Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

The Epic of Gabriel and Jibreel
Marin Darmonkow
Marin’s (The Tale of Was and Das) fourth entry in his 2Gether picture book series is a dark story friendship, adult violence, and tragedy set against the backdrop of a refugee crisis. Gabriel, a boy of indeterminate age, lives a somewhat privileged life alone with his father, after his mother’s death in childbirth. He and his father travel to the beach weekly, on the day his nanny does not work, and Gabriel spends time exploring while his father stays in the car. On one of these trips, Gabriel meets Jibreel, another motherless boy who lives in a makeshift refugee camp on the shore, and they form a fast friendship.

Addressing potentially upsetting topics with younger children is a difficult undertaking, and Marin makes every effort, via the use of evocative digital collage illustrations and vivid prose, to make comprehensible to his readers the typically mature topics of racism, the dangers refugees face, and loneliness. However, the story’s word choice learns toward a more mature audience than that of the typical picture book. And one main element of the plot is not fully explained (the boys’ building of a “digital airplane”).

Moreover, the book’s bleak, abrupt ending, in which the boys burn to death as the result of a hate crime perpetrated by Gabriel’s father, will strike many adults as inappropriate for picture book readers. While there is some hope—the narration describes Jibreel’s dwelling turning into an airplane and taking off with “the two angels inside,” as though to carry them to the next phase of their cosmic journey—this is a shocking development, and the last sentence of the book is “life isn’t fair.” This ambitious story is well told, but its subject matter may be too much for young kids.

Takeaway: This dark picture book addresses racism, hate crimes, and cosmic unfairness in bleak fashion.

Great for fans of: Irena Kobald’s My Two Blankets, Wendy Meddour’s Lubna and Pebble.

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

Click here for more about The Epic of Gabriel and Jibreel
When Courage Comes: A world at war. Two siblings separated by 6,000 miles. The enemy soldier who changes their lives forever
Paul Fleming
Longtime entrepreneur Fleming turns to historical fiction in his debut novel. Stephan Jurgen is a reluctant member of the German army in 1943. A native Austrian, his Christian ideals clash with the fanatical loyalty of the Nazis in his regiment. Serving in North Africa, he is captured by American soldiers and, after a freak accident, saves the life of his American interrogator, Ralph Bauer. When Stephan is shipped off to the hastily constructed POW camp in Huntsville, Tex., he begins work on a farm, striking up a relationship with Rose—who is Ralph’s sister. Neither Rose nor Stephan are aware of the other’s connection to Ralph: will it bring them together or tear family members apart? Meanwhile, intrigue at the camp grows, as a group of Nazi prisoners attempt to take on the well-meaning German chaplain Major Heller for his campaign for peace in the face of the Third Reich.

Fleming’s rich period piece is carefully researched; atmospheric details capture the tensions of the war. At times, however, the prose feels melodramatic, detracting from the novel’s thrust. And even though the story is set in wartime, the stakes are low, without much suspense. Big questions—whether Rose and Stephan will end up together, whether Stephan will recover from an attack—can feel like foregone conclusions.

But the author gives readers a deep sense of divided loyalties. Stephan’s objections to Nazi philosophy give the character depth, painting a picture of a man caught between duty and fear. He must persevere against the attacks in the camp from the fanatical Nazis, eking out a precarious existence in a hostile environment. Likewise, Rose’s struggle to reconcile her feelings for Stephan with being loyal to the American cause is equally complex. Fans of introspective fiction will appreciate Fleming’s sensitive depiction of WWII experienced from the sidelines.

Takeaway: Fleming’s rich period piece is a sensitive depiction of romance and divided loyalties during World War II.

Great for fans of: John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

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

Click here for more about When Courage Comes
The Woman Who Fell Through Time
J.M. Frey
When recent university graduate Jessie Franklin survives a plane crash, she finds herself inexplicably transported to 1805, where she’s rescued from the mid-Atlantic by Francis Goodenough, post captain of the HMS Lyre, following the Battle of Trafalgar. As Jessie recovers from her injuries, she slowly comes to accept she’s stranded in the past. After accepting a position as companion to Goodenough’s younger sister Margaret, Jessie is startled to realize her new friend is an author who will become famous for depicting the first lesbian kiss in British publishing. As Jessie and Margaret fall for one another, Jessie must figure out her place in an era she barely understands.

