Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Bound
P.L. Sullivan
Despite the vast and diverse world in Sullivan’s adult debut, it is a rare thing to be Bound, to have two independent minds in one body; it is rare even for the Keld, a species of soldiers who are already an anomaly because they can kill. Adin and Shennan are the Keld’s star asset due to their bound nature: when they die, they’re reanimated, and, while the one that died recovers, the other takes over their body. Consequently, Adin and Shennan are destined to protect the Polis, people that have conformed to a system, the Consensus, that biologically instills morality in them. The Polis know no violence. So, when some Polis start randomly turning into the Mad and carrying out interplanetary terror attacks, Adin and Shennan are duty-bound to eradicate the Mad at all costs. This will require their iron will, their dedication, and, most importantly, their utilitarianism. In the end, will it be the Mad who rip away what Adin and Shennan hold dear, or will it be their own actions?

Adin and Shennan work on a series of related but smaller missions that run the gamut of security to spy work, creating more of a slow burn than a thrill ride. This planet-hopping military mission spree is sure to tickle any intellectual’s brain stem. From how Adin’s and Shennan’s dual nature affects their life and abilities, to themes of colonization, social manipulation, and evolution, there’s a lot to chew on. A lot of this is explained through scientific jargon. While this might titillate some, it may dull the emotional impact for others. Additionally, action scenes focus slightly more on strategy than emotion or sensory detail, giving the harrowing bouts with death an almost video-game quality. Sometimes, events aren’t told as they occur and are instead casually revealed after, which can lead to some confusion and detachment.

But readers will be pulled right past those potential barriers into Sullivan’s frank and realistic portrayals of trauma and duty. The novel explores the hard calls people make to protect the whole, even if they have to sacrifice their minds, bodies, and relationships. And this follows through right to the end: there are no easy answers, no easy-to-swallow morals to find here. Adin and Shennan are put through the wringer and go back for more. They’re complicated and broken, torn between peace and violence’s role in it. Their relationships are messy as well, and they must do unspeakable things for the same people who reject them for it. This thought-provoking military sci-fi demands, and rewards, anyone’s full attention.

Takeaway: Somewhat heady but pulling no emotional punches, this sci-fi space mission will prompt readers to ponder big moral questions.

Great for fans of: John Steakley’s Armor, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.

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

Click here for more about Bound
Yes, It Happened: One Man Rises to Change History
Robert Maxwell
In this riveting, fast-paced debut thriller, set mostly in the modern-day U.S., soldier-turned-blogger Augustus Anthony fights for truth and justice in the wake of a nuclear attack on Washington. Augustus quickly realizes that treasonous President Smith has orchestrated the attack himself, with the help of China and Russia, as a power grab. Augustus flees into the country, with his young children, and partners with some still-loyal military friends to reverse the coup. Along the way, the team must battle traitors and foreign soldiers as part of a daring plan to bring down Smith and restore a legitimate administration.

Maxwell doesn't waste a single word in getting the action going, and Augustus's laconic narration underscores his cool comfort with violence, telling one opponent: "you’ll spend the last seconds of your life in two pieces watching the bottom half of your body twitch like hell while your mind asks what the fuck does it all mean." An especially effective fight scene involves an attack with heavily armed mini-drones that kill with frightening efficiency. At times the plot turns can strain credulity—the teams’ skills seem to border on the supernatural—but the action scenes are absorbing enough to glide over them.

Although the focus is on the action, the author does relieve the intensity with some more human moments. Augustus often reflects on his late wife, and tender scenes with his children flesh out his character. His team members also have their engaging moments in between fights, as when Augustus meets the unexpectedly lovely girlfriend of a reclusive ex-Green Beret. Indeed, Maxwell makes female characters full partners in the battles. The fast-paced plot and handsomely staged fight scenes guarantee readers will be rooting for the heroes until the last page.

