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Burning Justice
Marti Green
An attorney’s quest to overturn a woman’s death penalty conviction leads to an uphill battle in Green’s gripping sixth Innocent Prisoners Project legal thriller (after Justice Delayed). Dani Trumball moves from Bronxville, N.Y., to Stanford, Calif., with her husband, Doug, and children, Ruth and Jonah, after Doug gets a job as dean of Stanford Law School. Dani, an attorney for the Help Innocent Prisoners Project (HIPP), takes the case of Becky Whitlaw, a woman on death row in Texas. After Becky’s three young children died in a suspicious fire, she was convicted of murder. Dani files multiple appeals and searches for evidence that the fire was accidental, but the courts continue to rule against Becky, sometimes with apparent political motivation. When Doug becomes ill, Dani has to juggle her work with guiding her family through a harrowing time.

Readers will appreciate Green’s sympathetic portrayal of Dani as a wife, mother, attorney, and advocate who’s trying to devote sufficient time and energy to every aspect of her life. Even when Dani’s feelings and struggles are highlighted, the depths of her personality remain hidden. Her stoic persona is essential to her functioning both at work and at home, but the reader is never allowed to see all the way behind the mask. However, the characterization is sufficient to carry the narrative, and series readers may gain more of an understanding of Dani’s psyche over time.

Green, an attorney, goes into the details of the difficult appellate process but doesn’t let the story get bogged down, always keeping the human element front and center. Every step of Dani’s work is easily understandable, and the twists and setbacks will keep readers wondering how Dani and Becky can prevail against a harsh and biased system. Fans of legal thrillers that lean hard on compassion for the most vulnerable will be drawn to this novel’s admirable protagonist and fast-paced plot.

Takeaway: This gripping legal thriller about saving an innocent woman from execution will draw fans of capable, compassionate heroines.

Great for fans of Scott Turow’s Innocent, John Grisham’s The Guardians.

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

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The Sleepwalker: The Nosferatu Conspiracy, Book 1: The Sleepwalker
Brian J Gage
Gage’s wonderfully gruesome supernatural suspense debut combines Russian history with vampire lore. In December 1916, Alexandra, wife of Tsar Nicholas II, has “become sickness”—her hemophilia is, in truth, vampirism. Her son, Alexei, is only a half-vampire, but Grigori Rasputin, a disciple of Vlad Drăculea’s teachings, plans to turn him the rest of the way, believing Alexei is destined to lead vampires to global domination. As the serial killer known as the Sleepwalker starts terrorizing Saint Petersburg, the coroner, Rurik Kozlov, knows by the mutilation of the bodies that Russia is facing a supernatural threat. When Prince Felix Yusupov is framed for murdering his girlfriend and goes to Rurik to see her body, he learns of the existence of vampires and Rasputin’s plan to rule the world. Terrified but determined, Rurik and Felix unite to stop the vampires.

In prose designed to be read aloud with lurid glee—“The river that slithers below the Carpathian peaks sucks all life and hope into its sinuous network of vessels”—Gage makes a welcome return to vampires that are heartless, cold, and deadly, designed for readers to hate and fear. He adds in giant vampire bats that turn into horrifying Nosferatu, “savage, manlike vampire gods,” on the ground. Readers are immersed in a well researched and turbulent Russia, with instability and looming revolution building tension, and will feel the dangers of walking the darkened streets with a vicious serial killer lurking around the corner. Every train ride, shadow, and moment of eerie quiet perfectly creates a feeling of foreboding.

As the heinous vampires deliver death and destruction, the few characters willing to fight stay strong. The battle never feels entirely lost, and readers will hold out hope for at least a somewhat happy ending. On every page, this supernatural historical delivers abundant thrills and chills.

Takeaway: This wonderfully terrifying blend of bloody history and vicious vampires will hold supernatural suspense fans in thrall.

Great for fans of Sarah Pinborough’s Mayhem, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.

