Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Clara Colby: The International Suffragist
John Holliday
Holliday (Mission to China) chronicles the life of little-known Midwestern suffragist Clara Bewick Colby in this scholarly but eminently readable biography. Born in England, fiercely smart and ambitious Clara Bewick came to the U.S. as a child. After studying law, civics and literature, she graduated as valedictorian of her class at the University of Wisconsin in 1869 and hastily married Civil War veteran Leonard Wright Colby. The pair moved to Beatrice, Neb., where Colby founded the town’s first library and later became a suffrage activist alongside such historical luminaries as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Holliday’s painstaking research brings Colby to life from dry, dusty history pages, piecing together her story and its context from letters, newspapers accounts, and her personal papers. He respectfully yet comprehensively chronicles Colby’s personal challenges—including raising two adopted children, Zintka, an infant survivor of the Battle of Wounded Knee, and Clarence, an intellectually disabled 11-year-old, as well as learning that her husband fathered at least one illegitimate child—and painstakingly celebrates her triumphs, as well as the victories of a nascent movement for women’s rights. Colby was the first woman in the United States to receive a war correspondent’s pass (as founder and editor of the Woman’s Tribune), and participated in the 20th-century precursor to the modern-day Women’s March, held in London in 1911. Sadly, Colby died four years before women finally gained the right to vote, and emotionally invested readers will feel a pang at the knowledge that she never saw her movement’s success.

Colby isn’t as well known as Anthony and Cady Stanton, but Holliday’s biography may well change that. Impeccably and lovingly researched and punctuated with firsthand sources and historical photos, this work is ideal for anyone wanting to take a deep dive into the women’s suffrage movement.

Takeaway: Historians and feminists alike will relish this robust biography of a little known suffragist who played a major role in helping women get the power to vote.

Great for fans of Ida Husted Harper’s The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt and Nettie Rogers Shuler’s The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement.

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

Click here for more about Clara Colby
The Hidden Hand of Death (The Jack Ryder Mysteries Book 1)
Lawrence J. Epstein
Epstein’s gritty period detective novel is intricately and elegantly plotted, but it’s the vivid characterizations that bring the story to life. Set in New York in 1942, the story revolves around a “fixer” named Jack Ryder. His job description is killing bad people, and his moral code dictates that he will only kill those who harm innocents. He’s dedicated his life to helping people, often for free. While dealing with a dangerous former client, Ryder has to help a police detective locate his sister, assist the FBI with rooting out Nazi sympathizers, and unravel the mystery surrounding the death of his wife.

Epstein effortlessly balances all of these plot lines, keeping the reader off balance by bringing some to a surprising early close. His prose is spare and taut, gripping the reader and creating an exciting pace. His sense of setting (“The Greenwich Village street was as dark as Europe’s future”) and character keep the book fresh. Epstein gives Ryder and the reader a chance to breathe in the scenes set in Ryder’s “office,” an all-night diner. His “secretary,” wise waitress Gertie, gets her own extensive arc. However, self-consciously diverse characters, such as a woman who escapes Nazi Germany and an African American man pondering entering military service on behalf of a country full of racists, feel tacked on.

Ryder himself remains the main draw, a tragic but noble character. Unlike the typical hard-boiled detective, Ryder is not a heavy drinker or a womanizer. He’s still haunted by his past and the death of his wife, and his vulnerability and complexity render him deeply compelling. His imperative is to help others, but he’s incapable of helping himself, which makes his story heartbreaking. Period details such as air-raid blackouts, automats, and the German American Bund provide a distinctive, authentic flavor to this solid historical thriller with a conscience.

Takeaway: Fans of gritty period detective stories will love this WWII-era novel's tight plotting, vivid characterization, and hero with a strong moral code.

Great for fans of Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series.

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

Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball
S.P. O'Farrell
This colorful middle grade debut from O’Farrell, set in present-day Paris, follows a particularly perceptive 12-year-old girl as she balances a family scandal with the challenges of a budding espionage career. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Simone LaFray is a secret agent for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her mentor, Eloise Pilfrey, assigns Simone to catch the infamous thief Reynard Baresi, aka la Volpe Rossa (the Red Fox), who may be plotting to steal a painting from the Musée d’Orsay. Simone thinks she’s seen la Volpe lingering around her father’s famous bakery, LaFray’s Patisserie, where Simone assists her father, Louie. One Sunday, someone breaks into the patisserie and steals their beloved recipe books that have been passed down for generations. Now she has an additional mystery to solve.