Takeaway: Fans of red-blooded thrillers will exalt in the energetic plot and the delightfully imaginative techniques the heroes use to dispatch their appallingly evil opponents.

Great for fans of: Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler.

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

Click here for more about Yes, It Happened
The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai
Isham Cook
Novelist and essayist Cook (The Kitchens of Canton), an American living in China, explores the 2020 version of the old Shanghai world of courtesans, concubines, and drugs in his latest. The sometimes-narrator and lead character is Isham Cook, an expat American author who has gone missing. He’s obsessed with hirsute women (“The ultimate sexual fantasy for Isham was a woman with breasts and fully functioning penis, and beneath the scrotum, a fully functioning vagina. And of course, a mustache”), including vibrant (and troubled) Communist Party worker Kitty and his book translator Luna, who is portrayed as a loose cannon throughout. Also in his universe: Afghan-American rug (and drug) dealer Marguerite, who—like the others—sports a mustache.

Reading somewhat like a fever dream, the narrative unevenly skips from story lines to academic examinations of polyamory and polygamy written directly to the reader, and from China to the American Midwest. In China, there’s the at-times stalkeresque Luna, the massively judgmental Isham, and the well-educated, mercurial Kitty; stateside, in Wisconsin, there’s laid-back, blues-loving Jim, a friend of Isham’s who’s ex-Navy, and Marguerite, who bounces between Asia and the U.S. On both continents, mind-altering drugs are consumed freely and all parties are driven by sex—whether it’s erotic massage, swinging, or straight missionary—much of which references Isham’s book on erotic massage. (“Isham’s publication was not a guide and it lacked illustrations. It was something else altogether, an essay collection and a travelogue, but above all an exegesis, with massage the master metaphor for the inextricable relationship of all things therapeutic and all things sexual.”)

The author mixes clever and imaginative turns of phrase throughout (“Gambling had about as much appeal to Isham as a methamphetamine addiction; the casino atmosphere was as menacing as a mental hospital”), but his characters are not fleshed out enough for readers to feel much emotional connection to them. As well, the plot meanders, there is a lot of telling and less showing, and Kitty’s improbable amnesia feels contrived. Still, lovers of quirky, erotic mysteries will enjoy Cook’s words.

Takeaway: Readers who enjoy quirky, erotic mysteries will savor this tale of love, sex, mystery and revenge.

Great for fans of: Franz Kafka, the Marquis de Sade.

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

Click here for more about The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai
Clear Bear
Nina Marie Corona
Public speaker and artist Corona’s Clear Bear is a tender illustrated children’s book with a lot of heart -- quite literally. Born with transparent skin, the titular bear’s heart shines brightly through his chest so that everyone can see it. The other bears of his acquaintance have thick fur, sharp claws, and a lack of visible hearts, and Clear Bear, frightened by their differences, hides himself in a cave where, alone, he can fully be himself. One day, a thick-furred bear called Brave Bear realizes that Clear Bear is gone and sets out to find him. As the two bears spend time together, Brave Bear begins a transformation, losing fur and growing clear himself, until his own heart shines through.

Clear Bear’s clean, direct writing and big-hearted protagonist will engage children from all walks of life, while Aodhan Gyory’s illustrations, which carry the story, will intrigue and delight. Gyory has created a vibrant and interesting world, with the thick-furred bears distorted and frightening in appearance while Clear Bear’s kindness shines on every page. It’s impressive to create a character that’s fully transparent yet still so appealing.

While the overall message of this tale is sweet and well-intentioned, adult readers may feel discomfort with some of the implications of its handling of themes of difference and group cohesion. The text notes that the bears with thick fur and sharp claws “began to separate themselves according to the color of their fur” and later, after Clear Bear and Brave Bear return from the cave, celebrates a community of clear bears with no distinctions between them. Still, others will likely appreciate the exhortation to “Let your heart shine!” and to dare to be authentic and vulnerable. This little picture book has the power to provoke conversations about how to live with and love others (and yourself).

