Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Traveling Freedom's Road: A Guide to Exploring Our Civil Rights History
John J. Hanrahan
Written with intentionality, passion, and precision, Hanrahan’s debut is both an historical account and a travel guide, published to illuminate civil rights and African American history by exploring destinations “where you can learn about the quest for equality.” Beginning with a candid foray into Hanrahan’s own journey through civil rights history, readers will gain a snapshot of the lives behind some of historical activists, the courageous people commemorated in the landmarks featured in this guide. Hanrahan also offers practical recommendations for travel planning, including sample checklists and trip itineraries, alongside meticulously detailed information about historical destinations located primarily in the southern United States.

Hanrahan packs this guide with powerful, black and white imagery to illustrate critical moments in civil rights history, adding to its beauty while making it inviting for readers to sift through for inspiration on important historic sites to visit. He also expertly lays out the gritty process of planning an intensive road trip, without shying away from some harsh travel realities—such as the pandemic’s impact on daily operations or the importance of understanding your own travel style prior to making elaborate plans. This guide is painstakingly detailed, offering more than some readers might need, but Hanrahan’s attention to minutiae will be welcomed by those desiring more comprehensive travel advice.

Hanrahan dedicates ample time to historically significant museums, buildings, monuments, and other sites, but perhaps the most impressive aspect is the incredibly specific and helpful pointers he provides about each location—including opening and closing hours, parking, descriptions of displays, and appropriateness for children. This impressive guide belongs on the shelves of historians, teachers, travelers, and any readers interested in taking a meaningful, life-changing trip through civil rights history.

Takeaway: An impressive guide that pairs travel advice with civil rights history, including must-visit locations and detailed suggestions.

Great for fans of: Deborah D. Douglas’s Moon U.S. Civil Rights Trail, Nikole Hannah-Jones’s The 1619 Project.

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

Click here for more about Traveling Freedom's Road
Tarsier Sings His Song: Endangered and Misunderstood Book 4
Terri Tatchell
An adorable tarsier searches for his true love in this delightful fourth picture book of the Endangered and Misunderstood Animals series by Tatchell. Tarsie, who sings when the sun rises and sets each day, seems mournful to his friends –a bear cuscus, a hornbill, and a crested macaque who all live together in the jungle. When he explains his sadness is because he’s “waited for so long” for a female tarsier to join his duet, his pals vow to help him get noticed. Each animal friend has a special skill to teach—from the hornbill’s hint on flapping his arms to the macaque’s suggestions of kissing the sky between notes — that may give Tarsie the confidence he needs to finally find his partner.

Tatchell has created a skillful blend of education and entertainment on every page. Readers will learn intriguing facts about little-known animals, such as the cuscus bear’s love of cocoa plants and macaque’s preference for fresh fruit, but the fun doesn’t stop there. Tatchell’s appealing characters evoke the bond of friendship as they rush to help Tarsie discover happiness, and their unique advice lands him magical results. Tatchell’s lilting verses work to mimic the natural rhythm of Tarsie’s world, as when he playfully sings “I am a friendly tarsier/who munches flying things./I snatch them from mid-air because/I like to crunch their wings.”

Ivan Sulima’s illustrations are deep, harmonious reflections of survival in the wild. In the night-time scenes particularly, Sulima’s cool palettes conjure the mystery of jungle life, and his bold graphics will quickly grab readers’ attention. True to the story’s conservationist bent, Tatchell includes fast facts at the end about the featured animals as well as how-to instructions for sketching them. Any fan of endangered species—or animal lovers in general—will cherish this uplifting tale.

Takeaway: A young tarsier learns to sing his true love’s tune with the help of his endangered friends.

Great for fans of: Thyra Heder’s The Bear Report, Rosanne Parry’s A Whale of the Wild.

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

Click here for more about Tarsier Sings His Song
More After the Break: A Reporter Returns to Ten Unforgettable News Stories
Jen Maxfield
NBC New York journalist Maxfield crafts poignant and heartfelt follow-up stories from ten incredible news events over her twenty-year career. As a reporter with a tight deadline, she usually conducts brief interviews that are quickly edited and presented on the nightly news. “I’ve always liked the quote ‘news is the first rough draft of history,’” she writes. “I would add that the drafts I’ve written are not just rough; they’re incomplete.” Sometimes, she notes, the personal stories and perspectives of those involved in news stories get forgotten. On an assignment in 2021 about getting illegal guns off the street, Maxfield interviewed, for the second time, the grandmother of a fifteen-year-old who was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 2015. Maxfield had not heard from her since and was struck by the fact that, so often, reporters tell people’s stories but rarely learn what happened next.

