Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Shallcross: Animal Slippers (Hearing Voices #3): Animal Slippers
Charles Porter
The surreal third Hearing Voices novel (after Flame Vine: His Voices) follows high-functioning schizophrenic Aubrey Shallcross through the ups and downs of middle age: reminiscing about the past, missing those he’s lost, questioning his Catholic faith, and worrying about his family. Aubrey is embroiled in a murder investigation after two brothers, Lane and Shane Richards, died under mysterious circumstances (perhaps in an alligator attack). The two alligators in question, Two-Toed Tom and the Dragon, are a part of Aubrey’s history with denizens of the Florida swamps. The Richards’ death may be connected to Aubrey’s past and a serial killer from the 1970s who has resurfaced in Aubrey’s small town. Meanwhile, Triple Suiter, Aubrey’s “slipper”—a tiny man only Aubrey can see—slips in and out of Aubrey’s body and speaks to him. Threads of stories and memories become woven, tangled, and knotted together throughout the course of a disjointed narrative that pairs well with Von Ertfelda’s strange and dynamic line drawings.

Unreliability is a hallmark of Shallcross’s life. Events unfold in a nonlinear fashion, and Porter takes a deep dive into characters’ backstories, at times becoming a character in his own novel. Set in the panhandle of Florida, the story detours through the realities of backswamp life and historical tensions between the Seminole Native Americans and white settlers. Porter’s prose waxes poetic as he captures the nuances of schizophrenia through lyrical descriptions of Aubrey’s fixations and obsessions. There are achingly heartbreaking moments scattered throughout the narrative as Aubrey half-participates in his wife and son’s lives. What emerges is a sensitive, nuanced, sympathetic portrait of Porter’s middle-aged hero.

It may take a moment (or several) for readers to get adjusted to the deliberately meandering style, but Porter’s work is ultimately satisfying, reaping the rewards of playing with language and linear narrative. Readers who are familiar with stream-of-consciousness works will appreciate the intricate craftsmanship of this experimental story about detachment from reality.

Takeaway: This surreal and fantastical novel, full of hallucinations and heart, is sure to captivate anyone who loves a good tall tale.

Great for fans of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

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

Social Work
Thomas Duffy
Duffy’s seventh novel (after 2018’s The Separation) is a gentle, earnest slice-of-life drama chronicling the awkward personal connections that arise in therapy. Marc Ziller, 28 and recently stabilized after a suicide attempt, initially resists group and individual therapy with social worker Lauren Davidson. As he begins to navigate reentry into life outside the hospital, including a new job, he finds Lauren a useful resource even as she puts the brakes on his pursuits of fame and a dating life. Meanwhile, Lauren starts a new romantic relationship with Ahmad, a man she meets on a dating site, but she considers pursing a friendship with Marc despite her professional boundaries.

Duffy’s narrative alternates between Marc and Lauren’s separate lives and their minimally therapeutic sessions together. However, it rarely takes the opportunity to explore their internal lives, and their mutual interest isn’t entirely supported by the story. Despite long, uninterrupted stretches of dialogue, the character voices are not distinct from one another, and the language often feels stilted (“We want to shed positivity on the group by showing them an example of someone who is actually doing well”). Conversations are imbalanced; pages of mundane chatter don’t advance the story, and big life decisions are made within a few lines. Lauren’s approaches to both social work and her personal life seem antiquated for contemporary New York City, and her relationship with Ahmad comes off as transactional and devoid of emotional spark.

Marc’s life outside of his sessions contains a good deal of humor: he hopes to date a television producer and become a star of her dating show Uninhibited Morons, makes clumsy attempts to date a customer from his retail job, visits a singles’ group, and playfully banters with a fellow patient. Marc’s frustrating experiences with dating while keeping his diagnosis of mental illness secret are relatable and the narrative never judges him for his choices even when things go poorly. Readers craving an offbeat happily-ever-after will find satisfaction in seeing Marc finally make the right romantic match.

