Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Clifford's War: The Bluegrass Battleground
James Reed
Looks are deceiving in this fast-paced, hard-edged thriller in which everyone has a past, a skillset, and a connection that should only be overlooked at great peril. Reed’s novel centers around the titular Clifford Dee, a private investigator whose skillset as an army veteran (and former POW) makes him invaluable to the local crime boss Bandoni, who at the novel’s brutal start has hired Dee to take out the Tye Brothers, this stretch of Kentucky River country’s most notorious killers. That effort lands Dee in the hospital and in increasingly hot water, as he must deal with killers, gangsters, cops, and cat-and-mouse games.

Powered by thrills, Reed’s story surges from one development to the next. In the span of roughly 50 pages one can find cover-up assassinations, an investigation regarding an unfaithful spouse, and corruption within the district attorney’s office and the police department. The swiftness of the storytelling may occasionally leave readers needing to reread a paragraph or two, but the details are all simple to master, with the plotting not as complex as some mysteries rely upon. What you see is what you get with Clifford’s War, even as Reed weaves together multiple story threads–a coup-d'etat on a local crime family, or Dee discovering his newest friend has a cousin involved in the business–into a compelling whole.

Everything comes together with clear purpose after the numerous dust-ups, a varied set of brawls, chases, and slayings that escalate in inventiveness as the book builds to its climax. “Once you have a liability, it will always be a liability no matter what,” Bandoni explains after a classic crime-boss speech about foxes and a chicken coop. As Clifford’s War follows those liabilities and their brutal consequences, Reed reminds readers who love rough-and-tumble crime novels that sometimes simplicity is the highest form of eloquence.

Takeaway: Crime thriller fans who favor gritty anti-heroes and quick action over slow deliberation will find this a winning choice.

Great for fans of: Glenn Dyer, Lee Child.

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

Click here for more about Clifford's War
When Silence Screams
Mark Edward Langley
Langley (Death Waits In The Dark) lures readers into the continuing adventures of indigenous private detective Arthur Nakai in the third of his Arthur Nakai Mysteries series, again combining mystery storytelling with resonant social issues. Ex-Marine Nakai, who is slowly trying to repair his relationship with his wife Sharon, is caught up in a missing persons case involving a teenage girl named April Manygoats. At the behest of her mother, Nakai travels to Santa Fe to search for her, but what he finds is a sordid trail involving a sleazy pornographer, a cold-hearted sex trafficker, and a sociopathic serial killer obsessed with torture and humiliation. Along the way, he also discovers compassionate shelter organizers and a loyal ex-military friend who is there for him when things get hairy.

Langley delves thoughtfully into the tragic issue of how missing indigenous women are often ignored by authorities as well as the ways in which indigenous people in America face survival in a culture attempting to erase them. The scenes of April in captivity with her torturer border will be too graphic for many readers, but Langley endows her with a lot of agency, especially as she endeavors to escape. A subplot involving another missing indigenous woman underscores the variety of circumstances that can lead to these crimes, yet, plotwise is somewhat tangential.

Langley’s resolution is satisfying, if a little pat, but he succeeds in slowly, organically leading Nakai–and attentive readers–to the killer, while vividly sketching relationships, cultures, and Santa Fe and its surroundings. Readers will appreciate that the morally vacant villains get their comeuppance, given the explicitly detailed nature of their crimes, and Langley never loses sight of the humanity of his protagonists, ensuring that this sometimes brutal story’s sensationalist elements never overshadow its moments of inspiration. Crime mystery fans will enjoy piecing together the puzzle, but the tragic details of indigenous women going missing give it power.

Takeaway: Detective fans will enjoy this thriller that powerfully depicts the crisis of abducted indigenous women.

Great for fans of: Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, Dana Stabenow’s A Cold Day for Murder.

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

Click here for more about When Silence Screams
God's Existence: Truth or Fiction? The Answer Revealed
Gary R. Lindberg
Crisp and to-the-point, Lindberg’s treatise takes a pragmatic approach to answering one of the greatest questions humanity has ever faced: “Is He real or is it a fictional concept that so many people believe in?” The answer, Lindberg promises in an introduction, “may be more clear than many people realize,” though arriving at it demands exploration of “botany, the human body, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and physics,” plus concepts like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, used here to examine humanity’s drive to believe in a god, and consideration of scripture, Darwin, and scientists’ “usual know-it-all attitude.” The book ranges widely in 100 pages, even digging into Keynesian economics, though readers will likely not be surprised by Lindberg’s conclusion: that science proves the existence of God.