With curiosity, humility, and respect, Maxfield follows up with ten remarkable people, promising “Their story will be an integral part of our community’s shared history.” Maxfield revisits Paul Esposito, who lost both legs in the Staten Island Ferry crash in 2003, and now teaches about living independently with a disability. Maxfield also follows up with Yarelis Bonilla, who as a five-year-old with leukemia needed a bone marrow transplant, but her sister in El Salvador was refused a tourist visa. Other subjects include children who survived a Paramus, New Jersey, bus crash; a Hurricane Katrina survivor; and an Ivy Leaguer who was imprisoned on drug charges under harsh mandatory minimum sentencing.

Maxfield presents these harrowing stories with nail-biting intensity while affording her subjects the space and humanity to discuss their lives and how their ordeals affected them. She also offers welcome insight into the news gathering profession, the impact of social media, and the role of local news to report information pertinent to small communities. Readers of real-life stories of overcoming trauma will find these inspirational tales impossible to put down.

Takeaway: Maxfield’s poignant follow-up interviews with everyday news makers reveal humanity and optimism.

Great for fans of: Clarissa Ward’s On All Fronts, Craig Taylor’s New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time.

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

Click here for more about More After the Break
Pekolah Stories
Amanda Bales
Bales’s accomplished debut collection presents a standout portrait of small-town life in a straightforward, occasionally lyric style as it lays bare, in interconnected stories, Pekolah, Oklahoma, a world of trout rivers, church sanctuaries, and a pervading sense of decay. Within this setting, Bales achieves a range of subjects, themes, and approaches, not shying away from dialect or creative risks. The first story, “Fair Enough,” explores the limits of morality in a stagnant town: Ruth and Kendal are lovers who face harassment and opposition. “A Hard Thing But True,” a tale of murder that pairs with “The Gods of Men,” unstintingly considers masculinity, and rhyming, lyric prose distinguishes “At the Fourth of July Potluck,” which contrasts gay and straight sexuality and its effects on women.

The varied approach offers surprises, like ‘A School Gunman’s Letter…,’ composed entirely of hymn titles and the lyrical, almost surrealist ‘“Bunny Town, USA,” though even there these lives, backgrounded by NCIS and George Strait posters, are delineated with sensitivity and convincing detail–but also without illusions or sentimentality. On issues of politics and culture, Pekolah Stories is serious and surefooted, interrogating the complex intersection of far-right politics and Christianity, and other dynamics shaping small-town life.

Conviction makes murder righteous in the wrenching “The Gods of Men,” and death-writ-large is recurring theme throughout: “It’s a helluva thing, dying like that,” one narrator muses. “ Made me understand why Dad ate his gun.” Bales likewise proves adept at examining gender and sexuality, presented with satirical bite in “At the 4th of July Potluck the Year She Moves Back Home,” but also with deadly seriousness in stories touching on the institutional violence of police stops and conversion centers. Bales’s prose illuminates larger systems of belief without losing its earthiness, its connection to everyday characters and events. Readers of literary fiction and clear-eyed portraiture of American lives will do well to seize these bruising, finely wrought stories.

Takeaway: Bracing, clear-eyed stories of small-town America, alive with memorable detail and insight.

Great for fans of: Lynn Lauber, Melissa Faliveno’s Tomboyland.

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

Click here for more about Pekolah Stories
Accountability : Facing the truth to discover self-empowerment
Laura Strobel
Blending elements of memoir and self-help, this ultimately hopeful debut digs into the author’s experience of being accused of committing domestic violence, her enrollment in a mandatory Domestic Violence Prevention program, and her own journey towards accountability–or “accepting responsibility for yourself and your actions.” In a bizarre incident one evening, after he slaps their toddler son, Aurora strikes her husband with “fierce viciousness,” drawing blood. Stunned, she dials emergency services but hangs up before the call goes through. Sometime later, the events take a darkly farcical turn when she is arrested for assault, kept in jail for two days, and eventually allowed to return home, contingent on her completion of a 26-week diversion class.