Takeaway: Duffy’s compassionate depiction of a bumpy but successful recovery after a suicide attempt will be deeply relatable to people on a similar path and those who love them.

Great for fans of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Phillippa Perry and Junko Graat’s Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy.

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

Click here for more about Social Work
20/20
B SHAWN CLARK
Debut author Clark introduces young readers to survivalism in this warm-hearted tale of a boy’s adventures during a time of climate upheaval. In a future world under constant threat from storms and floods, an elderly white man known as Captain begins to record memories of his childhood in 2020s Miami. As a boy, Captain meets two survivalists, a white man named Harrison and a Native American woman named Calusa, who show him the basics of off-the-grid living. When a massive storm ravages their neighborhood, the unlikely trio bring their community together to build self-sufficient homes across Florida.

Clark’s handling of racial matters, while well-intentioned, is somewhat flawed. The explicit use of racial slurs and hateful language, clearly intended to demonstrate their hurtfulness, feels gratuitous. Clichés abound as a Native American medicine man takes Captain’s sister on a vision quest (after which she changes her name to White Feather) and pronounces Captain “one of us” even as Captain continues thinking of Calusa as an “Amazon Warrior Princess.” The apparently surprising sight of a mixed-race group working harmoniously together feels more 1920s than 2020s, as do a reference to Captain’s mother being a “candy striper” at a hospital and the boy’s use of phrases such as “hauled off to the hoosegow.”

In the first half of the book, Harrison introduces his ardent student (and thereby the reader) to practical concepts of self-reliance: filtering water naturally, growing vegetables, generating electricity, and so on. The action picks up as the big storm approaches. The framing device for each chapter, in which the elderly Captain encounters something that triggers a childhood memory, eventually becomes wearing. However, the childhood scenes themselves are educational and often uplifting, grounding optimism in realistic ways for individuals to help one another. This tale about the importance of living at one with the planet will strike a chord with readers eager for pointers to a more sustainable present and future.

Takeaway: This road map to living harmoniously with the planet educates young readers through an uplifting story of communities coming together.

Great for fans of Johann Rudolf Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson, Darren Simpson’s Scavengers.

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

Click here for more about 20/20
Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone: A Lawyer's Case Stories of Love, Loneliness, and Litigation
J. W. Freiberg
Attorney and former social psychology professor Freiberg (Growing Up Lonely: Disconnection and Misconnection in the Lives of Our Children) assembles a sparkling collection of exceedingly erudite essays on human nature as seen through the lens of some of his most memorable legal cases. For over three decades in Boston, Freiberg worked for child protective social service organizations, adoption agencies, and many psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers. The majority of his stories center on children and the social and psychological stresses that litigants experience and inflict on one another in legal proceedings.

One of the most heartstring-tugging pieces is “The Girl Who Inherited France,” the story of a bright six-year-old whose mother dies suddenly from a stroke. In a protracted custody battle, her stepfather fights to keep custody of the little girl he considers his daughter. Another story likely to elicit tears is “Three Souls Caught in a Spider’s Web,” the tale of a bakery owner and battered wife who helps her isolated stepson to find a forever home. The author’s passion for his subjects will readily be shared by the reader. The theme of solitude and loneliness connects the essays, but each one takes a different approach, and each child is a sympathetically depicted individual.

Though billed primarily as an analysis of loneliness, this is far from a dry textbook. Freiberg has a master storyteller’s skillful voice, easily drawing readers into his narratives and keeping them enthralled. He teaches through relevant examples rather than dry pronouncements and expertly gets to the emotional heart of each case, immediately garnering empathy for each person he profiles. The closing section has a more academic tone but is still very accessible and reader-friendly. Expertly written and perfectly paced, Freiberg’s work puts a human face on the law and will have considerable appeal for anyone interested in human nature both at its best and at its worst.

Takeaway: Anyone with an interest in loneliness, solitude, or the sorrows of children caught in litigation will be enthralled by these erudite and sympathetic essays.

