Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

An Evening Pastiche
Brad Ramsey
A love of classic English poetry, or at least some familiarity with it, will serve readers well when diving into this collection, which pays homage to 19th-century English romantic poetry with a series of William Wordsworth pastiches that address 21st-century urban living. In wry references to Wordsworth’s evening walks, Ramsey writes of roaming Toronto’s streets and encountering light pollution, skyscrapers, graffiti, and a woman who reminds him of Ishtar as he asks her to light his cigarette.

The author has mastered the tone and dialect of romantic poetry, and he uses them to explore quotidian urban matters as familiar to 21st-century readers as daffodils were in Wordsworth’s day. In “The Idle Corner-Boys,” two young men attempt to prove their manhood by challenging each other to grope women. Seeing a woman already in distress, they forfeit their plan of feeling her up and instead help her find her missing brooch. "The Sewer and the Maple Leaf" has an engaging use of personification, as it finds a sewer grate and a maple leaf in an interesting exchange about the maple leaf's survival of winter. In “The Shepherd’s Blues,” stars are hard to see in “the city haze,” but starlets proliferate.

Each piece showcases Ramsey's knowledge of different poetic styles as he employs couplets, triplets, free verse and multiple other forms. There’s a seeming paradox in imitating Wordsworth’s language, which was meant to replace florid 18th-century poetry with earthy everyday speech but sounds nearly as fancy to modern ears. However, Ramsey blends in plenty of current idiom, and the juxtaposition of “crack alley” with “poor hovels” or “a bus shelter/ Of plexiglass and yellow steel” with the “whirl-blast” of snow is delightful. Readers who know enough about romantic poetry to get the joke will enjoy this witty homage.

Takeaway: Aficionados of 19th-century romantic poetry will enjoy this clever update of William Wordsworth’s style with 21st-century subjects and language.

Great for fans of William Wordsworth, William Blake.

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

Click here for more about An Evening Pastiche
Cooper B.: and the Scavenger Hunt
Michael Shane Leighton
Leighton’s first Cooper B. middle grade fantasy-mystery brims with adventure and charms with its simplicity. Cooper B., age 11, has been in the foster system his entire life. The only constant has been Ms. Pedigree, his social worker. Upon placement at Saint Mary’s Academy for Exceptional Youth, Cooper quickly befriends two of Ms. Pedigree’s other charges, Miles and Aria. The trio discover their fourth, Serra, who comes from a parallel world called Alyssum. Strangest of all is that Cooper B. is apparently known in Alyssum as a boy with a cryptic history.

Leighton easily sweeps readers into the world of Alyssum, which is familiar enough to be comforting but distinctive in a beguiling way. Though readers may detect echoes of other stories about orphans thrust into magical places full of friends and foes, the wide-eyed wonder Cooper feels in Alyssum is original and beautifully described. The smoothly written prose flows effortlessly, liberally dotted with enticing details and vivid characterizations. The novel allows children to be children, giving them room to grow, develop, and explore freely. There’s plenty of adult supervision, but it’s clear that the quartet have autonomy to discover new opportunities and initiate fresh experiences.

Cooper’s perspective isn’t always consistent; there are several instances where his voice and word choice suggest an adult, or someone with more maturity than one would expect from an 11-year-old. The tale intermittently reads as if Cooper is an adult reminiscing about his past rather than a child experiencing these events for the first time. Young readers who find those passages confusing will still enjoy the rest of the story and de Souza Sinclair’s elegant digital chapter-head illustrations. Conveying a sense of awe and delight, Leighton delivers an absorbing and entertaining story that touches just enough on serious topics.

Takeaway: A sophisticatedly crafted world and vividly imagined characters will draw readers of all ages into this adventure filled with lessons and wonder.

Great for fans of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.

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

Click here for more about Cooper B.
The Broker: Deals, Steals and Moving Forward
D. Sidney Potter
Potter, a former broker at what he calls an “alpha-male” real estate firm, shapes this singular volume as a survey of what it takes to succeed in commercial real estate, a disquisition on race in his line of business, and a memoir of his own most interesting moments on and off the job. Energetic, ribald narration adds vigor to chapters on the psychology of cold-calling and the importance of escrow, and his insistence on dishing the unvarnished truth makes this less a how-to book than a memoir of life on the front lines of American capitalist masculinity.