Takeaway: This endearing picture book will find its way into the hearts of young children who wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Great for fans of: Max Lucado’s You Are Special, Aaron Blabey’s Thelma the Unicorn

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

Click here for more about Clear Bear
Side Steps Terrorizing Sound Bites Part 2: Some things are black and white
Amy Jean
In this eclectic poetry collection, the followup to Sound Steps Terrorizing Sound Bites, Jean touches on religion, feminism, love, conformity, and history, calling out injustices and close-mindedness wherever they appear. “Social Distancing” is a timely piece that references politics and “start[ing] anew.” “Extinction” is about the social consequences of fake news, materialism, and inequality. “A-men” lays out an idealized vision of manhood and laments the speaker’s less-than-ideal experiences of men. “The devil’s Laughter” is a moving piece about mass deaths throughout human history, touching on the Jonestown massacre, the Opium Wars, the Shaanxi earthquake, the Challenger Explosion, and other tragedies. It ends, "I need a bridge to connect the gaps and/ rewrite everything that made the devil laugh."

Some poems are playful (“So many revisions/ of you and me/...What if I don’t like/ the next you I view?”); others are more like screams of anguish (“A life of isolation,/ praying for death in desperation/ An existence that should never be—that’s me”). Many of the entries are written in traditional verse, incorporating rhymes that will tickle a word lover’s brain (“differential” with “inconsequential,” “silhouette” with “mindset”).

Each poem is accompanied by several colorful, polished drawings by Eric Savage, depicting scenes and objects closely or distantly related to its subjects; coffee pods, red blood cells, the Golden Gate Bridge, a voodoo doll, and a diagram about osmosis all make an appearance. Jean’s language is clear and accessible, so even readers new to poetry will be able to follow along. There’s something in this varied collection for everybody.

Takeaway: Poetry readers at all levels of familiarity will find something that resonates in this illustrated collection.

Great for fans of: Amanda Lovelace, Alison Malee.

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

Saint Badass : Personal Transcendence in Tucker Max Hell
Doug Carnine
“I tend to ask myself all the time: what do I have to be joyful about?” asks Cody, a young convicted murderer sentenced to life without parole in Arkansas’ Tucker Max, a maximum security prison. Cody’s surprising answer: “I’ve begun to realize my answer is: Everything!” In harrowing and dehumanizing conditions, and facing a dark past, Cody finds fellowship, transcendence and mindfulness through Buddhist teachings. Like the three other Tucker Max inmates whose correspondence gets judiciously excerpted in this, Carnine’s second book of Buddhist inspiration, Cody offers frank and moving testimony about what he’s done, what he’s suffered, and how the principles and practices of Buddhism help him in the daily struggle to find meaning and peace.

The work documents letters exchanged between the author, the founder of a Buddhist priory in Eugene, Ore., and four Tucker Max inmates. The title comes from Roy Tester, the earliest of the prisoners to write to Carnine; locked up for life for the murder of parents he describes as abusive, Tester found himself attracted to Buddhist teaching after a fellow inmate pressed a book on him and taught him the peacefulness of deep breathing. Intrigued and eager to leave drugs behind him, Tester wrote to Buddhist organizations seeking more information. Carnine responded, and in the remarkable letters collected here readers can glimpse the flowering not just of enlightenment but also of trust and mutual respect.

Tester brings other Tucker Max inmates into the discussion, and their stories, all self-written, prove engrossing, harrowing, and moving. Readers should expect to learn dark truths about sexuality in jail and life in the hole. Tester, touchingly, gets sent to solitary for shoving a guard to spare the life of a cricket. Carnine’s organization of the material lacks a strong narrative throughline, but the prisoners’ letters pulse with power and insight.This book will move and inspire readers.

Takeaway: Carnine’s collection of letters from prisoners movingly illustrate how humans can find Buddhist transcendence in the most harrowing of conditions.