Great for fans of Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, E.O. Wilson’s On Human Behavior.

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

Click here for more about Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone
Beyond the Bake Sale, the Ultimate School Fund-Raising Book (Second Edition)
Jean C. Joachim
Joachim’s deeply informative guidebook takes readers through the inner workings of school fundraisers, ranging from small ventures such as wrapping paper sales to much larger fairs and auctions. Created to assist schools and parent associations in planning and execution, the table of contents is divided into seasonal and year-round events, taking readers through which ideas are best suited to each season and when to begin preparations. For each potential fundraiser, readers are walked through everything that will be needed: how and where to set things up, how many volunteers will be needed, how best to handle money, and how to maximize return on investment.

Using the in-depth knowledge gleaned from her 16 years of fundraising for schools, Joachim includes helpful perspective on best practices, potential pitfalls to be avoided, and how to improve from year to year. Additional notes at the end of each section detail ways the fundraiser can be stripped down to free or low-cost components, aimed specifically at making these ideas accessible to schools that may be starting from scratch and have limited financial resources available in advance.

Some of Joachim’s fundraiser suggestions will be difficult to implement outside of her home base—the New York City school system—without significant alteration, if at all: big indoor events may not be possible for open campuses where much of the school is outdoors, restrictions on sharing contact information would impede a school directory, strict policies around protecting students with food allergies would rule out homemade food, and so on. However, the sheer variety of ideas offered throughout the book allows readers to pick and choose, tailoring their fundraiser toolbox to the unique needs of their school. Thoroughness and attention to detail make this step-by-step manual one that organizers will regularly return to for inspiration and direction.

Takeaway: Parents and school staff engaged in school fundraising will appreciate this extensive guide to achieving a successful outcome from a multitude of fundraisers.

Great for fans of Sandra Pfau Englund’s School Fundraising: So Much More than Cookie Dough, Linda Wise McNay’s Fundraising for Schools: 8 Keys to Success Every Head of School Should Know.

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

Seaview Road
Brian McMahon
McMahon’s debut novel explores familial bonds, class divisions, and one woman’s complicity in hiding the circumstances of a man’s death. Katie Murray and her brother, Ryan, are enjoying their summer break from college, living at their family’s summer home in South Monomo, Mass. When Katie and Ryan venture out to a local hangout at Greenstone Lake, Katie stumbles upon men who are hiding Tim McNamara’s body in the brush. Escaping to the safety of her car, she encounters Eric Clarke, the estranged son of her neighbors, who encourages her to flee and covers for her, claiming to his friends that he didn’t see anyone. Eric reveals that the man responsible for Tim’s overdose death believes she saw him hiding the body. Katie must decide whether to reveal all to the police while fearing how that will affect Eric.

McMahon’s dimensional characters highlight the societal class differences in the neighboring towns of South Monomo and Worona. The clever inclusion of narratives from the killer, expressing his innermost thoughts and regrets, adds depth to his character while eliciting sympathy for the circumstances leading to his destructive behavior. McMahon’s exploration of the rifts within families magnifies the Clarkes’ efforts to distance themselves from their troubled, wayward son.

South Monomo residents’ snobbery and disdain for their neighbors in Worona is disturbing, but it sets the stage well for Katie’s awakening to her neighbors’ hypocrisy, and how the Clarkes’ quest for the perfect image came at the expense of their son. Katie’s journey comes to a head with a confrontation with the Clarke family about their neglect of Eric, which also offers a succinct reminder that the opioid epidemic’s impact isn’t limited to lower-class families. Fans of magnetic, topical contemporary fiction will be drawn to this immersive study of family and class conflict, complete with an undercurrent of murder.

Takeaway: This introspective view of class division and the quest for the perfect family is ideal for fans of gritty contemporary fiction.

Great for fans of Christina Clancy’s The Second Home, Barbara Elle’s Death in Smoke.