Readers might be surprised by how many of Potter’s anecdotes concern fistfights with movie theater workers and rental-car company managers, altercations with police, and “yell fests” with a detested colleague whose wife’s resemblance to Salma Hayek has dampened Potter’s affection for the actress. Potter admits he’s taking liberties with readers’ expectations: “How this relates to commercial real estate, I couldn’t really tell you,” he confesses after recounting a dust-up. But his raucous storytelling, with its focus on conflict, illuminates the advice he gives to readers who want to be “Kong Dong” sales managers: “Be acutely aware of [your] scope of power.”

Questions of power figure into Potter’s more advice-focused chapters. They also play out in his discussions of how brokers stereotype various ethnic populations. There's humor in scenes such as Potter sitting under a desk on the brokerage floor in search of relative quiet. The fast-paced stream-of-consciousness storytelling, which reads like it came straight out of the author’s Dictaphone, isn’t always coherent, but readers will skim past the typos and tangled sentences in a rush of secondhand adrenaline. If action movies were made about real estate, this book would be one.

Takeaway: This vigorous memoir will entertain anyone looking for an action-comedy peppered with fistfights and commercial real estate deals.

Great for fans of Alison Rogers’s Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, Joe Ricketts’s The Harder You Work, the Luckier You Get.

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

Before the Distance
Pasquale Trozzolo
Trozzolo’s charming and breezy collection of poems about life during the era of social distancing acknowledges the hardships of the pandemic while sounding a hopeful note. His sense of humor is cheeky and playful, as in “Heavy,” which uses a vertical stacking structure to indicate thinness as he suggests even writing a short poem can be beneficial. “Reputation” is similarly sarcastic, as Trozzolo notes how unusually nice he’s being to people, and how “If this virus doesn’t kill me/ It’s going to ruin my/ Respectability.” The verses are alternately reflective, mournful, fearful, wistful, and anxious. Trozzolo covers a lot of ground with a pithy style that gets straight to the point but never takes itself too seriously.

While Trozzolo is usually thoughtful in formulating his observations and ruminations, most of these poems have a spontaneous feel to them. They quickly and sketchily capture a mood, as in “Walls”: “Can you/ Climb walls/ while/ Sitting in a/ Chair?” These brief verses are more effective than some of the longer poems, such as the overly labored “Blue,” which loses its impact as Trozzolo works hard to create rhymes. Trozzolo’s humor also works best in small bursts, as opposed to poems like “It Is,” in which Trozzolo belabors references to the song “You’re So Vain” in order to craft a joke.

Most of Trozzolo’s poems don’t fall into the trap of being clever for their own sake. Even when he’s playing around, he focuses on communicating his ideas through vivid, spare imagery. He’s candidly direct and sincere in expressing his thoughts on how the pandemic has changed daily life, and communicates gratitude for the remnants of meaning he can still find. Trozzolo distinctively touches on the strangeness of pandemic life while embracing its absurdity, and his quirky poems offer laughter and genuine insight without being pretentious.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a poetic take on life sheltering at home during the pandemic will relish Trozzolo’s wit, empathy, and economy of words.

Great for fans of Kit Falbo’s Pandemic Poems, Christoffer Petersen’s Pandemic Poetry.

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

Click here for more about Before the Distance
Lassa the Viking and the Dragon's Inferno
Dean Yurke
Yurke’s fast-paced adventure captures the swashbuckling atmosphere of Northern Europe in the 11th century CE, though at times it struggles with a lack of historical accuracy. At age 13, Lassa Erikson knows he only wants to be a healer, but he’s conned by his twin brother, Sven, into joining the Viking army. When Lassa accidentally kills the Saxon military commander Modred, he is hailed as a hero. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Saxon princess Ann is determined to pick up a sword and fight alongside the men, but she ends up as Lassa’s prisoner, and he claims her as his wife to save her from his rough fellow Vikings. When Viking king Magnus is kidnapped, Ann and Lassa are thrust into a desperate battle while a mysterious dragon cult tries to eradicate all of Norse and Saxon culture. Lassa must prove himself as a confident warrior to win Ann’s heart and save the Vikings from the Dragon King.