Great for fans of: Joshua Dubler’s Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison, David Sheff’s The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place.

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

Click here for more about Saint Badass
Journey to the Hopewell Star
Hannah D. State
Sam Sanderson, protagonist of State’s middle grade debut, is used to living with her grandfather while her scientist parents go on mysterious missions. After an alien appears and takes Sam to his wondrous home planet Kryg, because he believes she is the girl “of pure spirit and heart” described in a prophecy about the salvation of both Kryg and Earth, Sam takes on a big responsibility—which she’ll need to fit in while navigating attending school for the first time after being homeschooled.

Slate’s prose is well-crafted and reads smoothly. The antagonist is obvious and simple, almost cartoonishly so: the self-centered mogul of the monopolizing TitusTech, which is destroying the environment and mining space for profit. (Though there are lesser challenges, they ultimately all fall under the same evil umbrella.) Similarly, Sam never really has to make any tough moral choices and is easily led toward others who provide the information she needs to progress, with little solving of problems on her own. Moments that might typically spark difficult feelings and conflicts tend not to: Even though the book opens with Sam “dreading” switching from homeschooling to a typical school, when her grandfather announces it, she’s “eager” and “can’t contain her excitement.” Sam hits a bully at school; her grandfather finds out from a teacher, but just gives her a hug and tells her “mistakes… [are] how we learn.”

But that doesn’t preclude excitement and danger in the plot, or likeable characters: Sam is a kind, altruistic, appreciative, and curious protagonist, and she befriends a trio of sweet nerds at school—Kato and Kobe, who are twins, and Simon, whose dad works for TitusTech. State’s optimistic novel advances ideals of avoiding greed, saving the environment, and connecting with those very different from yourself. Middle grade readers looking for a wholesome adventure will relish this one.

Takeaway: Middle grade readers looking for a hopeful adventure starring a smart girl and her steadfast friends will enjoy this one.

Great for fans of: Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Robert Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel.

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

Click here for more about Journey to the Hopewell Star
Always losing something: A novel of hope, heartbreak and soaring optimism.
Marcus Gerbich
Gerbich’s hopeful debut follows Max Green, a former professional soccer player turned businessman and pseudo-Ironman after the loss of a leg, an arm, and a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease. In Zelig-like fashion, Green manages to be present at multiple epochal events—losing his leg at the running of the bulls in Spain (where the kind woman who helps him becomes his wife), losing an arm in the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, and saving his assistant’s mother’s life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chapters alternate between the book’s present in 2030 and the past, beginning with Green’s childhood and working up chronologically. The structure is episodic, more like a series of loosely connected vignettes than a fully fleshed-out novel. The novel revolves around Max’s life and worldview to an extreme degree; supporting characters mostly exist to forward Max’s plot, enrich his life, and show how cool or suave or smart or philanthropic he is, with little emphasis on character development. Indeed, it’s only Max and his band of famous or rich friends who can save the day, with their copious money and that of their business connections. Some readers may be troubled by the conclusion that ALS can and should be cured by private investors because they’ll make money on the treatments. Others may be left cold by the way the narration glosses over both how Max made his money and how he feels about the extraordinary events of his life.

This book melds genres, combining science fiction’s futuristic technology, an adventure novel, a fictional life story, and a saga about the quest for a medical cure. It’s full of heart and filled with frank depictions of the reality experienced by people living with ALS. Readers who love stories about one exceptional man saving the world will find their wishes fulfilled here.

Takeaway: This novel, which recounts one man’s pursuit to end ALS with all the money and heart he can muster, will appeal to readers who like exceptional heroes singlehandedly saving the world.