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

Blowback '94: When the Only Way Forward Is Back
Brian Meehl
Meehl concludes his Blowback time-travel trilogy (after Blowback ’63) with this well-constructed tale about twins Iris and Arky Jongler-Jinks. Their father, Howard Jinks, tries to find his wife, Octavia Jongler, in the past; instead he sends his children to 1894 Paris. There the American teens locate their mother, an astrophysicist who disappeared 18 months earlier while investigating lore surrounding their family’s heirloom English horn, known as the Horn of Angels. Iris’s previous efforts to play the instrument (related in the first two books) accidentally transported Arky’s friend Matt to 1907; then she sent Arky and another pal into the Civil War. Now she, Arky, and Octavia live, work and wait in Paris for the reason they time traveled to be revealed so they can go home. Arky’s skeptical friends, whose memories were wiped, regain them in time to take part in the adventure.

Meehl skillfully depicts Iris’s encounters with 19th-century chauvinism and Octavia’s angst as she struggles with the implications of her experiments and plans involving the instrument. Less believable is the romance between Arky and Chloe, a young ballerina whose mother hopes she will become a courtesan. Arky’s shy thoughts about Chloe, especially when she is posing naked for Edgar Degas, feel a little too coy for a modern teenager, and the villainy of Chloe’s wealthy protector, the ironically named Sansfaute, too loudly foreshadows that subplot’s conclusion.

Paris comes alive as the twins interact with historical figures such as Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and one of the Moulin Rouge’s most unique talents: the famous flatulist Le Pétomane. There’s plenty of excitement as hidden agendas are revealed. Fans of the series will love this final installment, in which adventure is the spoonful of sugar that makes history and science go down easily.

Takeaway: Teens with a yen for historical adventures will delight in this tale of 21st-century American twins visiting 1894 Paris.

Great for fans of Lisa Tawn Bergren’s River of Time series, Julie Cross’s Tempest series.

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

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Exploring Chán: An Introduction to the Religious and Mystical Tradition of Chinese Buddhism
Chuan Zhi
American-born Chán Buddhist monk Zhi combines rich cultural history and practical advice in this in-depth analysis of the religious and mystical traditions of Chinese Chán Buddhism. Zhi was a college senior studying physics when he first learned about Chán, and he has since devoted nearly 30 years of his life to its study and practice. He charts the complicated evolution and delineation of Chán as a path toward self-knowledge, following Buddhism’s spread from India throughout Asia and the West. He considers how different countries influenced Buddhism, clearly showing how factors such as religious persecution, imperialist expansion, and war led to both the religion’s expansion and divisions between sects.

Zhi successfully tackles the complexity of Chán’s relationship with traditional Buddhism through a systematic, organized approach. Each country’s location, culture, indigenous traditions, and politics historically shaped Chán, which had long struggled to define itself as a purely Chinese expression of Buddhism, distinguished by Confucian overtones and ancestor veneration. Zhi pairs his discussion of Buddhism’s religious institutions with a deep knowledge of individual spiritual practice. His practical advice and well-researched, well-cited cultural histories are equally accessible to readers.

Zhi’s tone is nonjudgemental even as he cautions against distortions of Buddhism, particularly in the market-driven and consumerist West, which often seeks to separate mindfulness from its cultural roots. Readers will be inspired by his encouraging reminders about the objectives of Chán and straightforward guidance on practicing meditation. His succinct explanations for Buddhism-related terms and concepts, extensive footnotes, helpful illustrations, index, and bibliography make this an invaluable resource, highly impressive in both its scope and its complexity. This comprehensive, illuminating guide will benefit both spiritual practitioners and students of world history and religions.

Takeaway: This comprehensive, illuminating book is an essential read for new and seasoned Chán Buddhists and anyone interested in Buddhism, mindfulness practices, or Asian history.

Great for fans of Guo Jun’s Essential Chan Buddhism, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche’s Sadness, Love, Openness.

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

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The Arena (The Shadow Epics Book 1)
R.B. Ellis
In this blood-soaked fantasy, a professional gladiator seeks fame and glory in the arena, only to be drawn into the deadly machinations of the most powerful people in the city. After achieving the prestigious rank of champion, Cael has finally realized his dream, but he’s also come to the attention of the sadistic Chancellor Rovert Orik, who sees him as a target to be broken and destroyed. Meanwhile, Orik’s wife, Valeina, pursues her own agenda, seeking long-hidden knowledge regarding the uncharted lands beyond the city of Yddinas, and her schemes soon draw in Cael’s disgruntled younger brother, Breilyn. Cael and everyone he loves are caught in the crossfire and must decide where the path of righteousness lies.