Refreshingly, Lindberg endeavors to reconcile science and religion rather than insist that one invalidates the other. Some of Lindberg’s evidence is familiar, as he marvels at the irreducible complexity of the human brain or eye, the “complexity and orderliness” of laws of physics and chemistry, and draws on physicist Paul Davies’s argument that “Life is not haphazard complexity, it is organized.” Lindberg embraces Davies’s idea that “there is a universal ancestor or microbe for all human, animal, and plant life” but rejects his and Stephen Jay Gould’s contention, shared by many scientists, that life and all its systems are some kind of happy accident. Instead of “growth by chance,” Lindberg sees human development and history as a story of “undeniable, directed progress."

While Lindberg’s arguments at times overlap with Intelligent Design, whose proponents often sought to disprove prevailing scientific theories, God’s Existence ultimately approaches divisions between science and religion with humility, acknowledging all that we don’t know while pressing the case that one truth unites all that we do: “Laws cannot create themselves,” he writes. “There must be a source, a creator.” Readers looking to balance belief and the scientific method will find some engaging original reasoning here.

Takeaway: This attempt to answer the biggest question facing humanity finds welcome common ground between science and religion.

Great for fans of: Steven R. Hemler’s The Reality of God, Stephen C. Meyer’s The Return of the God Hypothesis.

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

The Happy Clam
Rosemary A. Schmidt
Schmidt synthesizes what she has learned from her fifty-plus years of life and years of others’ research in this self-help guide on happiness. Focusing her efforts on subjects such as healthy lifestyle choices, mental health, change, creativity, and love, Schmidt covers a lot of ground in this quick read, ranging from personal lives to the workplace, arguing that “injecting some playfulness, some fun, into our workday routine can also be just the thing to get us out of a rut and jump start some creativity.” In The Happy Clam’s final quarter, Schmidt’s style changes from research-based self-help to inviting personal memoir, as she shows how her own life aligns with the advice, information, and inspiration she laid out in the earlier chapters. Poems and family recipes supplement the work and keep the spirits high.

Though she favors academic research, drawing on peer-reviewed data to make her case for achieving happiness, her prose is often conversational and informal, her tone that of a assured, reflective friend or coach as she acknowledges truths like “Granted, some days it may feel like we are bailing the ocean, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying.” The research is admirably wide-ranging, and it lends welcome persuasive weight to her clear-eyed, practical advice (“Want to be more empathetic? Read fiction”) about changing a mindset, expectations, and how starting with simple, easy changes can make a big difference in one’s life.

As she blends memoir with self-help, Schmidt discusses elements of her and her loved ones’ lives–experiences from work and childhood–that have taught her about happiness. Throughout, she revealed herself as insightful and funny, charming and wise, qualities that, along with the rigor of her presentation of research, ensure The Happy Clam stands out from the pack of self-help books on happiness. She is realistic and positive in the same breath, illuminating how “elusive happiness” can seem attainable to readers.

Takeaway: A quick, thorough, inviting self-help book on ways to seek, find, and maintain happiness in adulthood.

Great for fans of: Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge.

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

Click here for more about The Happy Clam
First Patients: The incredible true stories of pioneer patients
Rod Tanchanco
Tanchanco has compiled ten stories of breakthrough medical discoveries and illuminated the human lives behind the findings. Aiming to build empathy for those who changed the course of modern medicine, and to educate readers about the battles many faced to build a foundation for a healthier society, Tanchanco blends history and science in this tapestry of invaluable medical breakthroughs–including the history of pacemakers, blood transfusions, smallpox vaccines, and AIDS treatments–and the brave faces behind them. He writes with a focus on the often-forgotten, vulnerable patients whose conditions galvanized the healthcare field as well as the pioneering doctors and scientists responsible for medical marvels.

Tanchanco is a captivating writer, and his research into each medical discovery is thorough but always presented with vivid, polished storytelling that will engage readers from the start. Fans of medical history will find these stories highly compelling; each chapter can be consumed individually, despite their chronological order. Some may wish for a more conclusive ending, as the final chapter comes to an abrupt close, and readers from outside the field or not steeped in medical history may find the material occasionally challenging, though Tanchanco is careful to present his stories and their impact in inviting, direct prose and with journalistic scenecraft.

