, she is excited to play with other kids—but because she often has dirt on her face and twigs in her hair, she is shunned and mocked. Despite this cruelty, Zafera continues to smile and be herself—and one day, she delivers handmade invitations to her birthday party. Out of morbid curiosity, all of her classmates agree to attend—and they soon discover Zafera’s connection with the natural world is the source of her peace.

After the party, Zafera’s problem reaches a swift conclusion: She is accepted by everyone, including the most popular girl at school. While achieving this sort of social clout is desirable for young people, it also feels contrary to the book’s goals. To her credit, Zafera herself does not express any interest in the social hierarchy, instead carrying on with her simple, natural lifestyle despite others’ opinions. Interestingly, she does not struggle with any emotional fallout from the teasing, which will feel somewhat disingenuous to anyone who has dealt with bullying. On the flip side, her self-assuredness will encourage kids to embrace what makes them unique.

Sara Roche and Ed Espitia’s inviting, color-rich illustrations clearly show how Zafera stands out from the crowd. Her wild, red hair is adorned with natural ornaments, and she is shown sprawled in the grass, building structures out of sticks while her peers swing from monkey bars. Traditionally beautiful with expressive, green eyes, Zafera is an easy character to like, even if she’s not always relatable. This charming story introduces a challenge many children will face—and encourages them to respond by staying true to themselves.

Takeaway: Rousing story of a young girl staying true to herself in the face of bullying.

Comparable Titles: Patty Lovell’s Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, Ed Vere’s How to Be a Lion.

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

Click here for more about The Dirt Girl
Beyond the Nest Egg: How to Be Financially Independent Outside of a Broken System
Joe Withrow
This guide to financial independence from investor and analyst Withrow (author of The Individual is Rising) blends conspiratorial proclamations of impending financial collapse with everyday investment advice. The first half is devoted to how we arrived at the present financial state, nationally and internationally, with much spirited finger pointing, including claims of a “silent coup” perpetrated by the Federal Reserve and a portrayal of the “European-aligned globalists” behind a “Great Reset” that calls for nothing less than “overthrowing whatever’s left of our traditional economic system and replacing it with a grotesque version of neo-feudalism.”

The second half is about how to achieve financial independence through Withrow’s method of real estate investing. WIthrow makes the case that the days of “easy money,” i.e., zero or near-zero interest rate policies, are over, as global interest rates move to “more normal” historical amount. Occasionally leaning on theories from the Austrian School of Economics, Withrow provides a good, common-sense approach to running a successful real estate business, covering such aspects as the risks involved in renting, buying, selling and borrowing. He emphasizes the importance of assembling your “team,” the intricacies of insurance, and the various business structures from which one can run a real estate company. The advice is sound and actionable.

Tha alarmed and alarming open section, devoted to “deep state” theories and events beyond the average citizen’s control, ranges over a great many topics and personalities, sounding familiar but heated warnings of the coming destruction of individuals’ rights but without presenting much in the way of evidence. Finally, the book closes with a pitch to join Withrow’s organization, The Phoenician League, where he offers to “walk with you every step of the way,” on the journey to financial independence. The bottom line, whether readers buy the “silent coup” or not: real estate success is no different from any other business—it’s hard work.

Takeaway: Real-estate investment guide for readers worried about a Great Reset upending capitalism.

Comparable Titles: David Alan Vogel’s Thriving During the Great Reset, Jeff Goble’s Nest Egg.

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

Click here for more about Beyond the Nest Egg
Water Music: A Cape Cod Story
Marcia Peck
In this masterful family drama, debut novelist Peck delivers an eleven-year-old girl’s account of her beloved parents’ subtle power struggles. Immersed in the beauty of a 1956 Cape Cod summer, Lily Grainger yearns for the approval and affection of her family. As her father oversees the building of a home they can’t afford and extended family members interfere, tensions between him and Lily’s bitter mother escalate from bickering to outright tempests, much to their children’s anxiety. Across the pond, the lives of her cousin, aunt, uncle, and “another woman” vibrantly color Lily’s daily life. Amid the tumult, Hurricane Carolyn approaches the vulnerable peninsula, threatening the house construction and family harmony.

Peck acknowledges that many of the novel’s moments mimic her own life, such as summers spent on the Cape and her love of the cello. This memoir-style authenticity yields exceptionally original characters who entertain the reader with their complexity and humor, influence Lily’s choices, and set Peck’s novel above others. Vivid descriptions of Lily’s home and landscape stir yearning for a long-gone, untouched Cape Cod: “Seaweed, washed ashore by winter tides, bearded the beach.” Seemingly ordinary daily activities take on fresh interest with the backdrop of simmering family tension as the house construction progresses.

The gorgeous yet readable writing style situates the narrative squarely in the sophisticated up-market genre of literary fiction. Subtle irony infuses Lily’s point of view as she observes her feuding loved ones. Nuggets of wisdom bring the poetic style immediacy while still expressing a tween girl’s outlook: “I wondered why, when you hold your breath, your heart doesn’t stop beating.” Lily’s longing for her parents’ validation and her dawning maturity will warm hearts as much as the writing style will impress lovers of literary fiction.

Takeaway: Lush, memory-driven story of family life in mid-century Cape Cod.

Comparable Titles: Vendela Vida’s We Run the Tides, Mary Petiet’s Wash Ashore.

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

Click here for more about Water Music: A Cape Cod Story
The Apostle, the miraculous journey of Dr. G.B. Espy: a doctor who defied borders
Rick Hill
Hill (author of My Prison Without Bars) examines the life of Dr. Goodman Basil Espy, III, an inspiring physician who dedicated his life to serving others. Hill begins with Espy’s rural childhood, spent fishing and helping out on his grandfather’s farm in Alabama—a childhood that Espy treasured, though it was cut short when the attack on Pearl Harbor prompted his father to re-enlist in the military, leaving Espy, the oldest of four brothers, as the “family leader” at the tender age of six. Even from that age, Espy worked to discern his purpose, amid multiple family moves and life tragedies.

That purpose was challenging to nail down initially; though Espy felt a “Calling” to become a minister, his true desire was to pursue medical school. After much personal back-and-forth, he opted to follow his heart, entering the Tulane School of Medicine following graduation from Georgia Tech in the late 1950s. That decision eventually paid off, as Espy became a well-respected obstetrician who not only performed countless life-saving procedures domestically, but also traveled abroad to offer his expertise to underserved women in other countries. Hill covers Espy’s professional achievements alongside his personal struggles, including two failed marriages and the tragic death of his daughter, Anne, who suffered from epilepsy.

Espy’s Christian faith beats a steady rhythm throughout the narrative, sparking comfort when tragedy arrives and driving Espy’s constant desire to serve others. Espy, who traveled to several foreign counties on medical missions over the course of his life, vowed to put aside personal relationships after his second divorce, in an effort to focus solely on philanthropy. Hill includes personal anecdotes of Espy’s patients, as well as historical stories and photographs to anchor Espy’s experiences (including flashbacks to the Truman presidency, Al Capone’s role in Prohibition Chicago, and more). This will entertain readers who relish in-depth biographies accompanied by rousing historical context.

Takeaway: An inspiring medical biography celebrating Christian beliefs.

Comparable Titles: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, J. Thomas Grant’s The Next Patient.

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

ADVERTISEMENT

Loading...