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

Click here for more about Seaview Road
Flight of the Wren
Winter Fox
Fox (the Grace Coffin series) enchants with his first Viking Age novel, a sweeping medieval saga that stretches across 11th-century Scandinavia. After Hilja’s mother and three-year-old sister are stolen from her village by pillaging Norsemen, Hilja, who is only seven but wise and brave, vows to bring them home, no matter what it takes. Six years later, her entire village is destroyed. As she grows up and searches for her mother and sister, she acquires a fiancé, displays an uncommon sense of honor, and becomes a powerful medicine woman. Meanwhile, Thorkell the Tall, leader of the Jømsvikings, plays dangerous political and sexual games with Gunnhilde, the queen of Denmark, as her sons, Harald and Canute, vie to be the next king.

This story ticks all the elements of a well-rounded tale: swashbuckling warriors, naked ambition, adventure, and a touch of romance. It’s clearly the first episode of three, and readers may be frustrated that so many arcs are left unresolved, though enough is wrapped up to be satisfying. Fox rarely missteps; only a few overly raunchy and size-focused references to male genitalia distract from the endearing characters and dramatic action.

Fox’s vivid worldbuilding will easily ensnare readers. His impeccable research, spun into lyrical prose (“These were the bright nights of summer, when the sun orbited the sky in a wild oval”), powers his narrative and makes his occasional bursts of wry wit even more delightful. The supernatural elements are touched on lightly, leaving the characters’ individual choices to drive the plot. This evocative and lovely medieval novel leads readers into a magical, often bloody era that they’ll be sorry to leave.

Takeaway: This exquisitely wrought medieval tale will appeal to fans of both fantasy and historical epics.

Great for fans of Tim Severin’s Viking series, Snorri Kristjansson, Giles Kristian.

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

Click here for more about Flight of the Wren
The Next Beethoven
Harry Magnet
Characters grapple with the meaning of art and the weight of their choices in this debut collection of the title novel and four short stories. In the novel, promising 23-year-old pianist and composition student David Green, frustrated by modern and contemporary music, posts an ad looking for like-minded artists to revitalize classical modes. The Second Renaissance Artist Group’s first project focuses on depicting 9/11 as a heroic tragedy, but the group quickly falls apart under clashing philosophies and personalities, and David spirals into a destructive depression. In the uncomfortable “The Twenty-First Century Maecenas,” a woman’s suspicion about her husband’s infidelity is squashed when she learns his wealthy patron is quadriplegic. Assumptions have deadlier consequences in “Death Lake,” in which a husband narrowly escapes an attempt on his life, and “Classmates,” which follows a mother trying to solve her daughter’s murder. A young woman attracts a nerdy stalker in “The Hazards of Social Psychology Research.”

Magnet’s best moments come as he shows how ideas crystallize into harmful dogmas. A character’s obsession with Objectivism turns him into an egoist ready to toss aside anything “irrational,” including relationships and schoolwork. David uses fundamentalism to justify his increasingly violent behavior, including stalking, insulting his teacher, loudly disrupting a performance, and sexually assaulting his ex-girlfriend. This makes his eventual vindication troubling.

The prose sometimes falls into didacticism, and the fist-shaking disparagement of contemporary art could alienate some readers. Those who push through will see intriguing questions being asked about the unquestioned dominance of styles now a century old, the ability of any single artist to shake norms, and the connections between creativity and mental illness. The artist group’s disintegration highlights the struggles of those who swim against the zeitgeist while coping with financial instability and a lack of broader community. This esoteric work upholds a specific view of genius that excuses any harm perpetrated in the pursuit of creative achievement.

Takeaway: This moody, polemical excavation of contemporary art’s fixation on modernism will satisfy readers who believe creative genius excuses all flaws.

Great for fans of Bret Easton Ellis’s White, Gen LaGreca.