Right from the start, Ellis grabs his audience with visceral descriptions of gory combat, depicting Cael as an experienced, merciless warrior who subscribes to a rigorous code of conduct and honor. Unfortunately, Ellis never fully explores the underpinnings of this society or the larger world, leaving the reader with many questions. The existence of a non-human race actively influencing Yddinas through religion is left somewhat nebulous, clearly setting up plotlines for future installments.

Despite the epic scope of this story, it suffers from slow pacing and a lack of a clear plot in the early chapters as scenes from multiple perspectives set numerous elements into motion. Orik is so over the top with his sadism and brutality that he’s almost a caricature: he routinely beats his wife, indulges in cannibalism, and forces others to commit sexual assault. Ellis skillfully draws Cael into a morass of hard choices and hopeless situations, but Orik’s ludicrous excesses make it hard for readers to be fully immersed in the story. Though uneven, this grimdark tale will engage readers looking for a reluctant hero and plenty of splashy violence.

Takeaway: This adventure will appeal to readers seeking a mixture of bloody violence and courtly intrigue.

Great for fans of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, Matthew Woodring Stover’s Acts of Caine series.

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

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Will's Adventure to the Candy Mountain
Dr.Gerry Haller
This lengthy but often delightful picture book follows a young boy’s uncomplicated adventure in a magical candy-themed land. After Will listens to his grandmother’s stories about Candy Mountain, he’s woken in the middle of the night by a train conductor who whisks him off to that very place. He befriends another boy named Quinn, and together they tour Candy Mountain, stuffing their baskets and bellies with different types of candies and treats. Eventually they catch the train home, and Will is astonished to awaken with a candy basket by his bed.

Haller’s gentle tale is inspired by stories she told to her grandson. Her vivid descriptions of Candy Mountain―“gumdrops of many colors, candy canes, gingerbread men and women all over the branches of the tree”―will charm young readers, though there are some awkward phrases and repetitions. (By a sign that says “Root Beer Lake,” the boys dip cups in a brown lake. “It was root beer,” the narration explains. “This is root beer,” adds Will.) Cho’s colorful, dreamy paintings of giant lollipop trees and ice cream–coated mountaintops are complex and visually pleasing, but her human and humanoid figures can look stiff, and the small text is sometimes hard to read against the busy illustrations.

Adults will appreciate that the book celebrates and rewards polite behavior; “only good children” can pass through Candy Mountain’s entrance, and when it’s time to leave, Will and Quinn promptly return to the train without complaint, happy to share their loot with each other. Full of wonder but lacking tension, the narrative may not hold young children’s attention for 60 pages, but it’s a pleasant read-aloud if stretched out over several bedtimes. Placid and relaxing, Will’s ramble through Candy Mountain is sure to inspire sweet dreams.

Takeaway: This relaxing journey through a land of treats is a pleasant low-key bedtime story for young children.

Great for fans of Elsa Beskow’s Peter in Blueberry Land, Tomie dePaola’s When Everyone Was Fast Asleep.

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

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The Luckiest Man
Gerard Germain
This rambling memoir is by turns hilarious, sentimental, philosophical, and outraged. Writing the book for his children, Germain details growing up in poverty in his native Haiti, his unlikely trek to Mexico for medical school, and his even more unlikely success as a doctor in New York City. Germain veers among lengthy and loving digressions about his family, Haiti’s historic economic oppression, and random memories of his friends. Anecdotes about voodoo ceremonies and slaves’ ghosts haunting his childhood house are sprinkled in with matter-of-fact frankness. A pugnacious yet upbeat tone keeps the free-flowing anecdotes fascinating.

The narrative structure of this book is loose, at times circular. Germain’s stories fragment, repeat themselves, and often follow no particular order or organization. English is the author’s fourth language, and he sometimes plays fast and loose with its grammar, but his voice is clear and authoritative as he calls out the virulent nature of colonialism throughout the world. Germain spells out his experiences with prejudice, discussing colorism and ideas of “good hair” in Haiti and America. He also includes a long, unsparing, and powerful rant on how France engineered Haiti’s poverty after a slave revolt and independence, illustrating his denunciations with graphs and financial breakdowns.

While decrying racism and colonialism, Germain never fails to express gratitude for his long, lucky, and successful life. He recounts several fortuitous events, such as the time that buying cupcakes for his daughter’s class prevented him from being killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He cheerily notes that “Haitians have already paid for their sins being in Haiti and being Haitian,” which grants them “a pass straight to heaven.” Germain’s combination of hard-won wisdom, resigned cynicism, and infectious optimism makes his memoir unpredictable and exciting.