As Simone narrates this story, readers will be amazed by her observational skills, which add a heavily descriptive layer to the story (“Since I was six, I could tell the handwriting and doodle marks of each inscriber”) and provide her with helpful clues. When Louie is accused of being a fraud and baking subpar pastries, Simone discovers someone laced one of their bags of sugar with salt. She becomes determined to find the culprit at the prestigious Chocolatiers’ Ball. The glamor and drama outweigh occasional errors in the non-English terminology and dialogue, and readers will forgive plot-necessary contrivances such as a famous baker never tasting his own wares.

Though Simone is bright (“Doing normal kid stuff made me twitchy,” she confesses) she prefers to be out of the spotlight. O’Farrell skillfully provides two foils: Simone’s theatrical younger sister, Mia, and her bubbly best friend, Gloria V. Cantone (known as the V). Both Mia and the V help dress Simone up for the ball, where O’Farrell reveals several twists. Some readers will wish the ball had been introduced earlier, given its prominence in the title and influence on the plot. This satisfying mystery leaves a few lingering secrets that readers will hope to explore in Simone’s next adventure.

Takeaway: Middle grade readers who love mature protagonists and vivid imagery featuring sweet treats will enjoy this spy story.

Great for fans of Stuart Gibbs’s Spy School series, Lauren Child’s Ruby Redfort series.

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

Call Me Joe
Martin van Es
In this stirring novel, debut author van Es, aided by ghostwriter Crofts, imagines the world’s reaction when the son of God returns to Earth. After a 12-minute period of global darkness, New Zealand teacher Sophie sees a man outside of her classroom—a man with dark skin and hair who’s wearing only a white robe and has kind, “astonishing” eyes—and believes he’s lost. Surprising herself, she offers to let him stay at her apartment. Though Sophie is wary of believing the man her students call Joe is the son of God, her skepticism wavers when she witnesses his miracles. Joe attracts the attention of political leaders who are threatened by his power and religious leaders wondering whether he really is the messiah. When Joe unveils 12 new guidelines for global peace and environmental preservation, including “Be honest” and “Try to forgive and say sorry,” he becomes the target of a hired assassin, but he remains intent on fulfilling his earthly mission before leaving once again.

The responses of world leaders to Joe’s appearance are unsurprisingly similar to the narrative of the Gospels, but they still feel realistic, and the authors update many other biblical concepts for the modern era. Joe’s human nature is shown through his behavior and the revisions of commandments with a more modern appeal. His view of sex, exemplified by his eventual sexual relationship with Sophie, focuses on personal decisions rather than procreation. While this adaptation makes Joe a more realistic 21st-century messiah, those who have a literal view of the Bible may find it flawed.

This creative narrative combines spiritual elements with the critical global problems of economic inequality and climate change. Van Es and Crofts intend this novel as a gateway to the Joe Project, which encourages readers to undertake their own efforts to “save humanity” and prevent ecological collapse. Those who appreciate the hopeful message of this immersive, magnetic story will be eager to see where the Joe Project goes next.

Takeaway: This gentle, optimistic story of Christ’s second coming will resonate with readers looking for a message of hope and empowerment.

Great for fans of John Niven’s The Second Coming, Richard Bach’s Illusions.

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

Click here for more about Call Me Joe
Ice Queen
Felicia Farber
With a fresh voice and a keen comprehension of the lives of present-day teens, this somber cautionary tale follows 16-year-old Blair as she navigates high school life as the prime target for the mean girl clique. An issue of mistaken identity in freshman year complicates things with the Ice Queen, leader of the mean girls. Blair tries to keep to her small group of friends, but then she gets an invitation to an exclusive pool party full of cool kids. While there, she meets Davey and his friend, Frank, and finds herself having a good time. Little does she know that Davey is the Ice Queen’s prized boyfriend, popular athlete David. When Davey snaps a photo of Blair in her underwear, someone texts it to other students, and the police are alerted, the two become tangled in arcane laws regarding sexting and bullying, leaving them to juggle felony charges with college admissions essays.