Strobel tells the story in the third-person, assuming the name Aurora, a choice that creates distance between author, protagonist, and reader. The sense that this all seemed to be happening to someone else is exacerbated as Accountability recounts Aurora’s experience of the DVP classes, where she feels like an outsider, telling herself that, never having experienced intimate partner violence, she’s not one of "those" women. Her descriptions of what happens in the classes is valuable, as she shares valuable insights gained through the information shared in each session and recounts moving from states of shock and denial toward acceptance.

Though interesting, the author’s account of her arrest, detention, and release could have benefited from tighter editing. Although Aurora herself may not have believed that she truly needed these diversion classes, the startling lessons she encountered will be eye-opening for readers, as they continually circle back to accountability and empowerment as methods of breaking cycles of violence. It reinforces that domestic violence is ubiquitous and those who don’t experience it are indeed lucky. This story will resonate with readers who have experienced domestic violence as well as those just seeking a safer world.

Takeaway: This memoir of an “outsider” facing mandatory domestic violence prevention classes recounts a journey toward acceptance.

Great for fans of: Nicole Strycharz’s The Love that Hurts, Adwoa Akhu’s Metamorphosis.

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

Click here for more about Accountability
The Stealing
S. A. Sutila
Sutila’s accomplished debut, a paranormal YA gothic romance, distinguishes itself from the first pages with vivid characters, storytelling, and prose, all in a haunted 1980s setting touched with the uncanny but more interested in hard truths about the era than easy nostalgia. On the Delaware coast, beneath the abandoned Port Mahon lighthouse, an arresting world of sea turtles and shucking houses, high school senior Sarah toils on her father’s fishing boat, the Outlaw. Sarah feels trapped, especially when her father tells her “Girls don’t need to go to college” and demands she get back to what he believes she exists to do: make nets. Feeling alone and hopeless, shaken by memories of her father’s abuse of her late mother, Sarah attempts to end her life – but she’s saved by the timely intervention of powers beyond her understanding.

Sarah faces unbearable choices best left unspoiled. Suffice it to say, her early plunge into the Atlantic does not end her story, and after complications involving her “spirit” and the attentions of a mysterious and controlling figure named Max, Sarah is caught between living and death—and also between love interests, with taloned Max demanding a promise from her. Meanwhile, in this mortal realm, her heart yearns for Grant, a neighbor who is, in Sutila’s inimitable phrase, “jeans-commercial handsome.

Such striking language abounds in The Stealing. Readers will taste the salty sea air as Sarah strives to take control over her life—and Sutila layers on rich, convincing atmosphere and detail. The prose edges toward the dense at times, diminishing narrative momentum, but often achieving what fans of gothics want most from the genre: the chance to soak in powerfully evoked feeling. Sutila evinces a welcome revisionist spirit, affording Sarah 21st century agency while honoring the gothic tradition and the not-quite-enlightened 1980s, but what readers will remember most is the novel’s briny milieu.

Takeaway: An arresting modern gothic whose heroine gets caught between life and death, sea and land.

Great for fans of: Eve Bunting’s Forbidden, Caitlin Starling’s The Death of Jane Lawrence.

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

Click here for more about The Stealing
Wisdom: : A Very Valuable Virtue That Cannot Be Bought
Jason Merchey
Merchey’s wide-ranging examination and celebration of that most hard-won yet often undervalued of virtues digs deep into what exactly it means to be wise, for an individual as well as for a society and even a species. Arguing that a renewed love for this multifaceted virtue marks a vital step toward addressing a national “state of deterioration and decline,” Merchey, author of the Values of the Wise series, sees in the cultivation of wisdom an embracing of empathy, open-mindedness, patience, and self-discipline, habits of mind that all contribute to the likelihood of living “a life of value.” By this he means a life not ruled by tribalism or the acquisition of wealth, but one of both self-fulfillment and commitment to “making positive differences in the lives of other individuals, the community, the nation, and the world.”

There’s more to the pursuit of happiness, he argues, than the acquisition of material goods, noting that the wealthy tend not to be much happier than those making a median income, and that a life of value can come about “from learning, philosophizing, commitment, conscientiousness, and practice.” Reading this hefty yet welcoming, even conversational, volume represents much time engaged in all of those, as Merchey teases apart the “nuanced, subtle, context-bound, and perspectival aspects of wisdom” and makes the case that the oldest of truisms—that wisdom cannot be bought—is actually true.