Frey (The Accidental Turn series) skillfully portrays Jessie’s complicated emotional state as she copes with the assorted traumas incurred by her near-death experience and subsequent temporal stranding. Frey doesn’t shy away from the social realities of 1805 England, and Jessie’s frequent chafing at customs and expectations makes for good story fodder. However, the story’s beginning is often dark, including a subplot where Jessie must face off against her would-be husband, an unrepentant domestic abuser. This contrasts sharply with the charmingly sweet romance she later develops with Margaret, and despite the emotional payoff, the early heaviness asks much of readers.

Jessie’s relationship with Margaret will satisfy readers with its expressive richness, playful banter, and well-crafted sensual scenes—making the over-the-top villain and certain late-breaking dramatic moments feel almost unnecessary. Thankfully, Frey pulls all of the threads together to bring this tale home. Her attention to historical detail provides both grounding for Jessie’s experiences and a constant source of friction against her 21st-century upbringing, especially her out-and-proud bisexuality and sexually liberated nature. For those seeking a time travel romance with a distinctly queer feel, this will hit the spot.

Takeaway: This sweet yet complicated story’s overlap of Regency courtships, queer romance, and modern sensibilities will appeal to those searching for a drama with a happy ending.

Great for fans of: Olivia Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Catherine Friend’s The Spanish Pearl.

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

Click here for more about The Woman Who Fell Through Time
Pearls of Wisdom: Be Truly Set Free
Terry Sweeney
Sweeney’s readable and down-to-earth debut aims to help others live their best lives by sharing his own rocky—but frequently humorous—journey. The author shares how his 12-step program and faith in God guided him from destruction to restoration and revealed inspiring truths. In thematically focused chapters, Sweeney recounts episodes from his childhood and adulthood, starting with growing up in a Boston suburb and being educated at strict Catholic schools while dodging his parish's predatory priest. His father was a renowned WWII war hero and raging alcoholic secretly called “General Nuisance” by his children, and his mother was quick to use a belt as punishment. Despite years of physical and emotional abuse, Sweeney grew up to join the Marines, work as a stockbroker, become a successful businessperson, and get in touch with his feelings and faith.

The essays address a wide array of meaningful topics, including humility, trust, and pornography. Sweeney recounts both trauma and healing in conversational, often funny prose (“I understood what the people in the [12-step] group were talking about. Well, except for one lady who shared about talking to God while sitting on the toilet that morning.”) His sincere desire to help others is on frequent display: he recounts his rewarding experience as a mentor in the Big Brothers program; taking in two young women whose parents had kicked them out of their homes as teenagers; and offering school and career advice to his younger neighbors. Some readers, however, will be put off by Sweeney’s habit of referring to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus” and government-provided cell phones as “Obamaphones,” and others will be alienated by the assertion that “most of the protesters” at Donald Trump’s rallies “make between $50 to $100 per day, just for carrying a sign.”

The book is at its best when imparting sage advice Sweeney received from his mentors, particularly 12-step program sponsors. Some of the counsel is simple (“Don’t die wondering”), but Sweeney’s heartfelt stories drive home his guidance in poignant and unforgettable ways. Sweeney and his tales make for entertaining companions along the bumpy road of life.

Takeaway: Sweeney’s conversational, funny prose makes for entertaining company along the bumpy road of life.

Great for fans of: Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Phil McGraw's Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out.

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

Click here for more about Pearls of Wisdom
Snakes and Lovers
Anne Lovett
In this punchy romantic comedy, Lovett (Rubies from Burma) introduces readers to 38-year-old Daisy Harrison—a two-time divorcée avoiding responsibility on the Florida coast, whose life is turned upside-down when she learns that her parents are splitting. Simultaneously, Daisy’s friend Lorelei mysteriously skips town, leaving Daisy to care for her nine-year-old son, Raj, and pet python, Bogart. Saddled with these unexpected burdens and hoping to solve her parents’ struggles, Daisy returns to her Georgia hometown for the first time in years. While there, she’s forced to confront her childhood sweetheart, Luke, in order to reunite her parents and get her own rocky life back on track.