A plethora of anachronisms pull readers out of the time period and interrupt the story’s flow. There are a number of glaring factual errors: Lassa describes a Viking tune as resembling the Christian hymn “Good King Wenceslas,” a 19th-century song with a 13th-century melody; Lassa’s mentor, Chinese alchemist Choy Yang, predates the documented arrival of Chinese immigrants to England and Norway by hundreds of years. Likewise, language choices for the characters, such as Lassa repeatedly saying things are “cool,” make it difficult to fully immerse oneself in the time period, though the creative liberties may appeal to an uncritical younger audience.

Lassa’s struggle to fit in with the older, tougher Vikings is peppered with boyish humour and palpable nervous tension. Both Lassa and Ann have engaging, distinctive voices, and as they both try to break free from the gender restrictions of their time, they make a very sympathetic couple. Young readers who care more about fun adventure than historical accuracy will enjoy Yurke’s rip-roaring storytelling.

Takeaway: Sweeping atmosphere and a zippy pace will draw adventure-minded middle grade readers to this tale of Viking and Saxon warfare and romance.

Great for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, Terry Jones’s The Saga of Erik the Viking.

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

A LONG WAY HOME
Myra Hargrave McIlvain
In McIlvain’s lively but uneven novel, corporate executive Meredith Haggerty escapes her brutal husband, Harvey, by hiding in the chaos following the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. She flees her office with only her ever-present satchel as the building collapses, faking her death. She’s suffused with guilt over driving drunk and getting in a crash that left Harvey partially paralyzed, but she feels she’s paid her dues by enduring his abuse in the decade since. As she rides a bus to Mexico, fellow passenger Father Jacques “Rich” Richelieu, a priest and medical doctor, recognizes a woman in need of help. Rich invites her to stay at his community center in Brownsville, Tex. Once she’s settled, her stash of cash is stolen and she must rely on meager earnings and the kindness of her new community, all while living in fear of exposure.

McIlvain (Stein House) vividly depicts Meredith’s escape against the backdrop of the traumatic events of 9/11, and the scenes of Rich and other knowledgeable people recognizing the clear signs of domestic abuse are well-written and sensitively approached. As Meredith navigates a new life in a place filled with poverty, violence, and sorrow, McIlvain keeps the book’s tone from descending too far into the dark, adding a touch of romance as well as some melodrama in a subplot involving a young Mexican boy.

The writing falters in the last quarter as the author winds up to the denouement, tying up loose ends in brisk fashion. Life-altering decisions for Father Rich and Meredith seem too convenient and neat. Even with these missteps, this novel is powerful and compelling. The mutual misery of Meredith and Harvey’s marriage is capably portrayed, and Meredith is a complicated and appealing heroine. Readers will breathlessly turn pages to the end.

Takeaway: Readers intrigued by heroines on the run and possibly in need of redemption will love this vivid novel of a woman using the events of 9/11 to escape her abusive husband.

Great for fans of Don Winslow’s The Border, Barbara O’Neal.

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

Click here for more about A LONG WAY HOME
Third-Person Possessed: How to Write Page-Turning Fiction for 21st Century Readers
Mike Klaassen
Klaassen’s manual for novice fiction writers suggests that the key to a successful novel depends on its style. Klaassen focuses on creating a sense of intimacy in writing that keeps readers engaged. He calls this style “third-person possessed,” a technique for “writing third person in a way that allows the reader to consistently experience the story as if he is inside the character’s mind and body,” and in this eminently readable work, he explains his strategy for maintaining it throughout a novel.

Klaassen argues that most current bestselling authors made their mark toward the end of the 20th century, and though their prose was cutting-edge for its time, new writers won’t be able to achieve similar heights by imitating that older style. He advocates for “third-person possessed” as the path forward in the 21st century. However, when discussing “some of the greatest stories ever told,” Klaassen lists Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, and Gone with the Wind. Often uncritical of earlier authors’ prose, Klaassen’s attempt to connect their style to his own technique often undercuts the book’s claim that 21st-century literature needs a new stylistic approach. Works by women and people of color receive fewer mentions. Klaassen recommends against physically describing characters, as a reader who doesn’t share their traits might be jarred out of identifying with them; authors of work that hinges on gender, race, ability, or size may prefer his advice to “give the reader credit for being intelligent.”

Over 13 short chapters, Klaassen discusses how to cultivate a compelling narrative, fleshed-out characters, consistent prose, and a fully revised book manuscript. Many tips are sourced from Wikipedia or older writing manuals. Though purportedly aimed at novelists of all levels, the book is primarily for novice authors who lack access to a professional editor. This overview of intimate prose style techniques is most useful as a crash course in grammatical and literary devices that create an intimate reading experience.