Takeaway: Readers interested in Haiti’s cultural and economic history will find laughs and inspiration in this memoir of survival and success.

Great for fans of Flore Zéphir’s The Haitian Americans, Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying.

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

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we of the forsaken world...
Kiran Bhat
Bhat (Early Stories) weaves together four poignant tales of lives on the precipice of disaster in this complex collection. A journalist travels to his mother’s hometown to investigate the long-term effects of a disastrous chemical spill. An uncontacted Amazonian tribe faces a succession dilemma as loggers invade their lands. A woman in an impoverished metropolis hunts sexual predators and misogynists in the alleys around the plaza. In a village where technology only recently gained a foothold, an orphaned milkmaid is abandoned by her fiancé after vicious rumors ruin her reputation. Geographically disparate, these stories connect to one another along intriguing thematic threads.

Bhat takes an unusual approach to this nuanced, imaginative journey. The central characters remain nameless and somewhat voiceless throughout the narrative, never directly divulging their points of view. Their personalities and plights are instead revealed through a series of vignettes from 16 secondary characters who come into contact with them. Introductions and maps aid readers in navigating the intersections, keeping the collection grounded. The result is compelling; each vignette dips into characters’ inner lives and personal conflicts, revealing crucial information to give readers a larger story that’s both broad and intimate.

With careful depictions of differences, Bhat shows characters struggling in both obvious and subtle ways to express themselves across language, generational, and cultural barriers. A thorough exploration of inner turmoil builds a sense of intimacy with the characters. Bhat’s dextrous prose shifts to bring the distinct voices of the characters to life, from the slang of teenagers in a rural village to the flowing, elegant language of a poet. Some parts beg to be read aloud. Bhat’s bittersweet plots, surprising narrative style, and graceful prose make reading this collection an immersive experience.

Takeaway: This collection’s thought-provoking plots, fluid prose, and innovative narrative style will charm readers of literary fiction.

Great for fans of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

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

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RNWY: A Novel: (RNWY Universe Book 1)
P.A. Lopez
Lopez’s clever first RNWY Universe social satire is science fiction for the social media age. In 2399, celebrity can be created or destroyed in a flash, thanks to cancel culture, superficiality, and short attention spans. Social indexes such as Super-Ping display how many billions saw and reacted to a pithy phrase or photo, with instant effects on an influencer’s popularity. At Fashion Week, which is now interplanetary, reality TV star Samantha is trying to boost her falling numbers, while fashion icon Pablo, the 336-year-old father of sentient artificial intelligence, is making a rare appearance. Both of them also happen to be brilliant scientists, and when they discover a scheme involving the leader of a death cult, an AI with a grudge, and an alien race, they team up to save the day.

Thorough worldbuilding, brisk storytelling, plenty of visual details (and a handful of glossy but static digital illustrations), and an expansive plot make this splashy adventure perfectly geared to a miniseries adaptation. There’s a fine line between a fast-paced story and one that is frenetic, and Lopez sometimes has a few too many plot lines going at once, but readers who identify with the stimulus-hungry dopamine fiends of the RNWY universe will have no trouble keeping up.

The protagonists are the story’s beating heart. Samantha is a genius who developed technology that can turn a lipstick into a space-age motorbike, but other scientists assume she’s vapid and ignore her inventions. Pablo, a romantic and idealist, has been searching the galaxy for his lost love for a century. AIs DIVA, Sartoria, and DOS contribute strong personalities and humor. Though the story can feel overstuffed, it has a core of sincerity that shines through and keeps the satire from ever feeling mean-spirited. This witty send-up of contemporary celebrity culture will earn plenty of wry laughs.

Takeaway: Anyone immersed in pop culture and social media will enjoy this witty send-up of contemporary celebrity trends.

Great for fans of Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera.