One aspect of wisdom Merchey reveres is “intellectual humility,” a trait that, to his credit, he demonstrates throughout the book. He presents himself not as the final authority on his subject but as a thinker making sense of it all, drawing from philosophy, literature, the sciences, and more. He can be flip—an offhand dismissal of the Jonas Brothers does not demonstrate the open-mindedness he elsewhere calls for—but more often this thoughtful, illuminating volume exemplifies his arguments: like any of us, he’s a work in progress, striving for wisdom.

Takeaway: A searching, illuminating consideration of the urgent value of wisdom, for individuals and for society.

Great for fans of: Richard E. Simmons’s Wisdom: Life’s Great Treasure, Barry Schwartz’s Practical Wisdom.

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

Click here for more about Wisdom:
Raccoon Love: A Memoir
Stephen Akey
In this bittersweet memoir Akey (Culture Fever) shares the love story of meeting his years-long partner, Lucy Ha Kung, “at the sundial in front of Low Library on the campus of Columbia University in the spring of 1980” and then building in Brooklyn a love akin to that of raccoons: “creaturely, warm, furry, and clinging to each other for love and security.” Looking back at the 1980s and 1990’s, Akey recounts the couple’s meeting, dating, and building a life with a “fretful, colicky” baby, writing with insight and candor even when the difficulties of marriage take its toll. Akey paints Lucy as a singular person, someone intimate and substantive, while also showering her with adoration and dropping enough hints, early on, to make the ultimate painful end seem inevitable.

Akey’s story-telling is highly enjoyable. The minutiae of a romantic, loving relationship are keenly described, and with welcome candor addresses the experience of being a Playboy-ogling suburban white kid who goes on to marry a Chinese woman in an era when Caucasian-Asian relationships were rare. Together, the two faced the challenges of trying to make it in the arts, which Akey describes with incisive wit, noting that in “the literary/publishing world…you couldn’t get established unless you were already established.” He characterizes the choice faced by Lucy, an artist working in apartment-filling tapestries and then large abstract paintings, with empathy: “She could choose to be quietly satisfied or clamorously frustrated.”

“I remember every kiss, every caress,” Akey writes, and his account of being completely lovesick and then seeing passion give way to a working partnership and eventually a breakup is intense, precise, and alive with feeling. Even familiar feelings–”I still loved looking into Lucy’s limpid brown eyes. She, apparently, took no such pleasure in gazing into my muddy greenish ones”–have a freshness and power. Readers of memoir or late 20th century New York or American lifestyle history will enjoy this romantic, realistic narrative.

Takeaway: A touching account of an interracial romance in 1980s Brooklyn, alive with feeling and insight.

Great for fans of: Gabriel Cohen’s Storms Can’t Hurt the Sky, Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know.

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

Click here for more about Raccoon Love
Bridges
Linda Griffin
This sweet and simple May-December romance novella, featuring a marriage of convenience blossoming into love, centers friendship, philosophy, and a fondness for classic literature. Mary Claire DeWinter, eighteen years old and blind, arrives at her grandfather’s deathbed at his Westfield Court estate. Mary Claire strikes up a quick friendship with house chauffeur Neil Vincent, in which they talk about books and religion. When the household is shocked by the will offering Mary Claire the house and entire fortune, provided she is married within the year, Neil offers to marry her without any conjugal rights so that the arrangement can be annulled when she finds a more appropriate match. But neither Mary Claire, nor Neil’s lover, Jane, are able to believe in the marriage as merely a facade.

Griffin’s lead characters are complex and fascinating, and the discussions between Mary Claire and Neil are deep, engaging, and intimate while not at all flirty or sexual, keeping the age difference from becoming too creepy up front. But some other key characters feel familiar, sometimes even stereotyped, and the 1960’s milieu can feel out of step with the story itself, as the household setup and plot feel much more like that of a Regency romance.

Griffin regularly celebrates the books his couple reads and discusses, which range from Nietzche to Jack London. Bridges movingly presents literature as a means of communication and connection between these thoughtful protagonists–in fact, it’s where their ardor seems most powerful, as the story’s resolution is surprisingly abrupt, with little buildup, tension, or heat before expressions of mutual, monogamous love, and then little exploration of the tenderness or awkwardness of the shift from friends to lovers. Still, this gentle, bookish romance will appeal to readers who relish Regency concerns of titles and inheritance and portrayals of companionable love.

Takeaway: A bookish romance of surprise inheritance, companionable love, and slowly discovering each other.

Great for fans of: Georgette Heyer, Alison Goodman.