A reliance on somewhat technical language where legal issues are explained may serve to pull some readers out of the story. The character voices are all strong in their own right, but when the legalities come into play, the texture of the narrative changes, becoming much more adult and somewhat awkward. In addition, Blair seems to have little difficulty getting time alone with David in her bedroom and going out to a club that serves alcohol. This degree of apparent inattention from her otherwise caring parents may strike readers as unlikely and distract from the book’s message.

With a clear understanding of the teenage mind, the story moves very naturally through the day-to-day activities of a group that’s too mature for childish things but lacks the knowledge and experience to navigate the adult world. One of the highlights of the novel is the depiction of healthy, cooperative relationships with adults, with no stereotypical arguments to be seen. A diverse cast and the inclusion of characters outside of the school microcosm gives the story an authentic feel and adds varying perspectives. This is a vivid and well-constructed portrayal of teens struggling with 21st-century concerns.

Takeaway: This timely contemporary novel introduces teens to the social and legal risks of sexting while pulling them in with strong, authentic character voices.

Great for fans of Judy Blume, Jennifer Brown, Laura Steven, Helen Schulman.

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

Click here for more about Ice Queen
Kill Tide: A Pepper Ryan Thriller
Timothy Fagan
Fagan’s suspenseful second Pepper Ryan novel (after Killing Shore) is a prequel, featuring 20-year-old Pepper as a budding detective. The son of police chief Gerald Ryan, Pepper is working as a police cadet on Cape Cod and playing in a band, Brad and the Pitts, before he leaves for Harvard at the end of the summer. When teenagers Emma Bailey and Emma Addison are abducted, Pepper is determined to find the perpetrator and inserts himself into the investigation against the instructions of his supervising officer. After Pepper follows his instincts and tails a suspicious van, he ends up in a deadly fight with the man responsible for the abductions. As police hunt for the missing girls, Pepper conducts his own search, desperately hoping to find the two teens alive.

Fagan, an attorney, crisply portrays police and criminal procedure, instilling a sense of realism into the in-depth investigation of the kidnappings. He also draws a vivid picture of Cape Cod, alluding to the tourists’ impression of summer idyll while highlighting the round-the-clock efforts of police. He evocatively captures the antics of Pepper, whose self-destructive behavior belies his altruistic efforts to follow in the footsteps of his law enforcement family. Pepper is clearly on the cusp of adulthood, sometimes self-serving while also showing bursts of heroism. His budding romance with his bandmate Delaney Lynn provides a strong subplot, especially when she asks him to move to Nashville with her.

The narrative is fast-paced and intensifies with the introduction of a myriad of suspects and red herrings, and readers will eagerly turn the pages as they try to identify the culprit. The riveting conclusion and hints of future installments will thoroughly satisfy returning series fans as well as new readers.

Takeaway: Fans of amateur sleuth stories and beach reads will be captivated by this magnetic mystery set amid the beauty of a Cape Cod summer.

Great for fans of Ruth Howard’s Murder on Cape Cod, Rick Cochran’s Bound Brook Pond.

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

Click here for more about Kill Tide: A Pepper Ryan Thriller
Army of God
Dennis Bailey
Debut author Bailey combines fantasy action and biblical legend in this expansive retelling of the story of Noah’s ark. The 500-year-old preacher Noah, son of the governor of the city-state Eden, takes to the streets to warn citizens about mixing with the people of Enoch, who are descended from Cain. His words are rebuffed by rebellious atheist Malluch, who despises Noah and plots to kill him. Noah and his family flee the city. Then Noah hears the voice of God telling him that the world will be destroyed by a flood and he needs to build an ark and fill it with two of each animal. Despite setbacks, the ark is in its finishing stages as Malluch’s army descends. Noah’s family fights back, aided by animal troops.

Bailey’s writing is clean and very readable, though his highly detailed descriptions and historically accurate measurements (such as the use of “one hundred eighty parts” to mean 10 minutes) slow the story. The familiar narrative is expanded more by Noah’s family arguments and Malluch’s men partying and scheming in Enoch than by action or plot twists. The setting is fleshed out with both historical fact and vivid imagination: an altar in debauched Enoch is littered with bones, its streets are full of drunks, and its thieves are torn apart by lions.