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

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The Will to Die: A Novel of Suspense
Joe Pulizzi
A man’s quest to uncover the secrets behind his father’s death leads to the discovery of a sinister conspiracy in small-town Ohio in Pulizzi’s debut thriller. Will Pollitt runs a marketing company in Cleveland with his friend Robby Thompson and is deep in debt due to a gambling addiction. If he can’t pay tuition for his daughter, Jess, she’ll be kicked out of college. When his father, Abe, bequeaths Will the Pollitt Funeral Home in Sandusky, Ohio, Will is stuck supervising his ex-wife, Sam, who works there as an embalmer. Will becomes suspicious about inconsistencies with Abe’s death and the autopsy report, and Abe’s journals lead him to a number of life insurance sales followed by deaths, all targeting marginalized people. Will’s life and the lives of his loved ones are threatened as he races against time to prevent further crimes.

The character development focuses on Will’s emotions and challenges as he navigates personal relationships, including his sincere fondness for Jess, his lingering love for Sam, his partnership and friendship with Robby, and his crush on his high school classmate Xena. Unfortunately, Will is a casual racist and misogynist, and unrepentant when Sam bluntly calls him out. This choice, perhaps intended to depict him as a relatable everyman, instead paints him as out of touch and unsympathetic and makes him a less than ideal hero for this story about protecting marginalized people from predatory white supremacists.

Pulizzi (Epic Content Marketing), a longtime marketing professional, realistically develops Will and Robby’s work challenges and successes alongside the suspense plot. The pace is fast, and the conspiracy is multidimensional with intricate connections that extend throughout Sandusky. Concise writing and zippy dialogue propel the story swiftly to a solid conclusion. Only the flaws in the hero’s characterization undermine this otherwise strong contemporary thriller.

Takeaway: Fans of strong but flawed protagonists will be drawn to this contemporary thriller about suspicious deaths in small-town Ohio.

Great for fans of Harlan Coben’s The Stranger, Chris Bohjalian’s The Guest Room.

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

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Confessions from the Consortium of Rogue Gene Scientists: An Open Letter to Our Two Children
Charles and Cassandra Doe
This provocative short story takes the form of a letter written by “Charles” and “Cassandra,” scientists who violated a ban on genetic engineering so as to protect their descendants from inherited disease. In 2017, Cassandra dies of cystic fibrosis; in 2019, Charles has a fatal cranial hemorrhage resulting from hemophilia. This missive to their orphaned children is then released anonymously to the public. Cassandra and Charles believe their genetic flaws uniquely qualified them to illustrate that using science to extend the lives of the disabled does humankind no evolutionary favors; they hope their children, engineered to be “physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier,” will help the human race grow stronger over time by handing down the healthy genes from their parents as well as the engineered ones that remove their parents’ flaws and provide useful traits such as seeing ultraviolet light.

Tackling complex concepts in straightforward language (“No one consents to existing”), the Does explain that their children were conceived in love, encourage them to be existentially aware, and recommend a non-religious, joy-focused worldview. They punctuate their lessons with clever poems referencing Occam’s razor, Plato’s cave, and Fermi’s paradox. Discussing possible solutions for overpopulation in an age of dwindling resources, they explicitly reject eugenics, instead advocating to “make access to genetic technology a universal human right,” but readers may struggle to believe that individuals choosing which of their traits to eliminate would be much improvement over authoritarian eugenics programs.

Those who read widely and are acquainted with the philosophical and scientific concepts underpinning this story will have a leg up on enjoying it, but the conceit of the letter being written to young children makes it surprisingly accessible. The unusual concept, epistolary form, and surprising playfulness of the writing result in something special, perfect for both casual reading and philosophy classroom discussion.

Takeaway: Science fiction readers and philosophy students will enjoy contemplating the ideas in this provocative epistolary work.

Great for fans of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind Dystology.

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

The Ghosts of Hawthorn, Missouri
James Peet
In Peet’s staggering debut novel, a series of portraits bursts from the page,showcasing bigotry, cult mentality, and cycles of misery in small-town America. The story begins in the early 20th century in the rundown section of Hawthorn, Mo., that’s crudely known as Jackass Flats. Nine-year-old Terrance Haight, the only black boy in Hawthorn, learns to harden himself to the white townspeople’s cruelty. In adulthood, his hopes of becoming a music teacher are dashed when a white teen claims she’s been having an affair with him. Meanwhile, local Baptist pastor Harold Redmond positions himself as one of the most powerful men in the region, though he doesn’t practice what he preaches. As Hawthorn lurches into the 21st century, the narrative turns to follow two very different young men: Daniel, whose troubled family force him to become “a fully-grown soul trapped inside a small boy’s frame,” and Father Redmond’s erratic and dangerous son, Eric.