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

Click here for more about Bridges
Drone Child: A Novel of War, Family, and Survival
David H. Rothman
The horrors of war and resiliency of the human spirit are the dual themes of this harrowing novel set in a dystopian Democratic Republic of the Congo in the near future. Lemba reflects back as a 15-year-old growing up on a farm with his twin sister, Josiane. They leave home to seek their fortune in Kinshasa, and although they get good work in an Internet café, Lemba is forcibly conscripted into the Purifier army—a twisted, violent revolutionary group that uses his technology skills to weaponize drones. Meanwhile, Josiane faces her own mortal peril, and Lemba seeks to escape and find her.

Rothman (The Solomon Scandals) does a brutally effective job of displaying the appalling conditions in this broken society, seen through the eyes of a man reflecting on his boyhood: for example, soldiers give a 13-year-old-boy a rifle and force him to kill—or face death himself. The warfare becomes almost surreal, as when Lemba must help hijack a freighter. The Purifiers negotiate a fee for the return of the ship while feasting on lamb chops and leaving armed children in charge of the prisoners. Some readers may find the level of brutality off-putting, and some plot turns strain credulity, but scenes of good people trying to survive in a sick society are deeply engaging.

Also memorable are some of the principal characters. Purifier general "Demon Killer" is an astonishingly effective portrait of a sociopath—a vicious man who has created a bizarre worship ceremony surrounding guns. We see through Lemba's eyes his fellow child soldier Mpasi, a dark reflection of what Lemba might have become: “You can be a victim and still be a bad person," he notes. And Lemba himself, whose chillingly emotionless recollections of his violent childhood highlight the extent of his damaged personality. Thanks to his ability to remember, we get a disturbing ringside view of the worst horrors of modern Africa.

Takeaway: A gripping, brutal account of a near-future African war, narrated by a young soldier.

Great for fans of: Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, Patricia McCormick’s Sold.

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

Click here for more about Drone Child
A Girl's Guide to Puberty and Periods
Marni Sommer
The authors break down the intimidating process of puberty for girls in this cheerful and educational guide. Developed to ease anxieties and explain natural processes, and paired with input from adolescent girls from across the United States, this inviting volume teaches girls the ins and outs of menstruation, what changes to expect during puberty, and how to appreciate their bodies. The authors address with welcome clarity topics that can often be difficult for young readers, and their supportive, gently humorous approach makes the material as engaging as it is informative.

Sommer, et al., dive right into the facts that every girl needs to know, including a breakdown of the menstrual cycle, the effects of hormones on the body and mood, and many more sensitive topics—like breast development and body odors—in a way that normalizes the experience for readers. The entertaining and diverse graphics inject warm humor in all the right places and helpfully break down complex matters, like the basics of finding the right-sized bra. In an effort to keep the tone lighthearted, the authors share fun facts throughout the text–such as different period nicknames from girls in the U.S. and an amusing illustration of the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies mood changes.

Despite the comforting approach, this guide packs a serious educational punch. Readers will walk away with how-to knowledge on just about every puberty-related issue for girls, including hands-on instructions for personal care and hygiene. An added bonus is a brief rundown on what boys experience during the same stage and a glossary of health terms at the end. The authors are careful to emphasize that every body is unique and develops on its own schedule, and the firsthand stories of what to expect from different girls will put readers at ease. This guide may look playful, but it's powerful.

Takeaway: A helpful, inviting breakdown of what puberty looks like for girls, with an emphasis on the uniqueness of every body.

Great for fans of: Valorie Schaefer’s The Care & Keeping of You, Sonya Renee Taylor’s Celebrate Your Body.

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

Click here for more about A Girl's Guide to Puberty and Periods
A More Perfect Union (Briefs): Reimagining the United States as a European Union-style Federation
Alexander Moss
Moss leaps into the breach in this examination of the prospect, increasingly common in political rhetoric, of the United States breaking up into smaller independent nation states. Citing polling showing key constituencies on the left and right more amenable to the idea, and taking into account the depth and bitterness of U.S. political divisions, Moss plays what-if with the scenario, arguing that dissolution could be an alternative to civil war—but noting that his thought experiment is a “bit of science-fiction.” But, like all good SF, A More Perfect Union is attentive to both the causes of change of over time and their everyday impacts.