Bailey often relies on narration to describe characters’ thoughts and feelings. However, the dialogue is fluid and evocative, showing both the warmth and kindness of Noah’s family and the suspicious, anxious nature of Malluch’s cohorts. Malluch’s conflicted lieutenant, Shechem, is particularly well drawn. The frequent scenes and mentions of violent death, sexual assault, and forced prostitution—with men, women, and children as victims—will feel incongruous to anyone expecting a G-rated Bible story, but readers looking for a grimdark fantasy novel based loosely on a familiar legend will find this hits all the expected notes.

Takeaway: This bloodthirsty sword-and-sandal novel based on the tale of Noah’s ark will appeal to fans of darker epic fantasy.

Great for fans of Glen Cook’s Black Company series, Joe Abercrombie.

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

Click here for more about Army of God
Knight of Flames
AK Faulkner
Faulker’s second Inheritance novel (after Inheritance) is an uneven but entertaining story of love, sex, and superpowers. Quentin d’Arcy is desperate to get away from his restrictive upbringing as one of the heirs to the Duchy of Oxford. He finds release in his new life in San Diego and in his relationship with pagan florist Laurence (whose story is explored in more depth in the first volume). The two of them navigate their intense feelings for one another even though Quentin’s telekinetic powers manifest at the most inopportune moments. When Quentin stumbles across a safe house for people with similar abilities, he feels honor-bound to teach the residents how to manage their powers, especially when their leader, Kane Wilson, promises that they will become an elite force of superhero vigilantes. However, Kane is not as altruistic as he appears.

Though there’s much here that will appeal to fans of both urban fantasy and paranormal romance, the two halves of the story are never fully integrated. The early part of the novel is devoted to Laurence and Quentin’s relationship, with plenty of sexual tension (including some awkward erotic scenes) and romantic banter. The action side of the plot only really takes off in the book’s final third, when Quentin gets in too deep with Kane’s schemes and Laurence joins Quentin’s brother, Frederick, to rescue him.

Faulkner has a host of creative ideas that deserve further exploration—Laurence’s backstory, the relationship between Quentin and his family, the telekinetic safe house and its history—and what readers glimpse of them is intriguing. The prose sings when the plot’s stakes are high, and the book’s inventive premise does ultimately pay off in fine style. This isn’t the best installment to start with, but fans of the first novel will find this one a satisfying continuation.

Takeaway: Readers with a taste for both action and romance will find plenty of both in this mid-series tale of love, sex, and superpowers.

Great for fans of Lisa Edmond’s Alice Worth series, Max Gladstone’s Bookburners series.

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

Click here for more about Knight of Flames
Arcade of Memory
Howard Giskin
Giskin’s thoughtfully curated second collection of short stories and poetry (after Murmurings) serenely meanders through a patchwork tapestry of cultures, viewpoints, and travel experiences with a curious and open heart. In “Transcendence,” the author describes losing himself in the beauty of nature, while “Memory” questions how people create a sense of self. In poems such as “Travel,” the unmetered five-line structure of Japanese tanka is combined with contrasting imagery to capture the weight of Giskin’s global experiences with landscapes and cultures. Real-world experiences take a turn for the fantastic in short stories such as “A Touch of Dementia,” in which an elderly man daydreams more and more often about a rainy holiday in Puerto Rico with his late wife.

Each of the pieces ultimately serves as a jumping-off point for Giskin’s philosophy of life, which places tremendous importance on both respecting history and living in the moment. His poems (interspersed with quotes from other poets in a way that can occasionally be confusing) flow as beautifully as the natural surroundings they describe, but the short stories are the real gifts. Giskin has a lovely way of taking something ordinary and turning it into something magical, giving just enough interpretation that it’s easy for each reader to find personal meaning in the work.

Giskin deftly brings readers on a journey around the world and explores other cultures with a sense of wonder, always asking his readers to consider their own place within the larger picture. Above all, the collection emphasizes the power of imagination and the beauty in memories. Any reader looking to find surprise and joy in everyday life will find this collection inspiring.

Takeaway: Poetry fans and philosophers alike will enjoy this meditative and thought-provoking collection of introspective stories and poems.

Great for fans of Walt Whitman, Li Shangyin.