The focus in this carefully researched work is on the patients and their doctors rather than the ailments themselves, a unique and often overlooked perspective in the field of medicine. He’s attentive to the cultural and scientific context of each story, illuminating in one chapter the political and media realities of early AIDS treatments and in another how a 1957 Minneapolis blackout led to innovation in pacemakers. Tanchanco’s overall tone is that of gratitude and astonishment as he dramatizes these strides forward, probing the ordeal of real people caught in unique, harrowing circumstances.

Takeaway: An engaging history of the patients and doctors who ushered in groundbreaking medical treatments.

Great for fans of: Roy Porter’s The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen’s Patient Zero: A Curious History of the World's Worst Diseases.

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

Click here for more about First Patients
The Winding
Avimanyu Datta
The start of the new Time Corrector series, Datta’s debut combines elements of romance with the mysteries of time travel and artificial intelligence. The story is built around Vincent Abajian, an orphan who believes that everyone he loves leaves him. When he loses his childhood friend Akane to time turbulence, Abajian is inconsolable. He grows up, gets his PhD, and starts a state-of-the-art AI Center, all while holding on to the hope that Akane will one day return. And then she does: not in her original form, but in the body of the beautiful, temperamental Emika, who seems to hold Akane inside her. What follows is a journey across time, to extract Akane from Emika’s body, and ultimately, free all those trapped in time.

Datta’s ambitious story is hard to pin down to a single genre, given its persistent theme of love connections fused to the central concerns of time travel and artificial intelligence. While some sci-fi diehards may be disappointed by the numerous romantic sidetracks, Datta’s wide-ranging interests set the novel apart from the pack—the thrilling plot is as expansive as it is gripping, swinging from complex deconstructions of science and technology to literary musings on language and intricate references to classical music.

There are times when this expansiveness is overwhelming, inundating readers with excessive details, especially as that circuitous plot goes down intriguing—and occasionally inscrutable—rabbit holes, such as two-way consciousness transfers between humans and machines alongside detailed descriptions of hand watches and time fixers. In spite of this, Datta’s first Time Corrector novel succeeds in holding adventurous readers in thrall with a fast-paced storyline, a strong narrative voice, and polished prose that often is touched with beauty. Lovers of love stories and science fiction with literary ambition will enjoy this engrossing–at times challenging–read that delivers a welcome balance of both.

Takeaway: An expansive, genre-bending story for readers craving romance combined with gripping sci-fi.

Great for fans of: Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler's Wife, Jack Finney’s Time and Again.

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

Click here for more about The Winding
OFF MY KNEES - FROM SKID ROW TO SUNSET BOULEVARD
Julie D. Summers
With disarming frankness, Summers invites readers in to a life that has often been unsettled, recounting her experiences facing addiction, abuse, grief, and incarceration—and also her celebrated work, in later years, for nonprofits and charities aiding the unhoused of West Hollywood and Los Angeles. Summers’ sometimes harrowing story opens with her post-war childhood, in Pennsylvania and then Orlando, Florida, raised by a mother who suffered serial sexual abuse as a child. Summers, too, endured rape at age 15 and a pregnancy a few years later, during which she was interred in a home for unwed mothers-to-be. “The emotional pain of giving up my child had come to me,” she writes, of the months afterwards. “It entered my body through my heart and never left me.”

In the years after, an unrooted Summers got caught up in prostitution, vice busts, and a deepening despair: “Prostitution rips out the soul,” she writes, with her usual clear-eyed power. “It eats into the guts, the essence of who we are, and feeds on the hatred and disgust already there.” The fresh start of a move to Los Angeles and work in the then-new antiques industry—and the forming of her own customhouse brokerage business—eventually sputters as she develops addictions to speed and then meth. Imprisonment for theft and bad checks follows, as Summers endeavors to get her life back on track.

That she does, in the face of great personal tragedy, is a testament to the same spirit and resilience that never allows this book to become too dark. Summers’ storytelling is crisp and vivid, honest about her choices, and distinguished by extraordinary care for others, including strangers in need but also, movingly, the son she didn’t get to meet until years after his birth. Backmatter includes precepts for living derived from her experiences (“If a person has no problems, there is no growth”), but their truth shines through the story as she tells it.

Takeaway: This clear-eyed memoir faces addiction, abuse, and incarceration as it reveals a life that finds purpose in helping others.

Great for fans of: James Brown’s The Los Angeles Diaries, Rachel Moran’s Paid For.