Rather than call for the nation’s crackup, Moss examines the fault lines that could lead to the breaking point, the constitutional and political steps it would take to bring it about, considerations that would ensure it’s done equitably, and—this is the fun part—a proposal of possible new nations, broken down in terms of population, GDP, and other factors. Pacifica runs from San Diego to British Columbia, represented by six senators and 68 congressional reps; the “fiercely independent” territories that make up Independence constitute Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Gwyneth Paltrow once faced comic scorn for referring to her divorce as a “conscious uncoupling.” That’s essentially what Moss presents, a road map to making a painful measure as painless as possible. He addresses and attempts to counterbalance his biases, and considers issues like minority rights, the impact on commerce, the fate of the nuclear arsenal, and the necessity of a “Ten Year Cooling Off Period,” during which the new nations would pledge to cooperate as the existing federal government would wind down. This brief volume outlines basic steps it would take to achieve this, but not in great detail; a concluding chapter calling upon interested parties to organize to achieve change belies the insistence that this is all a bit of play.

Takeaway: A dispassionate consideration of what it would take to break up the United States into independent nations.

Great for fans of: F.H. Buckley’s America Secession, Richard Kreitner’s Break it Up.

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

Click here for more about A More Perfect Union (Briefs)
The ForestGirls: A Journal, A Journey
Sissel Waage
Inspired by the strength and science of trees, Waage (Ignition What You Can Do to Fight Global Warming and Spark A Movement) and illustrator Ivana Josipovic have created a thoughtful and beautifully guided journal for younger teen girls. Waage’s text is knowledgeable and approachable, presenting trees as a metaphor for heightening self-understanding and sparking ideas for future goals. Combined with Josipovic’s minimalist yet richly inviting illustrations, this journal delivers a perfect canvas of stimulating prompts while leaving room for readers to find their own voice and cultivate their inner artist.

Though nature journals are not a new concept, Waage’s readers are in expert hands here. Tree facts precede each journaling prompt—such as details about Mycorrhizae, a fungal root network that grows around trees and is used to illustrate the importance of support networks—and showcase Waage’s insight as an environmental scientist and skill as a writer. Josipovic’s choice to use a limited color palette of black, white, and green allows the text more impact and leaves room for younger readers to add in their own handiwork–and thought-provoking moments like examining the heartwood of a tree and likening it to personal convictions will spark intense reflection for readers.

This journal is permeated by a reverence for nature and mutual respect for readers. Dr. Waage writes, “Perhaps a sense of wonder is\ The same\ That every living being feels,” and the text is not only visually gorgeous, but also rife with emotional resonance. Readers will find dreamy inspiration on every page, and the journal concludes with the hope of “A vibrant future\ Where all living beings,\ Everywhere,\ Can breath, and\ Thrive.” Ultimately a visionary journal for introspective, nature-loving teen girls, or readers looking to incorporate more of nature’s wisdom into their own lives, The ForestGirls distinguishes itself as a standout.

Takeaway: A journal rich with environmental inspiration and scientific facts that will appeal to nature lovers and young writers.

Great for fans of: Katie Daisy’s How to Be a Wildflower, Nina Chakrabarti’s Hello Nature.

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

Click here for more about The ForestGirls: A Journal, A Journey
If Only
Matthew Tree
A riveting and unsettling novel about one man’s experience with mental illness, If Only begins when the unnamed protagonist is caught by the police while wandering around Saint James’s Park with a bag full of explosives and ten letters written by British novelist Malcolm Lowry (Under the Volcano). In the prologue, we see a young Lowry “exiled” from his country by his father. As the psychiatrist and the policeman question the protagonist, he remains obstinate and silent but every question triggers off thoughts in his mind, which reveal his story to readers.

The daring narrative is interspersed with letters that Malcolm Lowry sent to the protagonist’s grandfather at different times in Lowry’s life, and from different places. They detail his angst-ridden life, his descent into alcoholism, the separation from his wife and finally his brief success as a writer. The clever use of these letters to draw attention to the similarities to the protagonist's life—his fondness for drink, his dislike of the society of wealth and privilege he was born into and his mental health issues— is effective. In his work as a cameraman for adult movies, the protagonist visits the places that Lowry mentions in the letters. Tree’s language is exceptional and expresses the agony, the isolation, and the anger felt by the protagonist and portrays his fantasies of imagined violence in graphic detail. However in this English translation of a novel originally published in Catalan and Spanish, the voice of the Lowry letters sounds similar to the protagonist’s, which undermines the device.