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

Click here for more about Arcade of Memory
Kingdom of the Silver Cat
Thomas Carroll
Carroll’s vivid and engrossing fantasy debut is a middle grade reader’s dream. On the way to school, a bus carrying 15 children travels through a blue light to the strange, beautiful land of Hevelen. The bus driver goes to find help but never returns, leaving the kids on their own. Led by stoic Josh, determined Wesley, fiery Rhea, and caring Annie, they adventure through a world of unusual wonders—talking fish, cotton candy–flavored cherries, and dragons—and discover they’ve all developed special powers. Threatened by a powerful ruler who covets those powers, the children must depend on fairies, a wise farmer, and one another in order to reach the only one who can protect them: the Silver Cat.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character, allowing Carroll to take a deep dive into their perspectives and backstories. Sisters Gabrielle and Celia moved to their small upstate New York town from Honduras; Corey is so smart that everyone calls him CPU; Ted dreams of being a musician but fails at every instrument he tries to play; Bobby was struck by lightning, leaving him with a limp and slurred speech, and his classmates lovingly protect him. These stories intertwine and complement one another. Though the focus-switching may confuse some readers, investing in the characters is worth the trouble.

Amid many wonders, Carroll doesn’t shy away from heavy themes: Josh’s mother died when he was little and Annie’s parents are divorcing. Moreover, the children must survive in a world that contains feuding tribes and intense environmental dangers. Huang’s charcoal chapter-head drawings are capable but don’t do justice to the colorful setting and story. The rich worldbuilding, broad scope, and abrupt ending invite future books in which the protagonists’ powers and adventures will hopefully be further explored. Imaginative, intense, and heartwarming, this mythic portal fantasy is a strong first step on the way to a saga.

Takeaway: Young readers will swoon over the interesting characters, colorful details, and new takes on old tropes in this riveting middle grade portal fantasy.

Great for fans of Louis Sachar’s Wayside School series, Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series.

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

Click here for more about Kingdom of the Silver Cat
Hamilton's Choice
Jack Casey
Casey’s gripping novel breathes new life into the later years of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Fans of the musical Hamilton will be familiar with the outline of Aaron Burr’s rivalry with the young upstart, but Casey takes his time developing the details of Burr’s political successes and failures, and Hamilton’s part in the latter. He frames the novel around the pivotal 1801 death of Hamilton’s son Philip—who died in a duel defending his father’s honor—and Burr’s failed gubernatorial campaign after Jefferson dropped him as the vice presidential candidate in 1804. Casey cleverly ties the two episodes together while exploring these two men’s characters and their involvement in political matters that would help define the United States.

Lawyer and author Casey (The Trial of Bat Shea) paints an unflattering picture of Burr as a cur whose “cynicism, power lust and lechery” destroy his potential. This venality makes for riveting reading but can feel one-sided. Hamilton’s character is more dimensional as he struggles with his decisions, influenced by burdens of regret and responsibility that he carries like a sack over his shoulder. Casey seamlessly integrates political intrigues with daily life and gives Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, a considerable role, showing how much marriage and family meant to them both.

After Eliza extracts a promise that her husband will retire from public life, powerful men, including her politician father, try to tempt his return. Eliza fears for him and has increasingly gloomy portents about his renewed involvement. “Have you ever thought about my suffering?” she cries, both to her husband and, perhaps, to historians who have omitted women from their histories. Readers interested in Revolutionary War history and the politics of Jefferson’s presidency will be enthralled by this portrayal of Hamilton and Burr’s rivalry and the multitude of relationships surrounding and tugging at them.

Takeaway: Fans of American history will love this fictionalization of Alexander Hamilton’s political and family life in the years leading to his death.

Great for fans of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, Joanne Freeman’s Affairs of Honor, Gore Vidal’s Burr.

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

Click here for more about Hamilton's Choice
Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps
Eugene Clark
Clark explores the possibilities and pitfalls of human genetic engineering in this science fiction series debut. He takes as his inspiration recent scientific experiments in using CRISPR technology to edit human DNA, extrapolating the stories of two people who use genetic engineering to buy “designer babies.” Rachael, a successful horse breeder, finds her relationship with her pothead loser boyfriend unfulfilling. Uninterested in being saddled with a lazy husband, and with her biological clock ticking down, she heads to the Better Genetic Corporation (on a remote tropical island) to get herself a baby on her own terms. Max, a millionaire video game designer, is dumped for suggesting a prenup and remakes himself into an upstanding man. He is swept up by BGC’s claim that they can make him an ideal child. All he needs now is to find a surrogate.