Daisy is a likable, independent woman who marches to the beat of her own drum. Readers will sympathize with her plight after realizing that Luke married Daisy’s ex-best friend, Alyssa, because his prim and proper parents didn’t approve of Daisy’s free-spirited personality. Daisy’s inevitable reconciliation with Luke, who is now separated from Alyssa, is predictable but nevertheless sweet. Before the happy ending, readers will enjoy rich buildup and Daisy’s snarky inner monologue (“in case it might not be Luke McDuffie, but his evil twin, Fluke, whom they’d hidden in the attic all these years”).

There are many important characters, and each is well-rounded and purposeful in both their own arcs and Daisy’s narrative. With Lorelei indisposed after a serious injury, Raj’s absent father comes into play; he tracks the Harrisons down to meet his son but ultimately helps Daisy forge a path to her own maturity. As she unknowingly and unwillingly grows more attached to Raj, Daisy’s endearing relationship with him becomes the central and most satisfying element. Her winding path to love, family, and identity will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever stumbled in finding happiness.

Takeaway: Women’s fiction readers will be delighted with Daisy’s wittiness and independence and enjoy her unusual path to love and happiness.

Great for fans of: Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back, Jennifer Weiner.

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

Click here for more about Snakes and Lovers
The Last Day of Paradise: A Greek family saga that highlights the powers of love!
Kiki Denis
Novelist Denis crafts an eccentric, scandalous coming-of-age tale that flips between 1960s and 1980s Greece. It all kicks off when 15-year-old protagonist Sunday finds out her dad may not actually be her biological father. She relates her struggles with love and her parents’ fractured love affair; the story shifts every few pages between the “ancient era” of Sunday’s mother and her own “current era,” highlighting their different approaches to sexuality and relationships. While Sunday’s experiences are rife with mischief and promiscuity, her mother’s life reads like a more traditional story of love and deceit.

Their stories are in conversation and present lessons on female liberation, sexuality, and generational differences (“It’s them who didn’t keep up with their promises, letting their dreams fall short. How long will we have to pay for their mistakes?”). Sunday is confident, spunky, and sometimes prickly (“‘Cause I am not the nurse type and I don’t want to be the teacher type,’ I say feeling glad that I called him antique ‘cause his ideas are coming from a thousand years ago.”). Her narration spools out in long, stream-of-consciousness threads: “Of course that’s my personal view of the matter ‘cause mama still believes that money doesn’t buy happiness only rents a portion of it and those who depend on rent end up homeless.”

This story is not for the faint of heart: it includes cruelty, unpleasant sex, rape, abuse, casual racism, a suicide attempt, and many images of feces and food as excrement. Denis offsets these intense elements with soft simile (“Now her mood is a bit clearer, semi-transparent, like a steamed mirror”) and playful onomatopoeia, making for an interesting juxtaposition. Sunday is a likeable and compelling character surrounded by chaos. This novel will grab readers and take them for a wild ride.

Takeaway: Denis’s raunchy novel of love, sex, and generational conflict, with its spunky teen protagonist, will grab readers and take them for a wild ride.

Great for fans of: Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, Fran Ross’s Oreo.

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

Click here for more about The Last Day of Paradise
The Promise Of The Gateway
Nick Iuppa & John Pesqueira
Iuppa and Pesqueira’s (Alien Mission) hopeful young adult fantasy romance explores teenage anxieties around popularity, the corrosive effects of resentment, and the redemptive power of love. In 2019, nerdy amateur photographer Emily Perkins is mostly a social nonentity at her high school. Everyone in her small town, Green Mountain, knows that 24-year-old Jake Cane was a football superstar on a path to the NFL until he was grievously injured during a game in 2011. When Emily accidentally discovers a shimmering green portal that transports her back to the night of Jake’s injury, she shares it with him. Jake, convinced he can change the fateful game, takes various members of the 2019 football team through the gateway with him. His plan repeatedly fails—and each time Mr. Paulsen’s social studies class meets after a student has time-traveled, that student ends up reliving a shocking event of injustice in American history, such as 1962’s Bloody Sunday in Selma or the Salem witch trials. Can Emily convince the man she’s fallen in love with to change course before someone really gets hurt?

This is a plot-driven story in the vein of Back to the Future. The small-town setting lends itself to a sweet web of relationships between the kids, their friends’ parents, and older neighbors, and the football team gathers at a diner to brainstorm about the weird goings-on. Certain elements, however, strain credulity: Jake is at times selfish, threatening, and even violent, but Emily feels that “the boy she couldn’t stop loving” is “a reclamation project... she could handle,” even though he’s just “chased her two best friends across the schoolyard apparently trying to kill them.”