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

Click here for more about The Next Beethoven
Low Down Dirty Vote: A Crime Fiction Anthology: Volume II
Mysti Berry, Editor
The 22 stories in Berry’s politically charged second Low Down Dirty Vote crime fiction anthology all revolve around the premise that “every stolen vote is a crime.” The anthology opens with Faye Snowden’s “One Bullet. One Vote,” which sets the tone as 85-year-old Willie Mae Brown becomes the first black person in her small town to vote despite threats to the safety of her family. The stories that follow highlight similar issues, including the voting rights of convicted felons (in Tim O’Mara’s “Voting Block” and S.B. White’s “The Sentencing Conundrum), the Equal Rights Amendment (in David Hagerty’s “An ERA of Inequality”), and the purging of voter registration lists (Ann Parker’s “Purged”).

The potentially depressing effect of such stories is buoyed by an array of vivid and dynamic characters, such as the cantankerous septuagenarian in Sarah M. Chen’s “Unit 805” who blackmails the board members of his retirement home; the stubborn, old-fashioned grandfather in Camille Minichino’s “Three Funny Things Happened on the Way to Vote” and the granddaughter who cares for him; and two assassins (one each from Frank Rankin’s “A Moral Assassin” and Terry Sanville’s “Pro Bono”) who try to do the right thing.

The depictions of election-rigging occur across time periods both historic (a 1910 sheriff’s election in Jackie Ross Flaum’s “Two Dead, Two Wounded”) and modern (a congressman’s campaign jeopardized by Photoshop and Facebook in Bev Vincent’s “Kane and the Candidate”), in communities both small (a nonprofit theatre organization in Robert Lopresti’s “Shanks Gets Out the Vote”) and large (a state governor’s race in James McCrone’s “Numbers Don’t Lie”). Neither side of the political divide is immune: Madeline McEwen’s “Benevolent Dictatorship” features a proud Democrat who forges the signatures on her family’s ballots, while Travis Richardson’s “The Cost of Ethics” sees a GOP volunteer lament that he’d “love to have an ethical Republican Party.” Regardless of affiliation, readers will find these stories give color and life to a relevant and often controversial issue.

Takeaway: Social studies teachers, history buffs, and anyone curious about politics will appreciate this anthology of crime stories about fighting, scheming, and taking action for the right to vote.

Great for fans of Michael Dobbs’s House of Cards, Tom Clancy.

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

Deep Time Is in the Garden: New Almanac Essays in Search of TIme and Place and Spirit
William Felker
This wonderful collection of thoughtful, lyrical essays entwines Felker (Home Is the Prime Meridian) and his readers with the patterns of nature. Each of the nearly 40 essays, including many first published in the Yellow Springs News of Yellow Springs, Ohio, connects daily observations to “a kind of radial time,” blurring the line between singular moments and longer movements, one garden and all gardens. For Felker, the natural world helps dispel the lingering anxieties of a sleepless night and offers the sort of comfort that Roman Catholic rituals used to provide for him and no longer do. He explores memory at length, and just as memories mix together to form a narrative, so too does observing nature for familiar patterns.

Felker balances the concrete details of the things he sees—the different species of birds, flowers, and trees he comes across, daily temperatures, astronomical events—with the meanings he ascribes to them. He’s aware that existential musings about why a finch appears at a particular time have little to do with the finch and everything to do with his own thoughts. Felker tries to follow what he calls “the easiest law,” which states that “when one thing is happening, something else is happening too.” He asserts that by recording data, such as the number of leaves that fall, he can also record his feelings without focusing too much on his interior world.

Within these pages, the world of nature is one of simultaneity where “nothing is ever out of place. Everything fits.” Felker’s concluding essay, “Repetition Is the Way Home,” meditates on the comfort and wonder of cycles and routine, how walking the same paths every day and through every season is a walk back in time that alleviates some of his anxiety about the future. That insight is just one of many poignant observations scattered through this marvelous book. Felker’s brevity, beautiful detail, and philosophical punch make this fluid collection a true pleasure to read.