Takeaway: Klaassen’s persuasive guide to writing intimate third-person narratives provides useful tips to authors working on their first manuscripts.

Great for fans of Stephen King’s On Writing, Karen S. Weisner, John Truby.

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

Click here for more about Third-Person Possessed
How to Design a Threshold
Ted Bernal Guevara
This ingenious venture from Guevara (Films) launches the main characters—Chereb Antonisz, a Jewish socialite; Zeyad Mugrabi, a Muslim stowaway; Asha Guitierrez, a Filipina schoolgirl; and Father Schoeff, a prophetic priest—into a collision with mystical implications in 1950s New York. At Schoeff’s first sermon at St. Jude’s Cathedral, he predicts the years the Yankees will win the pennant, to the displeasure of Msgr. Randolph, St. Jude’s senior priest. Schoeff’s awkward behavior garners media attention. During a radio interview, he explains that he makes predictions because “Free will can be enhanced, and that is [his] primary duty.”

The reader’s enthusiasm for the plot twists may begin to ebb when a character explicitly discloses why Zeyad, Chereb, Asha, and Schoeff were brought together, undermining the pleasure of discovering the plot as the story unfolds. But their interest will be recaptured by Guevara’s tight, poetic wording, which deftly depicts and evokes emotion: “Chereb... fell like a soft stone. Her otherwise street-brass heart at twenty couldn’t be more curious.” Mundane characters drop philosophical nuggets into Schoeff’s lap, and he encounters the divine in the guise of a stranger. Guevara paints a clear picture of these minor characters with vivid phrases and details: “His face had a scar that mowed a line down to his bearded chin... his trousers leaking at the hems.”

Even though death—often gruesome—laces through the story, comedy is there in greater measure. Chereb’s sublime humor bordering on mischief and Msgr. Randolph’s dry sarcasm balance Schoeff’s almost slapstick take: “When Uncle Dam passed away, Schoeff saw the humor of life slip away on ice. It was up to him to maintain balance and not fall.” Snippets of dialogue incorporate the racism of the 1950s, adding a layer of reality and context. Readers of magical realism will enjoy deciphering what is real and what is imagined in this sly, clever novel.

Takeaway: This poignant novel set in 1950s New York engages readers of magical realism with rich language, humor, and deep emotion.

Great for fans of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Darcie Little Badger’s “Skinwalker, Fast-Talker.”

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

Click here for more about How to Design a Threshold
Death!: Where is Thy Victory?
Douglas Holden
Holden’s examination of the New Testament’s theology of death makes the vigorous case that the ancient authors had no qualms about discussing such a challenging topic. Through examination of the Synoptic Gospels, Paul’s letters, and John’s corpus, Holden explores the centrality of the resurrection of Christ for the writers of Scripture and their understanding of death and eschatology. He places it in stark contrast with the Greek philosophical conception of immortality of the soul: rather than a continuity, there is a deep discontinuity and a greater life anticipated after death, with the precise details differing depending on the biblical author.

Though Holden carefully explores all the major New Testament discussions of death, he is mostly satisfied with individual exegeses and makes little attempt to integrate them all into a larger vision or theology. His discussion of technical details of language and form are detailed enough to lose the interest of the casual reader while being not conversant enough with the modern literature to satisfy the Biblical scholar.

Christians will find Holden’s proclamation of Christ’s victory over death inspiring. In the three resurrections recorded in the Gospels as well as in Christ’s own death and resurrection, Holden sees an acknowledgement of appropriate grief, together with an expression of God’s deep compassion. Paul’s letters, especially, focus on Christ’s death on a cross and the new age brought by his resurrection, in Holden’s reading. Likewise, Holden observes, John’s writings are so driven by the desire to share life that its antithesis, death, is always before him. To John, these broad concepts are always focused on the life and death of Jesus Christ as events of cosmic significance. Holden’s explications of New Testament writings clearly illustrate the focus biblical authors placed on the resurrection of Christ in their understanding of death.

Takeaway: Christians seeking to understand the New Testament authors’ theology of death will appreciate this powerful case for the centrality of Christ’s resurrection.

Great for fans of N.T. Wright, G.K. Beale.