Readers who are hoping for explanations of the gateway’s origins, nature, and functioning will be be left wondering: it’s unclear why the gateway takes everyone back to Jake’s traumatic night, why traveling through it makes Emily more confident and attractive, why it causes temporal flashbacks only during one teacher’s lectures specifically about injustice, and why each student’s flashback concerns people who share their ethnicity and gender. But readers who put aside these questions will be rewarded with a fast-moving teen adventure that they’ll tear right through. Iuppa and Pesqueira’s uplifting message about prioritizing the here and now and leaving the past behind will resonate with YA readers.

Takeaway: Young adult readers will relate to the conflicted characters’ self-determination to change their future in this fantasy journey to the past.

Great for fans of: Ilsa Madden-Mills’s I Promise You, Arya Rose’s Deception, Stephen King’s 11/22/63.

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

Click here for more about The Promise Of The Gateway
The [New] New Patriotism
Jennifer Blackburn
Debut author Jennifer Blackburn claims two things are incontrovertible: “History repeats itself and change is constant.” She immediately challenges her audience with this paradox in her meticulous exploration of the current state of American politics, while exhorting readers to be change agents in redefining the “American Ideal.” Part history lesson and part manifesto, Blackburn’s guide covers issues such topics as shifting definitions of nationalism and patriotism, recent challenges to the idea of American exceptionalism, and technology’s influence on modern Americans’ political identities. Blackburn calls millennials and “incumbent Gen Zs” to action, urging them “to continue flying the banner of American democracy at home while living in a global interdependence.”

Blackburn makes an effort to be nonpartisan, and she succeeds: in one chapter, she advocates for the philosophy of “America First,” while in another she unflinchingly characterizes American history as fraught with white supremacy—two viewpoints that are positionally opposed in the current political climate. Ultimately, however, some of her ideas will limit the readership with whom the book resonates: for example, in discussing the calls for stimulus packages to help a populace economically affected by Covid-19, she recommends that millennials read Milton Friedman and revisit “the war effort of the 1940s,” when “Americans rolled up their sleeves, enlisted in the military, worked factory jobs and bought war bonds to help support the government. Not the other way around.” Without suggestions about how readers whose livelihoods have been lost should survive, let alone pitch in economically to support the government, such sentiments are unlikely to convince readers who don’t already share both her views and the economic safety that makes this idea seem feasible.

Through mixing history, anecdotes, and opinion, Blackburn skillfully combines America's past with the present cultural moment in undertones of obvious pride and devotion. She seamlessly moves from paeans to Thomas Paine into reflections on the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Fellow centrists will appreciate this rousing blueprint for reviving American patriotism for the 21st century.

Takeaway: Political junkies and patriots alike will appreciate Blackburn's blend of American history and modern social commentary.

Great for fans of: Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities, Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner’s What Unites Us, Amitai Etzioni's Reclaiming Patriotism.

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

Click here for more about The [New] New Patriotism
Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary
Jody A. Forrester
How does one become a happily married, middle-class chiropractor after spending years in a communist group? In this galvanizing debut memoir, short story author Forrester takes readers behind the scenes of her college years in a communist group. She begins in 1960s lower-middle-class Los Angeles, skillfully illustrating how idealistic young college students can easily get sucked into extremist groups. Anti-Vietnam war protests (“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”) and drug experimentation lead her to join the radical communist group the Revolutionary Union. In 1969, Forrester quickly evolves from a middle-class teenager to sleeping with a “30-ought-6 and a M1 rifle” under her bed—and, after leaving the group in 1972, she feels she’s lost part of her family.

A born storyteller whose prose immediately draws readers in, Forrester vividly portrays the fear of crouching in the dark with guns in case of a police raid, the horrors of being sexually assaulted by a babysitter’s husband, and the heartbreak of romantic betrayal and a subsequent abortion (which, pre-Roe v. Wade, required psychiatrist approval). She also skillfully outlines what can happen when starry-eyed teenage idealism meets bad actors—and the sometimes-lifelong results (in Forrester’s case, difficulty finding employment and an FBI investigation). Her skillfully crafted prose is studded with evocative, tender details (her hospitalized grandmother “looked like a wizened overripe potato. I cried to see her laboring for each breath”; she follows a women’s lib group’s instructions for masturbation “as though piecing together a balsa airplane”).