Takeaway: Readers moved by the intersection of natural history and philosophy will love these meditative, poetic essays by a suburban naturalist.

Great for fans of John Harvey’s The Stillness of the Listening Forest.

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

Click here for more about Deep Time Is in the Garden
When Kingdom Come
D.H. Blake
Touched with elements of horror and utopianism, Blake’s sprawling, thoughtful debut science fiction novel turns on a tricky question: would humans listen to an urgent plea to accept alien refugees with amazing technological advances if those aliens occasionally fed on human blood? A New York City bartender, Juan, is abducted by Alizerin aliens on a hunting weekend in the Adirondacks. After finding out that he’s an Alizerin left behind on a previous mission, Juan learns new ways of living in harmony with nature and accesses a part of his mind that humans never touch. Still, he’s reluctant to imbibe the Alizerins’ miracle elixir, Azika, once he learns it’s derived from human blood, including that of his hunting buddies. As his fiancée, his family, and officials try to track down Juan and his missing friends, the Alizerins are pursued by the U.S. government.

Blake’s prose and dialogue are occasionally stiff or stilted: “After watching his extraordinarily athletic leader leap from the chopper, Sahan promptly detached his harness from the landing gear, and deftly flew out of the way.” These wordy passages can slow down otherwise well-written scenes. The pacing is also stymied by the investigation tracking Juan in the book’s first half, as the team is far behind what readers already know and never faced with challenging decisions, so suspense is diminished.

Despite these disruptions, Blake balances moral quandaries with mysteries and exciting action sequences, including memorable scenes involving helicopters, fighter jets, and flying Alizerins. This debut recalls classic sci-fi with a blockbuster plot and a strong moral center, and is updated for modern readers with earnest multiethnicity (including among the Alizerins, whose culture “is predicated on diversity and open, multiracial and gender interaction”). This story will find a home with readers of space fantasies full of beautiful aliens and dramatic action.

Takeaway: This character-driven tale of aliens landing on Earth will please readers of classic space fantasies.

Great for fans of Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, Whitley Strieber’s The Greys

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

Click here for more about When Kingdom Come
The Sikh Heritage: Beyond Borders
Dalvir S Pannu
In this painstaking heritage guide, Pannu displays the fruits of long research about Sikh history and religion. In 1947, two days after India’s independence was declared from Britain, a decree ordered the creation of Pakistan as a country separate from India. All non-Muslim people living in what was now a Muslim country, including the author’s great-grandparents, had to immediately vacate their home region, while all Muslims in India likewise had to march to the other side of the border. Due to partition, Sikhs were suddenly denied access to dozens of holy and historic sites related to their religion and its founder, Guru Nanak. This book is the culmination of a decade’s worth of research into those sites; it includes pages of beautiful photographs along with studies of religious texts put in historical context.

Pannu details 84 gurdwaras (sacred sites) in six different regions of Pakistan. Some of the shrines are well maintained, which he notes with approval, while others have been left to decay; one is now used as a cricket field. Telling the story of the shrines also means telling the story of Guru Nanak, connecting his miracles told in hagiographies to historical events and actual locations. While this is an admirable goal, it results in a choppy and somewhat disorganized structure.

This book is a labor of love, and Pannu’s passion shines through. It’s dedicated to a future time when peace between India and Pakistan will allow all Sikhs free access to their holy places. Though well-written and informative, this work is definitely targeted to audiences doing research about Sikh religion and cultural heritage rather than casual readers. This reference guide is well crafted, beautifully laid out, educational, and rewarding.

Takeaway: Scholars researching Sikh history and traditions will cherish this lavishly illustrated tour of dozens of sacred sites in Pakistan.

Great for fans of Amardeep Singh’s Lost Heritage: The Sikh Heritage in Pakistan, Ranjodh Singh’s Nankana Sahib and Sikh Shrines in Pakistan.