If Only is an immersive read with a memorable sense of play, danger, and humanity. It will leave the reader with a better understanding of mental illness, as the book takes us into the deep crevices of an obsessed mind.

Takeaway: This accomplished novel in translation plunges readers into the depths of a mind that is not quite in control of itself.

Great for fans of: Richard Yates’ Disturbing the Peace, John Williams’s Nothing but the Night.

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

Click here for more about If Only
Calypso : Rhyme of the Modern Mariner
Dennis McGuire
The story in prose and verse of an epic real-life adventure, McGuire’s travelogoue recounts the trip of a lifetime, a sea voyage that in 1979 found Dennis and Pat McGuire (who illustrates this volume) departing Portsmouth, Rhode Island, heading south to the Panama Canal, then west across the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands, and then at last northeast to Neah Bay in Washington State, arriving in 1981. The vessel: The Calypso—“well balanced, handy at the helm and exceptionally sea kindly”—a 26-foot sailboat the McGuires picked up for just under six grand. Inspired by the likes of Jack London, and accompanied by a boat cat they named Woody, they set off in what fortunately turns out to be a “forgiving” vessel, they face the danger and majesty of the open ocean and many fascinating ports of call.

Writing in clear, direct prose that emphasizes the engaging essentials, McGuire invites readers to imagine encountering wonders like the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (where they encounter a friend’s wrecked boat, and Woody comes face to face with a dying egret), or the power of a hurricane near the Bay Islands (the “crew” “[hollers] to carry on a conversation” in the downpour, despite being just a couple feet apart), or freighters and sea life as they drift for most of a month in the “doldrums” off the coast of Guatemala: “Absolutely nothin’ can be done/Calypso just sits frozen in the sun,” McGuire writes, in one of the bursts of rhyming couplets the stud most pages.

Despite such travails, good humor abounds, as McGuire praises “Calypso’s patience with the ineptitudes of her crew” and recounts, in playful—sometimes comically strained, like dad jokes—light verse, their day-to-day habits: eating fish they’ve caught, tuning in NPR news on the shortwave. Like the poetry, the illustrations have a charmingly unpolished quality, sketches in ink and colors capturing high spirits, occasional terrors, and moments of comedy, like the time boobies took over the sailboat.

Takeaway: A joyous memoir, in verse and sketch, of two years below the mast, sailing to Hawaii and back.

Great for fans of: Stuart Woods’s Blue Water, Green Skipper, Erik Orton and Emily Orton’s Seven at Sea.

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

Click here for more about Calypso
Love's Journey Home: A memoir
Gabi Coatsworth
In this affecting memoir, Coatsworth shares how, after a years-long long-distance romance, she and her lover Jay finally settled down into a life together with their children. Once married, together at last after being an ocean apart for so long, Coatsworth faces the challenges of parenting and being a spouse to an alcoholic. Written with frank and vivid detail, Coatsworth’s decades-spanning love story travels peaks of pure bliss and the valleys of living with and depending on someone with an addiction–she writes “Neither of us noticed the cracks in our relationship insidiously turning into fissures”–and then, tragically, one of the most wrenching of life’s passages. Once Jay is diagnosed and ultimately dies from cancer, Coatsworth must keep the family system going while reconciling with him and her pain.

As a storyteller, Coatsworth presents her main characters, herself and Jay, with the clarity and insight to create deep compassion for their relationship, while other key players, such as their kids and friends, are not the focus. Coatsworth’s attention to detail places the reader right in her shoes. The memoir is long, but the accumulation of events and feelings stirs deep empathy for Coatsworth and her family, especially as the book teases out the complexities of a unique and loving relationship, and builds with some emotional force to the family’s current state of affairs.

Coatsworth’s tone is boldly cheerful in the opening pages, as she establishes her love for Jay and excitement about the relationship. As the story turns darker and the days difficult, she appropriately shifts to a somber tone but keeps the material engaging. Many readers will connect with Coatsworth’s story of building a family and navigating single motherhood, remarriage, divorce, and the unthinkable. She shares her story with candor, wisdom, and heart, and lays bare her feelings about facing those challenges with rare vulnerability.

Takeaway: A beautifully told true-life love story, facing addiction and death with candor and wisdom.

Great for fans of: Fenton Johnson’s Geography of the Heart, Shannon Leone Fowler’s Traveling with Ghosts.

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

Click here for more about Love's Journey Home

Loading...