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

Cotton Teeth
Glenn Rockowitz
Rockowitz’s sobering second memoir, the follow up to Rodeo in Joliet, explores the life-changing impact of cancer. Rockowitz, a comedy writer, was diagnosed at age 28 with longshot survival chances, and Cotton Teeth finds him coming face to face with the grimness of his situation—made even more so by the late-stage cancer diagnosis of his father shortly after. Rockowitz recounts how, terrified and exhausted, he used what he is told could be his last few months to spend time with his father and to cheer up other terminally ill patients, all while displaying increasingly reckless behaviors and struggling to stay grounded in reality. As his father’s health declines, Rockowitz debates whether he should share a life-changing secret from his childhood.

As a comedian, Rockowitz deftly incorporates humor into his story, illuminating the need to appreciate small moments and emphasizing how to keep going against all odds—a sentiment best stated by Rockowitz’s father: “Tomorrow may not be better but it will be different. And different is the only path to better.” Though this is a challenging emotional read, it ably depicts that you can’t always face a battle with grace and dignity, allowing for humor and compassion as substitutes.

Still, readers should be prepared to be unbalanced by this poignant but painful memoir, as Rockowitz recounts his excruciating journey, at times digging deep into his own past. The flashbacks to Rockowitz’s childhood camp experience are both raw and disconcerting, though some readers may find them only tangentially connected to the primary storyline, despite his powerful evocation of “the tumors that were sewn into my heart at camp that summer.” Still, Cotton Teeth proves resonant, especially as cancer tightens the bond between father and son, and Rockowitz reflects on what really matters. Rockowitz closes with moving words for anyone whose life has been touched by such diagnoses: “Here as I am. Brittle fists up and ready.”

Takeaway: Cancer tightens the bond between father and son in this memoir that reflects on what really matters.

Great for fans of: Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey, Suleika Jaouad’s Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted.

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

Click here for more about Cotton Teeth
A Screw Loose: The Montana Files
Cameron Wright
Wright debuts with a twisty story of a prison official taking revenge into his own hands. In 2018, Eddie Montana, a former correction officer, killed seven inmates of Australia’s Karcher Detention Centre, which houses child molesters, rapists, and murders. When journalist Leif Lacroux lands an exclusive interview with Eddie following his trial, he feels himself being swept in by Eddie’s charisma, even while making little progress on piecing together his story. Leif’s interviews and his nightmare-filled, alcohol-soaked time in between are interrupted by transcripts from Eddie’s trial, which slowly reveal the details of his actions and the grandiose, religious justifications Eddie has for them.

Wright avoids sensationalism when detailing the crimes of Eddie’s victims and Eddie’s own troubled past. The accounts of his murder spree share some gory specifics, but in general, Wright leaves much to the imagination. Despite the slim action and sparse descriptions, there is something almost cinematic in this telling, a power that will keep readers fixated on the story and the gaps Eddie intentionally side steps. Leif’s nightmares are especially effective because they offer sensory details lacking in most other scenes. The comparisons that Leif makes to capture Eddie’s allure (Hitler and Dracula, notably) telegraph his disturbing appeal alongside his disarming friendliness and insistent, rigid moral code. Eddie’s religious justifications (he claims he’s never hurt a human being, only “demons”), receive just enough content to be understood without overwhelming the other elements.

Psychological thriller fans will be caught up from the beginning. Particularly arresting is the use of trial notes to flesh out facts and explain surprising actions, as well as the possibilities of Eddie’s background, including the possibility of sexual abuse victimhood. The final day of interviews takes a surreal, chilling turn, and though the finale veers into conspiracy-theory territory, the buildup makes it all seem surprisingly plausible. Fans of dissecting crime will enjoy unwrapping this descent into a deluded man’s convictions.

Takeaway: This psychological thriller’s uncanny elements and blended formats create a chilling image of a murderer and his deadly appeal.

Great for fans of: Brian Evenson, Joyce Carol Oates’s Zombie.

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

Click here for more about A Screw Loose
Cletus, the Little Loggerhead Turtle : The Beginning Adventure
Lindalouise
Lindalouise’s debut picture book personifies the fragility of the natural world through Cletus, a newly-hatched loggerhead turtle stubbornly determined to make his own way. When Cletus and his brother Charley emerge from their eggs on a sandy beach, they watch while the rest of their siblings follow a carved-out path to the ocean—but despite Charley’s exhortations, Cletus decides that climbing up a nearby hill will get him there faster. Already an endangered species, Cletus is soon under attack by a waiting predator, and it’s only the intervention of kindly hermit crab Leonardo and astute sandpiper Oceana that can save the capricious Cletus.