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

Click here for more about The Sikh Heritage
A View From the Borderline
Charles Souby
This eclectic short story collection by Souby (A Shot of Malaria) mixes the macabre and the sweetly romantic while considering the push and pull of relationships in flux. A man's attraction to a woman at the track leads him to drunkenly lose his money in “Silver Slumdog,” and a young woman revels in her burgeoning adulthood in “Godot Meets Guffman.” A couple navigate intellectual and sexual attraction during their second date in “Geese & Ganders.” A woman's desire to have children proves a breaking point for her boyfriend in “Thornchild.” Situations spin out of control and into absurd conflict in “Silencium,” in which a camp director forces two boys to resolve a dispute about nonviolence by fighting, and in “The Plaid Golf Pants,” in which a hostage negotiator is called in to parley with a woman holding a dry cleaner’s clothes hostage. Souby’s narratives take a darker turn in several stories: in “Monkey Business,” monkeys in India bludgeon young baseball players to death, and in “Eloi Reduction,” young people are lured to a rave where they are brutally butchered and processed for cannibalistic consumption.

Souby’s characters are expertly drawn. All are driven by clear emotions and desires, motivating them to act out in ways that range from tender to violent. The story lines that focus on how people navigate relationships with one another are believable and intimate, especially in stories such as “Nymphs, Woods & Cottages,” in which a man meets his future wife while she’s camping out in the woods after leaving her abusive home.

The contrast between the study of relationships and the darkness in some of the stories adds depth to the collection. While the violence of “Monkey Business” examines the retribution of the monkeys against the minister who harmed them, the cannibalism of “Eloi Reduction” as perpetrated by Hollywood moguls is more darkly disturbing than anything else in the book. While some elements may shock some readers, literary audiences with wide-ranging tastes will be drawn to the collection’s variety and depth.

Takeaway: Fans of eclectic short stories will appreciate these intimate, tender, sometimes disturbing narratives.

Great for fans of Alice Munro’s Dear Life, Richard Russo’s Trajectory.

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

Click here for more about A View From the Borderline
NAKED TRUTH or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit
Carrie M Hayes
Hayes fleshes out the scandalous lives of sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin in this debut dramatization of Gilded Age history. Victoria and Tennie, born into a family of con artists, work as mediums and spiritualists to ingratiate themselves with wealthy clients, using those connections to become publishers and stockbrokers. Jealous family members threaten them with blackmail, and their activism for women’s suffrage and muckraking earns them the ire of powerful people, leading to their arrests for criminal libel and sending pornography through the mail.

Hayes’s fertile imagination transforms the historical truths at the heart of this story, enlivening the clash of emerging feminism against the oppressive moral politics of the late-19th-century United States. As the first female presidential candidate, Victoria is the more recognizable name, but Hayes focuses on Tennie’s doomed romances with business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt and newspaperman James Gordon Bennett. Vanderbilt’s son William alternately lusts after and despises Tennie, while moralist Anthony Comstock practically twirls his mustache as he plans to arrest the siblings for publishing a story about the adulterous behavior of revered preacher Henry Ward Beecher. They also clash with Beecher’s sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was diagnosed with hysteria and takes umbrage when Victoria questions her decision to have her daughter’s clitoris removed to prevent the condition.

As the sisters gain and lose their fortunes, Hayes illuminates the casual corruption and cronyism that marked the early Gilded Age. She has found a fascinating chapter in history to explore, and Victoria and Tennie are compelling protagonists: fiercely determined, morally ambiguous, and deeply complicated. Readers with an interest in first-wave feminism, New York history, and detailed storytelling will enjoy mining this debut, which nicely sets up a sequel.

Takeaway: Fans of historical fiction featuring morally ambiguous women will eat up this tale of sisters determined to make their own way in Victorian New York.

Great for fans of Marge Piercy’s Sex Wars, Barbara Goldsmith’s Other Powers, Lois Beachy Underhill’s The Woman Who Ran for President.