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

Click here for more about Death!
The City That Barks And Roars
JT Bird
This wild adventure is packed with talking animals, hilarious antics, and a thrilling mystery. After the great flood, Noah opened the ramp of his ark, and the animals stepped out first, solidifying their dominant role in this alternate history. Fast forward through the evolutionary process to 1952, when the city Noah’s Kingdom is home to millions of anthropomorphic animals. Grumpy detective Frank Penguin and his clean-cut partner, Chico Monkey, are assigned to track down a missing detective and three beavers, a mission that brings them snout-to-snout with the city’s most corrupt gangsters. Danger lurks around every corner as they race to solve the case before innocent lives are lost.

Bird’s playful noir weaves whimsy and hilarity into the backdrop of an exhilarating whodunit. Witty puns and amusing wordplay sprinkle the pages: there are references to the literary classic Jane Bear and the popular movie A Street Cat Named Desire. Bird brings anthropomorphic characters to life through creative, authentic characterizations. For example, the beaver doesn’t drink coffee from a human-size mug; instead, Bird’s imagination conjures up a more appropriate vessel, the dainty thimble. This attention to detail shines throughout, including Chico’s aftershave (Eau De La Nana by Franco Chimpo) and Frank’s 1950s detective attire, complete with mac jacket.

Plot isn’t neglected in this fast-paced, delightful escape from reality. The tension is high throughout, with many misdirections (which is not to say red herrings) and surprising twists leading to a dramatic happy ending. The noir atmosphere drips from the pages and creates a dynamic setting reminiscent of Dick Tracy comics, if Tracy happened to be a monkey in a city of animals. Any mystery fan looking for a hearty laugh will adore this anthropomorphic frolic.

Takeaway: This hilarious noir-inspired comedy wins readers’ hearts with anthropomorphic animals and a clever mystery full of genuine twists.

Great for fans of Thomas Perry’s Metzger’s Dog, Douglas Adams, Joyce Porter, Donald Westlake.

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

Click here for more about The City That Barks And Roars
The Amazing Adventures of Jimmy Crikey
Wallace Briggs
Jimmy McGellan, nicknamed “Crikey” by cruel classmates for his shocking red hair, large feet, and pointed ears, is a strange boy who overcomes a variety of tricky situations in this exciting middle grade adventure novel. When he decides to run away from his kind guardian, Aunt Ethel, Jimmy stumbles into a subterranean world known as Roombelow, where he has wild adventures and becomes fast friends with the inhabitants. During his explorations, he solves problems, including the theft of glowing stones; thwarts attacks; and reunites diminutive well-dweller Gemma with her family. On a trip back to the surface, Aunt Ethel divulges that Jimmy is actually an alien from Attalia. Longing for somewhere he will fit in, Jimmy boards his deceased parents’ spaceship and returns to Attalia, where he must combat a serious threat from hostile aliens.

The episodic arcs have all the charm and whimsy of impromptu bedtime stories. The overlapping imaginative worlds delightfully blend water sprites, superpowers, and sentient computers; this mingling of science fiction and fantasy might not seem coherent at first glance, but it sparks imagination and helps to build independent tales. There is a retro feel to the plotting and writing, harkening back to mid-20th-century juvenile adventure books with daring escapes, clever plans, and quickly forgotten escapades. A handful of pen-and-ink illustrations give a tantalizing glimpse into Jimmy’s world.

There are obvious moral lessons in swift consequences for actions and Jimmy’s growing confidence as he finds acceptance, delivered with a light touch that’s appropriate for young readers. His keen insights predictably outshine the plans of adults, sometimes to a degree that adults will find outrageous but children will delight in. Briggs’s avuncular style lends itself well to reading aloud, and the self-contained stories make for perfectly bite-sized tales. Jimmy’s exploits are a charming, action-packed lark.

Takeaway: This lively collection of capers for younger children will find fans as a read-aloud with a nostalgic, improvisational feel.

Great for fans of Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price.

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

Click here for more about The Amazing Adventures of Jimmy Crikey
Caging Curiosity: A song of cages and liberties
Tayo Olajide
Olajide’s complex and sometimes muddled debut tangles the reader in an epic historical tale of war, plague, and the quest for power. As a pandemic ravages the 16th-century West African village of Idumagbo, Adeolu, a studious and scientific medicine man who’s secretly the son of murdered King Oyeade, tries to find both the disease’s cause and its cure. Adherents to various religions argue over which gods should be appeased, and palace intrigue heats up. As King Abiodun bestows favors on his unworthy cronies, his mother, medicine woman Keniola, plots with rebels to depose him, while a movement toward electing kings begins to take shape.