Lindalouise draws on science to illuminate Cletus’s journey in this educational treat. The surprisingly well-informed Leonardo and Oceana explain how baby loggerhead turtles head to the Sargasso Sea where, protected by swirling currents and underwater vegetation, they grow from tiny hatchlings into majestic creatures weighing hundreds of pounds. Cletus takes in this information while learning of his own vulnerability. Lindalouise deftly frames his future as both a distant promise and the impetus for immediate action, giving young readers a preview of long-range thinking while igniting their sense of urgency to protect wildlife.

Kerrie Robertson’s illustrations are beautifully striking, combining the cartoony quality of Cletus and his friends with sparkling sand, wispy and windblown plant life, and textured water that seems to be in constant motion. In one of the most effective drawings, Cletus realizes that predators are more plentiful than friends, as seagulls gather over the water and a fox and raccoon hide in the nearby grass. With heart-pounding immediacy and an awareness of far-reaching consequences, Cletus and his adventure offer assurance to young readers commencing their own journeys that perilous problems can be solved with understanding, cooperation, and resolve.

Takeaway: A rebellious loggerhead turtle tries to beat the survival odds in this immersive, informative tale.

Great for fans of: sabel Müller’s The Green Sea Turtle, Nicola Davies’s One Tiny Turtle, Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson’s Follow the Moon Home.

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

Click here for more about Cletus, the Little Loggerhead Turtle
The Bookseller: Stories
Peter Briscoe
This intimate and moving short story collection from Briscoe (Mexico at the Hour of Combat) offers quick glimpses into the lives of several characters, mostly older men who are attempting to reconcile the growing incongruity between their desires and their reality. The gripping title story—more of a novella—draws on Briscoe’s 30 years of experience as a university librarian to explore what will become of the world’s libraries as we hurtle towards an increasingly digital future. Books begin disappearing from an obscure Ecuadorian library, prompting an investigation into how knowledge is stored and transferred–as well as who can access this essential record of human history.

Briscoe’s appraisals of the changing library world will resonate with readers. “The modern library is not about knowledge as contained in books, but information retrieval, which is so much more efficient,” he writes. The three additional stories rounding out the collection are much shorter than his title work, but still insightful—similar to meditative vignettes. In “After You, Please,” a retired man takes stock of his life and contemplates his own mortality. As he is preparing to attend a 50th wedding anniversary celebration, the thought of dressing up fills him with existential dread: “He would need to buy a new suit, and that would be the one they would bury him in. How could he enjoy wearing it? Instead of fine feathers, it would feel like a shroud.”

With spare but impactful prose, Briscoe has crafted a gently provocative collection of stories that also functions as a love letter to literacy and libraries, whose admirable mission–as he puts it with characteristic incisive power– is nothing less than “to collect, organize, preserve, and make accessible the recorded knowledge of mankind.” In particular, Briscoe’s title novella will serve as a conversation starter for anyone who loves books and is interested in preserving the past.

Takeaway: Briscoe’s gripping stories explore the future of libraries in an increasingly digital age.

Great for fans of: Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women, Tom Diamond’s The Academic Librarian in the Digital Age: Essays on Changing Roles and Responsibilities.

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

Click here for more about The Bookseller
ANDROMEDA GRAPHIKA
Robert Brace
Brace’s globetrotting mystery twines suspense, elegance, and the turn-ons of the global elite as journalist Andromeda Chamberlain, a serious reporter whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, accepts a mysterious assignment to cover a troubling cold case: ten years before, fifteen-year-old Margot Vaughn went missing, presumably a runaway. Andromeda accepts the job despite not quite knowing who is hiring her, what form the piece will take, why there’s a seven-week deadline—or what to make of her client’s insistence that she wear a titanium collar for the duration of the assignment. Lavishly overpaid as she travels from Miami to the Valley to Paris and beyond, Andromeda digs into Margot’s disappearance, soon discovering that while underage the young woman had appeared in a graphic arthouse film about an orgy, Pompeii, and ancient rituals.