Peet displays a breathtaking gift for weaving stories together, hopping effortlessly from one perspective to another without ever confusing the reader. Side characters spring to life, including Daniel’s mother, Shelly, desperate to make something of herself and doomed to fail, and Mrs. Redmond, who wants to celebrate her husband’s death with a parade. Peet poetically binds the ensemble together through effortless shifts in time (“He turned 25. He turned around twice, his father died, and then he was 26. He blinked. 27”) and distinctive prose that gives the reader a sense of looking at the town through a magnifying glass.

Everyone in Hawthorn has a distorted sense of reality; hallucinations are as common as drunkenness, and Peet sometimes leaves the reader guessing where the line is between truth and nightmare—or whether there’s a line at all. This startlingly brilliant modern gothic pulls no punches in its devastating takedown of life in the rural Midwest.

Takeaway: Fans of unsettling drama and deeply emotional histories will be bowled over by this gritty and brilliant Midwestern gothic novel.

Great for fans of Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck.

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

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Target Operating Model 2025: 10 Design Choices Every Company Must Make to Facilitate Agility, Ignite Innovation, & Outperform Everyone
Randall Scott Rogers
In this slim but information-packed overview of business management best practices, Rogers (Only 1 Shot: Aligning the Inner Soul with Action), founder of management consulting firm Henosis Partners, shares the wisdom he’s gained from working with dozens of companies in various industries. Adopting a no-nonsense tone, Rogers states that bigger isn’t better; fragmented companies are vulnerable, not flexible; and there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all business approach. Having slain those sacred cows, he outlines 10 target operating models, or organizational design choices, that are intended to keep businesses alive and well. These touch on a wide range of topics, including office layout, data analysis, and diverse hiring.

Referencing several once-thriving companies now fallen on hard times, Rogers pulls no punches as he scolds business owners who mistake fads for innovation and focus on short-term performance to the detriment of long-term value creation. Though he frequently talks about the importance of innovation, most of his recommendations are solidly middle-of-the-road: developing personal relationships, building quiet rooms where people can think clearly, trusting employees to do their jobs. Most intriguing is his chapter on how to listen mindfully and make space for uncomfortable but necessary change. Bare-bones full-page diagrams illustrate several points and are suited to being photocopied and handed out at meetings.

Owners of smaller businesses may find some of Rogers’s suggestions harder to implement, as when he advises that every company should establish “an enterprise ‘sensing’ team of significant size and unlimited resources” dedicated to acquiring “disconfirming data” about its industry. Those who are less corporate will be put off by jargony phrases such as “shared intentions and aligned actions leading to innovative results.” But Rogers’s firm guidance will be very welcome to executives at large companies who are overwhelmed by success and struggling to stay on track.

Takeaway: Results-focused executives in need of direction will benefit from Rogers’s firm guidance back to basic business principles.

Great for fans of Tom Peters, Peter Senge.

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

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House of the Shrieking Woman: A Sarah Greene Supernatural Mystery (Sarah Greene Mysteries Book 2)
Steven Ramirez
Ramirez’s second Sarah Greene Mystery builds on The Girl in the Mirror by expanding the world of his spunky sleuth. Sarah, a divorced realtor and psychic living in Dos Santos, Calif., is recovering from a supernatural near-death experience that’s left her shaken and grateful to be alive. She tries to take it easy, if taking it easy means going to therapy, sorting out her complicated relationship with her ex-husband, and trying yoga. When she learns of odd things happening at the women’s shelter, she investigates. Along with her friend Carter, a fellow psychic; Lou, the town’s chief of police; and a few new partners, Sarah learns more about her community, her history, and the darkness surrounding Dos Santos.

Ramirez’s characters are relatable and flawed, and his approach to small Dos Santos makes readers feel like they live there too. Sarah and several other characters are devoutly Catholic, and faith plays an important role in the story, but there’s also casual sex, regular drinking, and an open attitude toward Judaism and other forms of spirituality. The interpersonal relationships are dramatic enough to keep a reader interested, but not so deep as to take away from the plot. At times, mundanity brushes up against horror in uncomfortable ways, as when a dinnertime discussion of domestic violence alternates with gushing over a perfect pizza crust. When a lesbian romance ends in tragedy, it’s more clichéd than poignant. But for the most part, there’s a warmth to the writing that will keep readers invested.