Great for fans of: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

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

Click here for more about Always losing something
Still Crazy
Judy Prescott Marshall
Marshall’s (Be Strong Enough) book of inspirational women’s fiction explores personal growth and unconditional commitment despite betrayal. Devout Christian Julie Holliday, 49 years old and celebrating 30 years of marriage with the love of her life, Dan, has always suspected that he is serially unfaithful. After discovering a note from an unnamed woman on his desk, Julie’s past fears of his affairs return. She avoids Dan, who continues to perform sweet acts of spousal devotion; shadows the woman she believes is his mistress; prays for guidance and strength; and cries on the ever-supportive shoulder of her best friend and employee Lynnae, who tries to reassure her. After more than a year of Julie being eaten up inside, Dan reveals a decade-ago affair. Julie sells the bakery to Lynnae, leaves notes for her husband and a few friends, and disappears from their New York town to the Rhode Island coast. There, Julie’s pursuit of the dream of building her own inn leads to her discovery of forgiveness and purpose.

Julie’s introspective suspicion of Dan occupies the entire first part of the novel and can be somewhat monotonous, but readers will keep turning the pages due to Marshall’s well-crafted prose and charming settings. Julie’s bakery, for example, is cozily described, down to the cookbooks on its kitchen shelves. And when the action shifts to Rhode Island, readers will find a picturesque Rhode Island landscape and Julie’s colorful gardens provide a dazzling backdrop for her success as an innkeeper.

The extensive cast of characters is another appealing element. From Lynnae to the Rhode Island locals Julie hires at her inn, the side characters’ relationships, marriages, and pregnancies spark interest. Julie’s perseverance in building the inn is inspiring, and those seeking a happy ending will eventually be rewarded. This cozy tribute to faith and unconditional love will please hopeless romantics.

Takeaway: This homage to faith and unconditional love will appeal to hopeless romantics.

Great for fans of: Debbie Macomber’s White Lace and Promises, Nicholas Sparks.

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

Click here for more about Still Crazy
Toughing It Out: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur
John Holliday
Entrepreneur John Holliday (Clara Colby: The International Suffragist) delivers a combination memoir and collection of advice about what he’s learned during decades of worldwide business ventures, from his first job as an 18-year-old to his 10th business endeavor. In his recounting, he displays a seemingly insatiable hunger for new projects and opportunities: regardless of risk, he frequently makes career shifts to avoid the boring life of what he terms an “office worker straight out of a Dickens novel.” In his own words, he “never stop[s] thinking about business opportunities, even those that might not be very realistic.” These experiences are the springboard for Holliday’s reflections on the pursuit of success, and he adds entertainment value for readers by sprinkling in stories of the colorful characters he has met along the way. To Holliday, “life is one, long networking event,” and every connection and idea is worth pursuing.

At times, Holliday’s intended audience becomes unclear: while those who know him will appreciate the attention to detail in personal stories, the average reader focused on learning about business could find them extraneous. These moments are saved, though, by the nuggets of wisdom and positivity peppered throughout his narrative, such as “I always think that every problem has the potential to be turned around into an opportunity.” Holliday also presents interesting reflections on corporate culture and the ways in which upbringing and status can hinder social mobility in certain countries (“IBM United Kingdom was modelled on the American way of doing business, creating a refreshing and motivating environment that was absent from the staid British organisations I had worked for. Hiring and advancement within the company was based on merit, and not on your accent or what school you had attended”).

Holliday does not take the stance of an untouchable billionaire hyperachiever; he willingly acknowledges his many failures, presenting them as helpful learning tools for readers. He accentuates the merit of “hard-knocks experience and working things out for oneself,” cautioning against procrastination as an enemy of business success. Though his guide drags in some areas, he ably regroups to enlighten his audience with fresh ideas, including the concept of building a business as “part science and part art.” Aspiring entrepreneurs will be inspired by this account of one man’s adventurous career.

Takeaway: Aspiring entrepreneurs will be inspired by this account of one man’s adventures in a variety of occupational roles.

Great for fans of: Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail, Ray Dalio.