Stylish and polished, Brace’s literary thriller abounds in evocative description, crisp and engaging dialogue, and puzzles that it’s often a pleasure to tease out, from the clues embedded in the shocking film to those about Andromeda herself—her motives and her desires. As evidence burns up and goons dog her investigation, Andromeda chases leads across Europe, eventually becoming embroiled with that film’s director—a rising star about to debut an adaptation of Faust at Cannes.

For all the urgency of her case, the protagonist relishes her high-rolling investigation, driving Ferraris and Panteras and taking every opportunity to sunbathe. Her past is opaque, and her present an element of a puzzle around it: Who is she, exactly? Why does she readily agree to appear in a film from pornographer Cherry Falco? Is she being lured into the same traps that snared Margot, or is she—and the author—playing some clever game? A sense of playful unease suffuses the novel, as Brace toys with expectations, inviting readers to ask whether she’s a retrograde fantasy figure or just playing the part and in fact steps ahead of everyone.

Takeaway: This puzzle-rich literary mystery sends a journalist into the world of the global elite and perverse arthouse films.

Great for fans of: Paul Auster, Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.

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

Click here for more about ANDROMEDA GRAPHIKA
Pengwee's Breath
Deborah Nutley
An adorable penguin learns to conquer his fears by practicing deep breathing in this picture book debut by Nutley. Pengwee, a young penguin chick, is excited to attend the annual Ice Festival with his mother, and he loves everything about it, with the exception of the “big scary rides'' that make him feel like “there’s a snowstorm in my tummy and clouds in my head.” When he shares his uneasiness with his mother, she teaches him how to use deep breathing to calm the storm inside, and Pengwee gets a chance to put his skills to the test when he faces the scariest ride of them all–the Ice Monster.

Young readers will delight in Pengwee, who is lovably innocent as he tries to master the art of deep breathing. His first attempt at a “Superpower Breath” comes out with such power he nearly knocks over his mother, but it doesn’t take him long to learn the ropes, and soon he is able to defeat even seemingly insurmountable fears. The Ice Festival is also irresistible–a winter-themed extravaganza of carnival games, entertainment, and tempting penguin snacks, like the “imported fried smelt” or “whale blubber cones.” Alexandra Rusu’s whimsical watercolor illustrations add a dreamlike feel, with subtle lines and cool shades that match the story’s midwinter motif.

Nutley offers a sliver of suspense alongside the charm by embracing thrill rides that can be intimidating to so many kids. Once Pengwee learns to put his emotional calming talents to use, the Ice Monster is transformed in his eyes from terrifying to exhilarating–a concept notably important to Nutley, who is a certified meditation instructor with a fondness for teaching mindfulness to youth. Adult readers will appreciate the introduction to self-soothing, and this engaging story adeptly captures the intensity of childhood fears–and the skills to handle them.

Takeaway: A young penguin learns–and shows readers–how deep breathing can help overcome fears.

Great for fans of: Rachel Bright’s The Lion Inside, Gaia Cornwall’s Jabari Jumps.

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

Click here for more about Pengwee's Breath
Wings Over the Channel
Eric B. Forsyth
Forsyth’s second historical novel, after Wings Over Iraq, returns to the story of Allan Chadwick, an RAF pilot, this time with an emphasis on the development of radar technology that enabled a British win in the Battle of Britain—a crucial turning point in the second world war. Chadwick, posted at Farnborough after service in Iraq, investigates aircraft accidents, but his life takes a different turn when he’s assigned to test fly equipment developed by Dr. Kenneth Bostock and his team, who are researching the use of radio waves to detect planes. This new RDR (“Radio, Detection and Range”) technology could be pivotal in battles, and Dr. Kegel, the head of German intelligence in London, tries to entice Chadwick in order to get his hands on the new technology.

While attending a gathering of grandees out to stop another war at any cost, Chadwick meets and falls for Lady Melanie Fitzgibbon. Meanwhile, the British counter intelligence agents, led by Chadwick’s friend, Doug Larson, try to thwart the Germans, leading to an exciting cat-and-mouse game. Readers will be fascinated to learn about the early stages of the development of radar through Chadwick’s eyes. Though charming, his affair with Fitzgibbon could have proven more nuanced and resonant had his internal conflicts been more deeply explored. Likewise, more focus on the intriguing Penelope Pomeroy, her attraction to Chadwick, and her actions late in the narrative might have enriched the novel’s espionage elements and brought some diversity to its prevailing masculine perspective.