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

The Arab Business Code
Judith Hornok
Hornok’s workbook offers practical guidance for non-Arab businesspeople seeking opportunity in the Arabian Gulf, one of the world’s most booming emerging markets. Drawing upon many everyday examples and case studies, and displaying acute sensitivity to the assumptions and beliefs of all parties in cross-cultural communication, Hornok lays out crucial, general rules: develop chemistry with potential business partners, acknowledge the importance of family ties, honor and understand culturally specific rules of respect and face-saving. She also highlights some specific circumstances non-Arab business leaders might encounter, giving advice on eye contact, handshaking, saying “no,” and apologizing after one party causes another to lose face.

The material is strong and likely to prove helpful to its intended audience, but the book suffers from its lack of an index and chapter summaries, and its structure is haphazard. In the extended fourth chapter, for example, a scheme of nested, numbered sections with vague names (“Golden Rules,” “Key Codes,” “Strategic Codes,” “Tools,” “Building Blocks”) does little to lead readers to specific topics. A reader eager to learn about how a non-Arab businesswoman should handle feeling ignored by Arab businessmen in a meeting is unlikely to intuit that this gets covered under “Cultural no-go ABC 3: Eye contact” under “Key Code 4” of “Golden Rule 3: Respect.” Case studies are visually set aside in gray boxes but then referred to as though they’re part of the main text.

Hornok packs her six chapters with vivid examples, illuminating original quotes from Arab and non-Arab businesspeople, and lists of precepts and tools. Readers who take the time to highlight and organize their own favorite tips from her book will find them well worth returning to. She’s an engaging, informed coach, and business-minded readers will find much here that’s worth considering when it comes to avoiding pitfalls and managing expectations in cross-cultural deal-making.

Takeaway: Non-Arab businesspeople interested in deal-making in the Arabian Gulf will appreciate this sensitive, thorough guide to cross-cultural business interactions.

Great for fans of Great for fans of Rana Nejem’s When in the Arab World, Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map.

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

Click here for more about The Arab Business Code
Hate's Recompense
Joseph H Gibson
Gibson’s gripping debut, which launches the Athena technothriller series, is a chilling tale of Machiavellian political factions pitting emerging tech against one another, threatening millions of lives. California Sen. Alejandra Trujillo, a member of the Resistance party, has organized against President Kahn’s executive order to implement Sentinel, security tech that will install implants in everyone and use artificial intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks. When Alejandra is the victim of an anthrax attack in Los Angeles, Kahn claims it was orchestrated by Iran along with a cyberattack, and he issues an executive order to roll out Sentinel. Before the Senate and its Resistance members, including Alejandra, can vote to block it, Kahn makes an emotional plea and they relent. But Sen. Henry Little Hawk is suspicious of Kahn’s motives and enlists the help of Jenks Kennard, who—along with Bur McAnter, a member of the Nationalist party—created the technology that spawned Sentinel. Bur discovers that Kahn orchestrated the attacks, and Alejandra and Jenks roll out their own AI, Athena, hoping it can usurp Sentinel’s domination and prevent Kahn’s next move.

Some of Gibson’s characters can seem over the top, particularly in light of his well-meaning attempts to diversify his cast. Henry undertakes a vision quest in which the spirit of Crazy Horse warns him about a coming race war; Bur’s children are overly precocious and sometimes a little precious. However, those character choices don’t mar the overall story, which is a fast-paced, immersive, and riveting exploration of the uses of and misuses of surveillance technology and artificial intelligence.

Gibson, whose professional life includes work with machine learning and artificial intelligence, poses tough questions about the role of such technology in civic society, providing enough context for the average reader to understand how it can be used for good or evil. This thriller is an exciting ride from a promising new author, infused with questions about politics, power, and technology.

Takeaway: Fans of technothrillers that comment on current events will love this fast-paced novel and eagerly await the author’s next installment.

Great for fans of Lee Child’s Blue Moon and Mike Maden’s Tom Clancy: Point of Contact.

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

Click here for more about Hate's Recompense

Loading...