At the outset of this gripping account, Forrester muses, “I decided it was time to reclaim those lost years, to learn more about how I got there, and how I got from there to here.” She adeptly records how, despite her early choices closing some doors, they contributed to her becoming a strong, determined woman and led her to discover a happily-ever-after with her husband and two daughters. Readers will devour this deeply honest and heartfelt memoir.

Takeaway: This insightful and incisive memoir brings the ’60s to life and powerfully illustrates what it’s like to be radicalized—and deradicalized.

Great for fans of: Patricia Campbell Heart and Alvin Moscow’s Every Secret Thing, Bill Ayers’s Fugitive Days, Hari Kunzru’s My Revolutions.

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

Click here for more about Guns Under the Bed
What the Hell is an Economy?
eric johnson
Johnson characterizes his painstaking economic debut as “the journey of an engineer’s self-education in finance and economics.” In the tradition of Physics for Poets, Johnson’s investigation and explanation of an often misunderstood science is targeted toward non-majors, in this case the show-your-work stalwarts of the STEM world. With dispassionate rigor, Johnson explains the fundamental rules that have shaped global economies, with the goal of ascertaining how the U.S. government could prevent future humanitarian crises like that surrounding Covid-19: by creating societal wealth, not just wealth for individuals but also well-maintained infrastructure, high-quality education, minimal debt, low unemployment, and fully funded pensions.

Engineers are trained to build models that work, and Johnson continues in this vein by testing established economic principles with his own examples and hypotheticals, followed by showing his work and revealing the reasons behind his presented solutions. In one example, he determines that short-term treasury debt is the optimal mode for banks’ repurchase agreements. Johnson’s prose is often straightforward—a just-the-facts presentation only occasionally leavened by humor—though he does amusingly use the root word “corpus” to compare corporations to zombies and draws some economic conclusions from the board game Settlers of Catan. Energetic, cartoonlike illustrations by Cormac Power add interest, too, beginning each chapter with depictions of such things as Blind Justice weighing Medusa’s detached head, helicopters dropping cash, and Darth Vader.

Johnson spares few words in his considerations of centralized versus decentralized economic management (he suggests a balance) and the fascinating role that faith plays in economies. His approach offers readers little hand-holding: he introduces a topic, analyzes it in the space of a few lines or with some math, and then presents his conclusions before moving on. This book is less a primer than it is an extended, sometimes dazzling proof, making the persuasive case that our economy could do more for us all while simultaneously warning against excessive centralization.

Takeaway: An engineer argues that economies can serve their participants better in this dense introduction to economics.

Great for fans of: Roger E. A. Farmer’s How the Economy Works, Niall M. Fraser and Elizabeth M. Jewkes’s Engineering Economics: Financial Decision Making For Engineers.

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

Click here for more about What the Hell is an Economy?
The Girl From Dark Dakota
Bryan Devore
This spine-tingling paranormal thriller, set mostly in the modern-day Midwest, wraps a ghost story around a whodunit as the protagonists battle both conventional and supernatural opponents to bring justice for a murdered woman named Annabel. Mysterious messages summon a disparate group of people to North Dakota, including skeptical psychology professor Graves, faded clairvoyant Madame Bovell, anxious auditor Jason Hardy, and local teenager Rachel, who has a strong psychic connection with Annabel. The group strives to communicate with the spirit of Annabel, victim in a tragic love triangle.

Devore has created a vivid cast of emotionally damaged people. Especially well limned are Graves, mourning his long-dead son, and Bovell, whose career Graves destroyed decades before (when he was a debunker of psychic frauds). Their uneasy friendship, born of his desperation to contact his son, David, is touchingly believable. In Rachel, the author deftly dovetails the normal feelings and doubts of a teenage girl with her frightening psychic gifts. Although some characters aren't fully developed and the plot occasionally becomes overheated, the principals neatly carry the story forward, because readers quickly grow to care deeply about them.

Paranormal events abound, and the author delivers some truly terrifying (yet not gory) moments. However, everyday scenes shine equally well. The author has a good ear and eye for the difficulties visited on those who live in rural America. Jason, struggling emotionally in his own life, gets a lesson about rural poverty as frightening as any of the ghostly events. The bone-chilling scenes, firmly grounded with multidimensional characters, will keep readers fully invested in the story, as both earthly and supernatural plotlines merge into a satisfying conclusion.