Forsyth’s deep knowledge of his subject matter, combined with his enthusiasm for flying, is evident throughout the novel, though for readers more interested in character than aviation history may find the abundance of detail slows the narrative pace. Still, despite some overcrowding, historical war fiction fans will be pleased, especially those fascinated by the high-flying lives of pilots.

Takeaway: This high-flying historical novel will please readers fascinated by aviation, fighter pilots, and World War II.

Great for fans of: Peter Townsend’s Duel of Eagles, Eric Brown’s Wings on My Sleeve, R. A. “Bob” Hoover’s Forever Flying.

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

Click here for more about Wings Over the Channel
The MoonStone Girls
Brooke Skipstone
At the beginning of Skipstone’s (Crystal’s House of Queers) spirited coming-of-age tale, 16-year-old Tracy Franks feels trapped: she’s stifled by the strict gender norms of her 1960s Texas town, her tyrannical father badgers and degrades her and her brother, and she must keep her attraction to her friend Ava a careful secret. When she discovers a brochure for a women-run summer camp in Alaska with a girl named Jackie on its cover, Tracy sees an opportunity to break free. Faced with discrimination, uncertainty, and even tragedy, she is nevertheless determined to live as her true self.

Tracy’s talents as a musician help her negotiate her world, and music lovers will appreciate the prominent role it plays within the story. Skipstone embeds a wide variety of references to both classical music and popular songs of the late 60s, enhanced by a suggested Spotify playlist, as well as the lyrics of the songs Tracy herself writes to express her anger, angst, longing, and love. Framed as an autobiography, Tracy’s passionate first-person narration vibrates with intense emotion and explicit detail, allowing readers to experience her fury, frustration, and excitement as she strives to live life on her own terms.

In her fight to live authentically, Tracy proves herself to be a protagonist ahead of her time, using casual profanity, wearing a “manguise” so she can be perceived as male, and aggressively confronting male characters who try to hold her back. Though her progressive attitudes towards politics, race, gender, and sexuality are more common in our time than they were in hers, readers will find this character’s revolutionary courage inspiring. Skipstone’s other main players are also well-developed–even those that serve as obstacles to Tracy’s progress. This story’s impassioned cry against repression will encourage readers to face their own challenges with strength and determination.

Takeaway: The inspiring and emotional story of a young lesbian’s journey toward wholeness in Texas in the 1960s.

Great for fans of: M-E Girard’s Girl Mans Up, Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath, Lauren Hough’s Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing.

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

Click here for more about The MoonStone Girls
Paradox: The Attack on the Ladies Room
Timothy Perper and Martha Cornog
In this reality-hopping thriller, Perper and Cornog (Sex, Death, and the End of the World: Stories) follow Krylla and John, husband and wife, through parallel universes, timelines, and selves. On a seemingly normal day at the office on her way to a meeting, Krylla stops in the ladies room only to vanish into another time and dimension. John does everything he can, including time travel, to find his missing wife, all while dealing with the ominous and ever-watchful Instrumentality and the dangerous missions that it assigns him, dispatching him to far-flung paraverses. Meanwhile, Krylla becomes conscious of her paraverse selves and starts talking to herself, literally. But if there are infinite Kryllas, are there also infinite Smiths? Will they ever find each other? And, even bigger than the love story, what is really going on?

Blending romance and science fiction with welcome humor, this polished and inventive meta-novel invites readers on an interactive journey, with the narrator explaining the physics of time travel in direct address. Perper and Cornog build a convincing world of worlds, and although these teaching moments’ discussions and hypotheticals might at times read like tangents, they ultimately help explicate an ever-moving plot with many twists and turns. Some readers may view the story itself as one big hypothetical from that narrator to illustrate principles of time travel, which is entertaining an original approach, though in the end the story proves to be something akin to a space-odyssey epic, set in paraverses rather than galaxies.

However, the focus on plot, metaphysics, and world building comes at a price: readers here for the paraverse-spanning love story may wish for deeper character exploration. Though the novel has a romance at its heart, Krylla and John’s love for each often seems more asserted than stirring––especially when stretching across so many paraverses. Still, lovers of twisty sci-fi with big ideas and a playful spirit will find plenty to enjoy.

Takeaway: A playful take on time travel and infinite paraverses for readers who like their SF touched with romance and humor.

Great for fans of: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This is How You Lose the Time War , Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

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

Click here for more about Paradox: The Attack on the Ladies Room

Loading...