Clark’s characters grapple well with the moral dilemmas of designing a child, but the additional topics he addresses—religion, eugenics, Nazism, human sexuality, race, and consensual sexual violence, to name a few—are often glanced over. The narrative brings them forward dramatically only to resolve them in a manner of pages, undermining the weight of their implications.

Awkward dialogue and interactions between characters, and some clumsy narrative techniques, tend to drag down the pace of the plot. Clark tries hard to reach for a broader understanding of the future of reproductive technology, but his narrative lacks nuance, preventing the reader from truly grasping the horror that can arise from designing children from scratch. Despite this debut’s fumbles, science fiction readers interested in emerging technology and moral dilemmas will find enough to engage with and will keenly await future installments.

Takeaway: Readers interested in the implications of human genetic engineering will appreciate Clark’s disturbing vision of a near-future era of designer babies.

Great for fans of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Theodore Sturgeon’s More than Human.

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

Click here for more about Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps
Dwarf Story
Professor W. W. Marplot
This middle grade contemporary fantasy debut, set in present-day Long Island, balances a sleuthing aesthetic, conflict between its preteen protagonists, and an exploration of Irish folklore and language. When an armed dwarf (of the fantasy variety) appears in Arty’s backyard, the anxious boy overcomes communication barriers to befriend him. Arty confides in some friends who soon meet their own magical companions. Action-driven Emma steals a magical map, and she and Arty ditch school to discover the reason these creatures have appeared: a brewing battle between the fairies and the Old Woman of the Mountain.

Unfortunately, Marplot’s fairy world’s simplistic good-and-evil turf war ultimately turns the story’s protagonists into pawns. Arty and Emma feel a bit sidelined in their own adventure; Emma loses her will under the mind magic of the evil Gwyllion, and all the characters follow the clues and puzzles created by the ancestors of a deus-ex-machina mentor who appears near the end of the book. Emma and Arty never quite get a chance to own their victory. As the magic fades away from the story, so too does its sense of wonder.

The magical creatures have an unearthly but relatable appeal, and their method of communicating with the kids by sharing images seen through their eyes offers a creative glimpse into fairyland. The alternating perspectives between Arty and Emma are well-balanced and give a wider view of the action, but short chapters narrated by minor characters, many of whom quibble about their representation, diffuse the immersive sense of adventure and pad out a book that already stretches out a little too long. Marplot plays well to young readers whose sense of adventure is balanced by their desire to learn, grounding his playfulness and whimsy with an excellent knowledge of folklore.

Takeaway: Middle grade readers looking for a fantasy grounded in Irish folklore will enjoy the detailed puzzles and, dynamic friendships in Marplot’s debut.

Great for fans of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, Jeremiah Curtin’s Irish Tales of the Fairies and the Ghost World.

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

Click here for more about Dwarf Story
Emergency Powers
James McCrone
McCrone’s second political thriller featuring FBI agent Imogen Trager (after 2017’s Dark Network) continues the dogged investigator’s probe into a far-reaching conspiracy targeting the office of the Presidency. Her prior work on the Faithless Elector Task Force thwarted the plotters’ first scheme to steal the U.S. presidency, and the White House is now occupied by Democrat Diane Redmond, whose vice president, Bob Moore, is a Republican. After less than two months in office, President Redmond is found dead of an apparent heart attack, making Moore the Chief Executive. Trager suspects foul play and a connection to the Faithless Electors case. She and trusted colleague Amanda Vega dive into an investigation to find the truth and preserve democracy.

It’s odd to read about an America where Barack Obama was not succeeded by Donald Trump, and some readers might find it a challenge to navigate the novel’s alternate present without reading the first installment. Given Trager’s success in the prior book, and the higher stakes in this one, it strains belief that she doesn’t encounter more resistance or complications as she slowly pieces together the conspiracy. Some of her success feels convenient, such as when the bad guys make a groan-worthy mistake that leads to an over-the-top climax.

McCrone could do more to distinguish this from other thrillers centered on a secret cabal with eyes on the White House. The fast pace and twists carry readers along, and some of the prosaic details of paper investigations—tracking the bad guys through audit reports and campaign filings—work unusually well. McCrone’s research and political insight are an intriguing backdrop to this tale, sometimes holding the interest more than the central plot does, and will be a pleasant surprise to readers used to more gunplay-style action.