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

Click here for more about Toughing It Out
Stubby & Friends: Volume 1
Scott Christian Sava and Richard Lanni
This is the first in a series of comics volumes from Sava and Lanni about Sergeant Stubby, a real-life dog who accompanied and aided American soldiers during WWI, and soldier Robert Conroy. Lanni previously adapted the true story for an animated film. This collection of comic vignettes isn’t about wartime exploits, however; it finds Stubby palling around with two dogs and a cat in a small French country house where he and Robert are guests. Sava episodically explores the burgeoning friendships between the American Stubby, British corgi Benson, French bulldog Pierre, and prissy French feline Colette.

The author plays up cultural stereotypes: Colette, for example, evinces a haughty love for French food and culture; Stubby is a can-do American who loves pizza; and Benson misses British tea-time and boasts to the others that corgis founded the American colonies. Sava also emphasizes their identities as animals; the dogs are rambunctious and energetic, while the cat is pampered and has a flair for the dramatic. The animals don't actually speak, but they can hear each other's thoughts. This effective technique allows Sava to give them human personalities while still allowing them to be animals. Bailey's illustrations establish a distinctive look for each character and maximize their emotional expressiveness.

Those familiar with the source material may be surprised to find that the war is barely mentioned. This volume focuses on animal hijinks (attempts to avoid baths), gently humorous domestic situations (anticipating and begging for delicious meals), and Stubby's gregarious nature. The gentle gags and antics of the animals are enhanced by the slightly exaggerated quality of the art, making this an ideal comic for kids who love animals.

Takeaway: Kids who love animals will enjoy the gentle humor, expressive drawings, and silly antics of three dogs and a cat who become a makeshift family.

Great for fans of: Jim Davis’s Garfield at Large, Patrick McDonnell’s The Mutts Diaries series.

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

Click here for more about Stubby & Friends
Boone: An Unfinished Portrait
Daniel Griffith
Daniel Boone lives large in the American folk hero imagination. Though modernity remembers him as a coonskin-cap-wearing pioneer, Griffith skillfully expands readers’ picture of this quasimythological figure to provide a more complete understanding of Boone the politician, businessman, soldier, and frontiersman. Boone: An Unfinished Portrait blends history and biography with elements of an ecological manifesto. Its eight chapters delve into what Griffith calls “white culture’s two Boones,” or the competing popular depictions of Boone as a civilization-expanding pioneer and a nature conservationist.

Readers shouldn’t expect dry historical prose, however. Griffith writes with an ear for style as well as substance, though some of his turns of phrase can distract from, rather than enhance, the reading experience. Where the book shines, however, is as expansionist history. Griffith approaches Boone’s life and legacy through an ecological lens; as part of his biographical project, Griffith continually reminds the reader of the long history of Indigenous life in and cultivation of what is today the United States. Griffith warns that the true story of Boone might be uncomfortable for readers, but details like these bring his audience closer to the political and cultural reality of Boone’s time.

Fans of United States history, folklore, and its tradition of ecological conservation will love Griffith’s reflections on the connection between civilization and the natural world. As its title indicates, this biography is not meant to be the final word on Daniel Boone’s life and legacy. However, Griffith’s careful research and extensive, balanced consideration of Boone’s life and works make this volume an essential read for anyone interested in the folk hero.

Takeaway: Fascinating, balanced, and well-researched, this nature-centered biography is sure to entertain and inform.

Great for fans of: Howard Means's Johnny Appleseed. The Man, the Myth, the American Story; April R. Summit's Sacagawea: A Biography.

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

Click here for more about Boone: An Unfinished Portrait
Brothers in Arms: Remembering Brothers Buried Side by Side in American World War II Cemeteries
Kevin M. Callahan
Inspired by author Callahan’s many trips to overseas cemeteries established during WWII for fallen American soldiers, this poignant memorial will warm hearts and inspire readers. When Callahan and his two sons came across a pair of brothers from Iowa buried side-by-side in Italy, he realized he had stumbled on a fascinating, though narrow, unknown bit of WWII history: there was a concerted effort by the U.S. government to bury brothers who fell in battle together in the same cemetery. Brothers in Arms tells the stories of 286 sets of brothers uncovered by Callahan and his research team.