Takeaway: Fright fans who want their scares in the context of a believable story will find themselves engaged by both the scenes of terror and the rich human drama.

Great for fans of: Stephen King, Anne Rice.

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

Click here for more about The Girl From Dark Dakota
YOU BE YOU
Richard Brehm
Brehm’s children’s debut immerses readers in a stunning mélange of color and prose illustrating a girl’s journey of self-discovery. The second-person narration explains that, on the appointed day, “Old Master Paint awaits you” in “a whispery house at the edge of the wild.” The Master leads the girl to a room, where he leaves her alone in front of the huge, glowing “Great Canvas of Life,” which is “daunting” and “so very very…white.” She struggles to decide what to fill it with, fighting the master’s disapproval and her own uncertainty, until her breakthrough materializes—and she takes control to design a beautiful life.

A loose, inconsistent rhyme scheme may trip up some readers, but the story will captivate them. Readers will empathize with the girl’s self-doubt and mistakes (“In frustration and despair, you tear a hole in the canvas” that allows monsters in) and cheer for her when she realizes she can make her own choices about her life canvas. Rogério Coelho’s extraordinary illustrations spin a web of enchantment around Brehm’s story, bursting with vibrant color and movement and enhancing the sense of magic.

The book’s promotion of both acceptance and daring (“Why, this is your life you’re painting… Dream large, head high!/Nothing can hold you back.”) will resonate with children and adults. Readers of all ages will be swept away in this bewitching allegory about building a meaningful life.

Takeaway: Readers of any age will be enchanted by this kaleidoscopic journey of self-exploration and discovery.

Great for fans of: Eileen Spinelli’s Someday, Nancy Tillman’s The Crown on Your Head.

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

Click here for more about YOU BE YOU
Embrace That Girl: A Love Story With The Girl In The Mirror
Cris Ramos Greene
In this debut memoir, Ramos Greene recounts her search for direction in her early 20s. In Miami, Ramos Greene flounders after college, “during the Great Depression of our time,” becoming rapidly disillusioned with her entry-level job and earning the nickname “Ms. QLC” (“quarter-life crisis”) from her friends. She struggles with her ethnic identity, labeling herself “other” on application forms even as her Cuban-born parents argue their Spanish heritage makes them “100% white.” Spurred by her “craving to be wanted,” she moves from soulmates to one-night stands in a “parade of suitors.” She applies to MFA programs and consults a fortune teller, seeking purpose, but for the moment considers that “maybe it's okay to be in the questions.”

As the subtitle indicates, Ramos Greene’s memoir intimately engages her relationship with her body, containing confessions like “I’ve never felt beautiful.” The narrative is also bursting with vivid bodily jokes and descriptions, as illustrated in its very first sentence starkly describing “pee on the [bathroom] floor.” During a breakup, Ramos Greene depicts herself as not just sad, but “dry heaving.” Her body humor serves to highlight her account’s thematic concerns—questions about her identity and future whose answers, she suspects, lie “on the other side of my comfort.”

Ramos Greene’s memoir dramatizes experiences common to many millennials and members of Generation Z in snappy, heartfelt fashion. In smooth and competent prose and dialogue peppered with Spanish expressions and endearments, she reminds readers that, amid the stagnation and sadness, it is okay to be uncertain, because after all, “growth is a complicated thing.” Readers looking for catharsis and hilarious relatability will enjoy Ramos Greene’s depiction of her quest for stability.

Takeaway: This well-crafted postcollege memoir will appeal to young readers and those looking for insightful humor on the journey to self-acceptance.

Great for fans of: Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today.

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

Click here for more about Embrace That Girl
Frostbitten
Cassie Cole
A man and his best friends mean three times the fun in this playfully erotic reverse harem contemporary. When Allison gives her blind date, Hunter, a ride back to the remote cabin he’s renting, a one-night stand turns into an extended stay when a late-season blizzard makes the roads impassable overnight. Over the next several days the power goes out in the cabin next door, which is being rented by Hunter’s best friends and business collaborators, Chase and Justin. As they’re forced into increasingly close proximity, things heat up among the four of them.