Takeaway: Political thriller fanatics with an interest in following paper trails will be satisfied by this second Imogen Trager investigation.

Great for fans of Brad Meltzer, David Baldacci.

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

Click here for more about Emergency Powers
Ones & Zeroes: A Short Story Collection
M Walsh
Though many of the settings and characters retread familiar ground in this eerie anthology by Walsh (The Jinxed Pirate), twisty turns and dark humor knock the 14 stories askew, subverting tropes and turning ideas of heroism and Americana upside down. The only thing standing between humanity and a parasitic alien invasion in “Intervention” turns out to be an alcoholic cokehead a bit slow on the uptake. Is a cheerleader-type high school girl turning emo in “Fitting In,” or is she reacting to something more sinister than teenage angst? “Someone Else’s Story” features a hero who takes on a preternatural villain in a small-town diner. A married couple in “Look the Other Way” find refuge from a bloodthirsty monster at a small-town police station—or so they think. “Damsel” finds the intrepid Gwen being murdered over and over again in every universe, a comment on the practice of “fridging” female characters to give their male counterparts motivation. Meanwhile, in “The Mouse & and the Dragon,” a princess decides to rescue herself after multiple heroes fail.

Not all of Walsh’s stories are as clever in their execution. “Finding Bosco” doesn’t have nearly the same impact as its companion story, “Look the Other Way.” “His Friends,” a meandering tale of a woman stuck at a party with her boyfriend and his buddies, fails to deliver its promised thrills. Two bug stories, “Clash of the Titans” and “My Window,” are all setup and no payoff.

Despite these fumbles, those who calculate win/loss percentages on story collections will be impressed. Walsh’s collection is generally smart and genre-savvy, playing on reader expectations in surprising ways. He doesn’t shy away from camp, gore, crude characters, and twist endings, and even when his stories are heavy-handed, they rarely fail to be fun. Fans of tongue-in-cheek horror and trope-twisting fantasy will not be disappointed.

Takeaway: This collection of horror and fantasy shorts will appeal to genre-savvy fans of the darkly humorous.

Great for fans of David Wong’s John Dies at the End, Richard Matheson.

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

Click here for more about Ones & Zeroes: A Short Story Collection
Dynamicist: Dynamicist Trilogy Book 1
Lee Hunt
Mathematics matter as much as magic in Hunt’s inventive adult fantasy, a modern take on the wizarding school. Robert Endicott, a bright 18-year-old, enrolls at the New School to train to become a dynamicist, a mathematician who calculates careful “empyreal manipulation” to change the world in a precise way for a precise cost. Robert and his cohort spend more time working equations and contemplating the commodities market than mastering the dark arts. After a visionary dream, he becomes convinced that he and his fellow students are being hunted. As the students stare down the imminent 24-hour test that will determine whether they’re qualified to continue at the school, protesters take to the streets outside, denouncing new technological innovations.

Hunt proves himself a detailed worldbuilder, lavishing pages on futures trading and farm technology. This makes for a slow opening, but the story picks up once Robert meets his fellow students, each vividly drawn and transcending type. The group’s dialogue is raucous and its camaraderie affecting. Robert also experiences love, spurred by a pair of female classmates who seem to be stalking him, and rage, which stirs powerfully in him when a woman named Syriol is assaulted on campus. Syriol is an all but voiceless victim who “probably doesn't understand how she feels” and is healed by Robert’s unexplained love for her, a depiction that undermines Hunt’s earnest efforts to critique rape culture and the objectification of women.

Concerned with economics, architecture, and its protagonist’s philosophical musings, the novel moves deliberately, caught up in mind and milieu rather than plot. Readers eager for a thoughtful challenge to genre conventions will appreciate Hunt’s rigorous reimagining of how a society with access to magic might endeavor to train and regulate its users. The abrupt conclusion wraps up too few mysteries, setting the stage for the second book in the series. In Hunt’s immersive and intricate world, the big picture occasionally gets lost beneath the fine details, but this is a compelling story for readers who crave complex worldbuilding.

Takeaway: This intricate, philosophical update to the wizard-school story will appeal to fans of cerebral fantasy.

Great for fans of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet.

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

Click here for more about Dynamicist

Loading...