Callahan depicts the profound experiences of American brothers in battle, including the circumstances surrounding their deaths and their detailed personal backgrounds, in an intimate and engaging way. Though its subject matter limits both its audience and the diversity of its stories—as Callahan admits, this is predominantly a history of white American men—this collection of personal histories skillfully blends narrative with archival information. Brothers in Arms combines a wealth of photographic evidence alongside the often-neglected histories of postwar cemeteries.

Callahan organizes its contents according to overseas graveyards, a decision that both highlights the guide’s utility as a reference and calls attention to its lack of exhaustiveness (three cemeteries are excluded, due to “a lack of time, space, and our inability to contact the family members of brothers buried there,” and brothers who died at sea aren’t included). Although readers will not find a complete account of all brothers-in-arms in this single volume, Callahan’s goal is not to provide an encyclopedia of brothers buried overseas, but rather the first entry in an ongoing “living project” that readers themselves can participate in via social media (@brothersinarmsbook). Like the guide itself, which contains a wealth of primary sources ranging from photographs to dance invitations and personal correspondence, the project will continually update with more materials and memories online as the research team receives submissions from family members. Perfect for genealogy enthusiasts and history buffs, Brothers in Arms is an exciting and evolving resource.

Takeaway: Reflective and thought-provoking, this is a worthy entry on any WWII buff’s reading list.

Great for fans of: Sally Mott Freeman’s The Jersey Brothers; TIME-LIFE World War II in 500 Photographs.

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

Click here for more about Brothers in Arms
The Undergrounds
Geert Heetebrij and Jonathan Lareva
In this appealing graphic novel, the Cooper family goes from mundane move to magical adventure when the children discover a tunnel in the backyard that leads to various magical worlds. Neil, his wife Kristen, and their four children—Elyse, Claire, Lauren, and Rob—are a typical family with typical bickering and strains, and when they and their dog Cash arrive at the semiderelict home they’ve just bought, the children are banished to the yard to keep them out of the way of the movers. There they find a deep and mysterious tunnel lined with doors that seem to open into other realms. When they accidentally lead a group of pirates back to their home, the whole family has to work both independently and together to get home safe and sound.

As the family gets split up and each person or duo face their own perils, they learn to stop taking each other for granted and to work together to save the family. While some try to outmaneuver pirates or escape unfamiliar worlds, bookish Claire ends up in a magical library that may hold the key to steering her family toward a happy ending. The story is supported by clean, clever, evocative art that gives each person (and family pet) a distinct characterization. Personality and mood are expertly conveyed with simple lines and partially colored panels that never distract or detract from the story taking place, but support and enhance it.

Told in a total of eight chapters, the overarching plot takes the family from loving-yet-contentious to a point where they can set squabbles aside and truly appreciate one another, adeptly exploring the themes of teamwork, respect, and the triumph of the family bond. The writing strikes an excellent balance with the graphics, and the story itself is appropriate for younger readers without losing appeal for adults either. Readers of all ages will find this a real gem.

Takeaway: Readers of any age who enjoy portal fantasies will love this expertly crafted adventure.

Great for fans of: Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, FGTeeV’s FGTeev Presents: Into The Game!, Peter Wartman’s The Dragon Prince: Through the Moon.

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

Click here for more about The Undergrounds
Between Tads and Toads
Christine May
May’s whimsical illustrated poem is a parable for adults about the emotional price of focusing too much on appearance, told through the experience of Frederic, an anthropomorphic frog who lives in a community that surrounds a pond. As alternating pages of quatrains and illustrations explain, “pondling” society is made up of two groups: Frogs—who are beautiful, elegant, and perfectly proportioned—focus on being charming “living Art,” so they take ballet classes to develop their grace and abstain from treats to keep their figures trim. Toads, on the other hand, are highly educated, eschew too much physical activity, and love good booze, fancy vittles, and custom-tailored tweed suits. The pondlings go on fancy picnics, compete in swimming races, and carouse at nightclubs; Frederic participates, but inside he feels more and more empty, desperate, and self-critical.