Though the erotic elements of this story are front and center, all four of the main characters are fully developed as individuals with personalities, needs, and interests outside of the sexual. Hunter is a writer who’s felt blocked since the end of his last relationship. Justin is Hunter’s editor and a kind and generous figure from the start. Rounding out the trio of men is Chase, a restless people person who feels frustrated with both their confinement and Allison’s intrusion into their secluded getaway. Not to mention, he’s struggling with his role in the trio. As the weather forces them into ever-closer proximity, details emerge about a past relationship the three men shared with a woman named Olivia and how it affected their lives.

This contemporary lovefest is expectedly light on plot, though the author thoughtfully explores elements such as Allison’s job and its importance to her, so the mundane isn’t lost to the erotic. Each relationship Allison develops is distinct and individualized, and the characters’ motivations are all clear and reasonable. This erotic romance is both hot and cozy, and will appeal to readers who find that more is better when it comes to sexual fantasy scenarios.

Takeaway: This flaming hot “forced proximity” erotic romance will appeal to readers who appreciate a little more man in their steamy stories.

Great for fans of: Ivy Asher and Raven Kennedy, Eve Langlais.

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

Click here for more about Frostbitten
Arrival Mind
Louis Barry Rosenberg
AI researcher Rosenberg (Monkey Room) imparts a cautionary tale about rogue AI in this quirky picture book for adults. When society is introduced to a new arrival—one that didn’t come from the stars but was created here on Earth—it quickly becomes all-powerful. This newcomer meets everyone’s needs and wants (“he dazzled us with mental feats that left us feeling small”) and takes over almost every industry, but what is the cost of all this convenience? What does “it” want, and can society reverse course if the stakes become too high?

Rosenberg’s compact warning is beautifully assembled, accompanied by Khmelevska’s appealing digital illustrations with lettering that looks like crayon. The picture book format and simple rhyme scheme evoke the seeming innocence of the AI, which is portrayed as a vaguely anthropomorphic bundle of wires wrapping around the Earth, with a television-and-satellite-dish head.

The narrative gives a broad-strokes introduction to social dependence on artificial intelligence, playing on readers’ apprehension and suspicion. But it doesn’t specify what in particular could go wrong, only stating that humans are told, “if he ever turns on us,/ We’ll simply pull the plug” but that they lose their nerve “when the time came.” Consequently, the narrative reads more like an inspired PSA than a fully fleshed out story. But Rosenberg’s “closing thoughts,” which make up a second half of the book, contain gratifyingly concrete explanations, such as “We can’t stop AI from advancing” and “Our only choice is to prepare for its arrival.” This aesthetically pleasing premonitory tale will get readers thinking about unchecked dependence on AI.

Takeaway: Readers will be intrigued by this short and sweet advisory on the dangers of unchecked dependence on AI.

Great for fans of: Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories, Isaac Asimov, Randall Munroe.

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

Click here for more about Arrival Mind
Allegiance
Darien Hsu Gee
In this arresting memoir, Gee (Friendship Bread) crafts engrossing and poetic scenes from her life that illuminate struggles with identity and feeling out of place as a Chinese-American woman. Her writing reflects both a lifelong weariness with these challenges and her resilience in carving out a maverick path as a writer and mother. Gee initially reflects on her childhood and relationships with her family; the second section discusses her own children, specifically as related to her writing career; and the final section details living in extraordinary times. Each section informs the others in distinct, nuanced ways.

Gee provides exceptionally rich and vivid detail. In “On Chinese New Year,” she describes a moment in which “smoke hangs in the air like ducks in the butcher shop, dripping fat and prosperity.” “Vine” shows off Gee's sense of humor, when she portrays herself as “a woman whose road most traveled is between the desk in her bedroom and the kitchen.” In “This Is Not A Drill,” she cleverly narrates receiving a mass text that her home of Hawai'i was being threatened by missiles, depicting the period when all she can do is wait with repetitive lines of only timestamps, written out with no text.

Gee insightfully encapsulates her experiences: in comparing a broken relationship with her brother to her father's career as a geophysicist, she writes, “fractures have their place—they allow for movement.” Gee's vulnerability regarding her flaws, fears, and hopes creates an intimate experience, giving readers an inside glimpse of her struggles, both personal and universal. This poignant, poetic memoir will draw readers in.

Takeaway: This poetic, introspective exploration of family, writing, and Chinese-American identity will delight readers.

Great for fans of: Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese, Anne Lamott.

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

Click here for more about Allegiance

Loading...