A newcomer could enjoy this installment without reading the first, but Ramirez leaves the story (frustratingly) open-ended, so picking up the next volume is a must. This mystery strikes a great balance between quirky and thrilling and between modern and timeless, and it’s easy to read, enjoyable, and thought-provoking.

Takeaway: This California-set supernatural investigation is perfect for readers who like their mysteries modern, suspenseful, and warm-hearted.

Great for fans of Victoria Laurie, Juliet Blackwell.

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

I Hate My Teacher: Fifth Grade Friends and Foes
Laura Simpson
Simpson’s heartwarming debut middle grade novel captures a fifth-grader’s point of view about some of life’s more difficult moments. Dillon, a rambunctious but well-meaning 11-year-old, thinks his teacher, Mrs. Jackson, is too strict and picks on him. He nicknames her General Jackson and fights back by pulling more pranks and acting out. But Dillon begins to learn that her extra attention may be because she sees something special in him. When Dillon has an accident at school and is hospitalized with a concussion, Mrs. Jackson’s touching visit shows a loving side, and a special friendship grows between them.

The ingenuous, sometimes understandably confused view of a young boy makes emotional scenes especially moving. When Dillon and his sisters are surprised by their dad’s return from deployment, Dillon’s shock is realistically conveyed; his sisters leap into their father’s arms, but Dillon hangs back, confused and overcome. As Dillon realizes that Mrs. Jackson is dangerously ill, his fears of losing her and growing love for her are powerfully expressed. He painstakingly works through his thoughts and feelings, trying to understand how his anger, worry, and boredom drive him to act in ways he later regrets. Some of his pranks are humorous, conveying the lighter side of fifth grade without distracting from the heavier themes.

Simpson’s experience as a schoolteacher shines through as she develops the individual personalities of each student and faculty member. The narrative is warm toward Jabari, Dillon’s autistic classmate; Tran, a Vietnamese-American transfer student; and even bully Big Joe, whose hostility toward Tran is rooted in Joe’s grandfather’s death during the Vietnam War. Wars past and present are major influences on the story. Chunks of exposition about military history interrupt the flow, but Simpson always relates them to the experiences of ordinary servicemembers and civilians. Poignant but not depressing, this nuanced novel will help children gain perspective on historical and present-day sorrows.

Takeaway: Tweens going through hard times will respond powerfully to this poignant tale of a boy grappling with anxiety and loss.

Great for fans of Rosanne Parry’s Heart of a Shepherd.

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

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Winners and Losers: in words and cartoons
Arthur Hartz
This acerbic collection of cartoons and witticisms written by Hartz (Inconvenient Truths About Relationships), part of his Mundane Fortune series appraising the idiosyncrasies of American life, comments on the clawing need to be the best, richest, and most beautiful. Hartz examines how Americans worship celebrity over intelligence and generosity, want to be associated with famous people, and self-deceive. He selects inspirational quotes from famous people and books, only to deflate them: “Isn’t this sentiment beautiful? Doesn’t it feel good? Too bad nobody buys it.” The collection is a gloomy yet noteworthy view of how some people schmooze and stomp their way to success, bulldozing their way through the “losers” around them.

Sporting a Harvard Lampoon vibe, illustrators Jovic, Wolfe, and Ramos skewer the patronizing, misogynistic, self-absorbed, and status-seeking with eloquently simple line art. Hartz’s aphorisms are thought-provoking, especially when he ponders the consequences of a culture that ties class, youth, and beauty to success. The reader may snicker at first, but the poignancy of despair comes through as he states, “We never give a sucker an even break or a loser the benefit of the doubt.”

Countering his sarcastic and pessimistic commentary, such as “Creating an honor is the ultimate low cost manipulation” and “Good things come to those who look good,” Hartz provides some hope for the hopelessly average, asserting “The impossibility of victory frees us to pursue personal satisfaction” and “No one else could survive being me. I must be tough.” Hartz’s insightful book provides readers with scorching observations that are balanced by an almost shy belief in the value of self-esteem even when the world is unremittingly scornful.

Takeaway: This sly book of well-drawn cartoons will bring hope and chuckles to readers who weary of the rat race.

Great for fans of Great for fans of Mark Stivers, P.C. Vey.

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

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