Despite a plot that could rival any epic, this tale of an unlikely prince’s ascent is unfortunately let down by a myriad of missteps. Unclear transitions, awkward exposition (“No one really knew why the animosity between the king and his brother came about,” the narrative states before explaining exactly why), inconsistencies, and dropped side plots present the reader with many challenges. The plot could easily sustain a trilogy; squeezed into only 400 pages, it has little room to breathe, and quick progress through exciting turns of events comes at the expense of setups, payoffs, and detail. The dramatic death of a central character in a battle against an invading army passes almost without notice.

Readers who employ their own imaginations to fill in the gaps will find much to appreciate in the bones of the story, and especially the characters: Keniola becoming a crowd favorite as she reclaims her throne after tragedy, Adeolu demonstrating his single-mindedness and vast intelligence, Abiodun rivaling the great villains of history with his savagery and nepotism. This treacherous and twisty royal family, the appealing setting, and the bold ending hint at Olajide’s potential.

Takeaway: Readers who enjoy royal intrigue where power plays and succession debates outweigh action will most appreciate this 16th-century West African palace drama.

Great for fans of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

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

When Caregiving Calls: Guidance as You Care for a Parent, Spouse, or Aging Relative
Aaron Blight
With a warm, empathetic tone, home care consultant Blight guides readers down the often-rocky path of caring for a disabled, aging, or dying relative or friend—a road he walked personally after his mother-in-law was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Blight and his wife, Jessica, cared for Jessica’s ailing mother until her death, and then Blight founded his own home care business. In 18 concise chapters, Blight describes how caregiving can gradually take over someone’s life, and he pulls no punches about the increasing emotional turmoil of each increase in responsibility. He views this process as having two possible, equally legitimate outcomes: turning over care to professional caregivers, or “internally resolv[ing] the role identity conflict” that occurs when caregiving occupies the central place in one’s life that used to go to being a spouse, parent, or professional.

Blight wisely takes into account a wide range of family dynamics, including caring for an estranged parent. He also discusses the safety of long-term care facilities in the Covid-19 era. Blight discusses how to balance work, siblings, spouses, and more, and he doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable issues. In fact, he facilitates such discussions by ending each chapter with open-ended questions. Throughout the book, he counsels readers to explore options and make their own decision.

Blight knows from experience that caregiving often feels overwhelming, and he’s careful to support, encourage, and empower fellow travelers. His repeated reassurance that it’s absolutely fine to hire caregivers or place a loved one in a care facility will soothe those who have been criticized for considering those options. He also points out that being supportively present at the end of another person’s life can bring profound gifts of learning and enlightenment. This outstanding guide will be a lifesaver for anyone saddled with these immense responsibilities and seeking peace of mind.

Takeaway: Members of the “sandwich generation” and others serving as caregivers for loved ones will benefit greatly from this empathetic and informative guide.

Great for fans of Jane Gross’s A Bittersweet Season, Alexis Abramson’s The Caregiver's Survival Handbook, Linda Abbit’s The Conscious Caregiver.

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

Click here for more about When Caregiving Calls
Bishop's Law
Rafael Amadeus Hines
This heart-pounding sequel to Bishop’s War is a wild ride from start to finish. Jamaican-Panamanian American war hero John Bishop, newly retired from the military, is wrestling with the loss of his Uncle Sesa, the betrayal of his Uncle Nestor, and the efforts of his Uncle Gonzalo to turn the Valdez crime family completely legitimate. Bishop finds his retirement short-lived after the president asks him to assemble a team to stop ISIS from attacking New York City. Pivoting between New York’s Lower East Side and the ever-changing location of an ISIS terrorist cell, the novel forces its protagonist to choose among family, love, and duty.

Thrill-seekers will love Hines’s quick-paced dialogue and action scenes, though readers more interested in the relationships and motivations that keep the plot moving may be disappointed. The primary motivation for killing in this book is revenge, and though Hines contextualizes well for readers who missed Bishop’s War, the countless revenge killings in this installment may bewilder new and returning readers alike. Similarly, a major decision made by John’s wife, Maria, doesn’t make sense given what readers know of her character, leading to confusion that undermines the shock of the twist. With six different plot lines, it’s frustrating to have much of the story left to be resolved in a future book.