May’s verse tends to be more musical than sensical, and includes some forced rhymes: “incomplex” to rhyme with “Sussex,” “aspire” used to mean “aspiration” for a slant rhyme with “bow tie.” (*At a few points, it’s difficult to understand the intended meaning: a swimming race is described with the sentence, “In three lanes, amphibs defile.”) But despite the occasional linguistic idiosyncrasy, the story is charming, and so is the amphibian society depicted: toads in tailcoats and frogs in ascots eating ice cream on park benches, being measured for bespoke ensembles, and skiing. The pen-and-ink illustrations are a highlight, as whimsical and elegant as the characters they portray. Frederic gazing at his reflection in a pond hearkens back to the myth of Narcissus, and the amphibians’ automobiles and swimming costumes evoke the early 20th century. A graceful frog waiter serving wine in arabesque position, Frederic dancing with a handsome toad, and tadpoles in earmuffs warming up after sledding are particular highlights.

The ending is more an implication than a fully realized denouement. Frederic ditches a ski outing and lies down in the snow to die. A pretty girl frog finds and revives him; he confesses misery, she counsels him that being beautiful isn’t enough to make one happy, and he realizes he needs to change his life. The reader doesn’t get to see how that happens, but the last image is of Frederic crossing a bridge with a little smile on his face, suggesting he’s headed for better things. This idiosyncratic will charm and intrigue readers.

Takeaway: This whimsical verse story for adults about a depressed amphibian playboy will charm and intrigue readers.

Great for fans of: Kenneth’s Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

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

Click here for more about Between Tads and Toads
Everything That Came Before Grace: A Father-Daughter Story
Bill See
See (33 Days: Touring in a Van, Sleeping On Floors, Chasing a Dream) details the trials and triumphs of a single father struggling with mental illness in this poignant, disarmingly honest novel. Los Angeles native Benjamin Bradford battles daily against depression and anxiety while striving to raise his daughter, Sophia, with the sense of safety and routine missing from his own childhood. Benjamin’s life changes when he receives an invitation to his college friend Keith’s wedding to Anna—Benjamin’s one true love. The invitation triggers a narrative segue to their college days, and in the present readers are immersed in the internal turmoil as Benjamin still pines for Anna and feels lonely as adult friendships wax and wane.

See captures the common struggles of single parenthood in pithy, poignant lines that convey how quickly the little mishaps of day-to-day living can spark a downward spiral of anger and guilt when mental illness is a factor. Benjamin is devoted to his daughter and single-mindedly committed to ensuring she grows up happy, healthy, and sane. Propelled by a determination to be different from his unstable mother or absentee father, Benjamin’s resolve to protect Sophia ultimately drives a painful wedge between them as she matures.

See captures Benjamin’s mental health struggles with unflinching clarity, detailing the creeping in of destructive thoughts and highlighting Benjamin’s use of music and compulsive routines to handle them. Benjamin’s enduring love for Anna and immovable belief that they’re meant to be together smacks of obsession; therapy sessions and advice from a colleague illuminate the underlying toxicity in the relationship when Anna and Keith rekindle their friendship with Benjamin. Readers who stick with Benjamin through these ups and downs will find their way to a satisfying ending. See’s tenderly frank portrayal of single parenthood within the miasma of anxiety and depression will have readers engrossed.

Takeaway: Single parents and anyone who’s had to cope with mental illness will find much they can relate to in See’s poignant and honest tale of parenthood on the rocks.

Great for fans of: Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, Mira T. Lee’s Everything Here Is Beautiful, Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone.

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

Click here for more about Everything That Came Before Grace

Loading...