Where Bishop’s second outing succeeds is in being informative as well as entertaining. Hines breaks down military lingo for the uninitiated and shines a light on bigotry and corruption in both the U.S. Armed Forces and the government. His hero operates under a strict code of honor and sees the potential in all people to help save the day, whether they’re reformed assassins, hardened ex-cons, or simply the newest members of his team. Bishop is a war hero for the 21st century, and thriller fans will enjoy his bloody quest to save the day.

Takeaway: This exhilarating and violent thriller will please readers looking for non-stop action and a tough, honorable protagonist of color.

Great for fans of Walter Mosley, Danny Gardner, Lee Child.

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

Click here for more about Bishop's Law
The Man on the Rails: An absorbing and contemplative tale about the ravages of war and the need for love.
Rovshan Abdullaoglu
Bringing together history, theology, philosophy, and psychology, Abdullaoglu contemplates the stories of two men attempting suicide on the same train track. Ted, who grew up in New Brunswick, is the product of a less than loving childhood. His life was once idyllic but turned sour with the death of his mother and the remarriage of his father, and another tragedy sealed his fate. Farouk, raised in Saskatchewan, is haunted by events that happened before his birth and his past suicide attempts. As the men await their final moments, they discuss fate, literature, relationships, and the history that led them both to the rails.

Readers interested in exploring religion, notable authors, and the history of the Balkans will find a wealth of information. That knowledge comes at the expense of the dialogue: Ted and Farouk’s discussions feel more like a collection of essays. The philosophy is earnest, but its analysis of free will and predestination is familiar (“No one can ever escape his fate.... We can only act as the universe’s coding instructs us—just like in a computer program”). Scenes showing the men’s individual lives and the lives of their families do more to humanize them, and moments of genuine emotion help to make clichés (the dead mother and the wicked stepmother, the character in a novel who is himself a writer) feel, at times, plausibly real.

The exploration of family dynamics is filled with sincere emotion, specifically during and after the war in Bosnia, from which Farouk’s parents, Serbian journalist Adriana and Bosnian tour guide Amin, flee to Canada. The story of Adriana and her family is truly heartbreaking. Abdullaoglu finds clever and satisfying ways to tie the beginning and the ending together. Readers who persevere through the novel’s more dense sections will find much to appreciate in the historical narrative.

Takeaway: This eclectic mix of philosophical investigation and historical fiction will draw in readers interested in the generational consequences of trauma.

Great for fans of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.

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

Click here for more about The Man on the Rails
Betrayal in Blue
C. R. Downing
In this tense, violent series launch set in 1984 Manzanita, Calif., PI Philip “Dancer” Mamba navigates among competing drug gangs and a station full of crooked cops. A pharmaceutical executive who's a secret drug dealer hires Mamba as part of a long-term scheme. The police chief, his volatile mistress, other officers, and a colorful cast of lowlifes have their own hidden motives, and Mamba, a former officer himself, has to tease them out. As he unravels everyone's plots, the criminals attempt to cover their tracks with murder and bribery, and Mamba assembles a team he hopes he can trust to bring justice to Manzanita.

Downing excels at jumping nimbly among multiple points of view, veering between police and criminals as both sides become increasingly desperate to get their way. There are some subplots that don't advance the main plot, leading to confusion and draining some of the tension, but overall, the scenes advance quickly. Downing demonstrates an impressive ability to describe an investigation with enough fascinating detail to satisfy the most obsessive police procedural enthusiast.

The richly developed characters are all stars: sociopathic drug kingpins; a police sergeant with a critically ill wife, whose marriage is described in heartbreaking detail; a former boxer trying to hold on to his dignity as he reaches his emotional and physical end. Downing doesn't deal in stereotypes, and readers will remember and sympathize with both heroes and villains. Even a low-level dealer gets a believable backstory and an emotional end: "The too-short roller coaster life... was over." The swiftly moving plots and indelible characters will keep readers invested in this thriller until the last page.

Takeaway: Meticulously drawn investigations and an unforgettable cast of heroes and villains will keep thriller fans immersed in this 1980s-set crime novel.

Great for fans of Joseph Wambaugh, Ed McBain.

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

Click here for more about Betrayal in Blue

Loading...