Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

BE BRAVE: Uncensored Motivational Quotes
S.Sulianah
Sulianah offers a compendium of original maxims, thoughts, and advice for readers eager for continual inspiration, with the promise that, even when the material gets frank or challenging, the author will resist the urge to censor. Sharing a few lines or even short paragraphs on each page on a host of topics, Sulianah urges readers toward self love and acceptance (“Believe in yourself even though others do not believe in you”), overcoming self doubt (“You can overcome anything in your life. The question is whether you want to”), and understanding and even exiting unhealthy relationships (“Do not make compromises when others devalue you as a person.”)

The result reads like the advice a friend might want to offer to someone caught in an unhealthy relationship or situation but at times, out of politeness, might soft-pedal. No soft-pedaling here, though: “If someone cannot accept who you are, why are you desperate to be who they want you to be?” asks Sulianah, whose experience as a poet shines through in the crisp, direct, at times epigrammatic prose. While generally upbeat and encouraging, Sulianah’s straight talk at times comes with sharp elbows: one chapter is titled “Confidently Respond to Certified Idiots,” which addresses situations like the boss who won’t listen, acquaintances who ask to borrow money, and how to respond when someone raises their voice.

The thread tying the at times loosely organized advice together is “be brave,” and in entries that range from a couple quick, sharp lines to ones that share a personal anecdote and spread across a couple pages, Sulianah identifies familiar, relatable real-life situations and practical, self-preserving guidance for how to handle them. Throughout, the imperative to be courageous and to protect one’s self worth shines through: “Not even your parents are allowed to make you feel down about yourself,” Sulianah declares, and readers seeking encouragement will find much to buoy themselves here.

Takeaway: These clear, practical, original inspirational quotes urge readers to prioritize their self worth.

Great for fans of: David D. Burns’s Ten Days to Self-Esteem, Shad Helmstetter’s What to Say When You Talk to Yourself.

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

Awen Rising: A Near-Future Pre-Apocalyptic Urban Fantasy
O. J. Barré
The first novel in Barré’s Awen Trilogy introduces readers to a world where disaster is balanced on a razor’s edge, secret societies wield great power, and the fantastical sinks its teeth into the real. Since the age of four, Emily (Hester) Mayhall has lived under a variety of different names, thanks to a custodial kidnapping by her mother. Now, bankrupt in a crumbling California, the former disaster specialist is on the verge of homelessness–until a well-timed conversation with an Atlanta attorney reveals that her father has been searching for her and now wants to see her. Emily makes a choice that carries her across the country into an otherworldly lifestyle filled with magic, myth, a hint of romance, and creatures of legend–and horror.

A clear love of ancient belief shines throughout the novel, with Barré’s attention to the smallest details of pagan rituals and Druidic worship, in particular, laying a solid foundation to build a story and series upon. Emily’s journey from someone oblivious to a crucial member of an international Druidic order offers readers a delightful hint of wish fulfillment fantasy, immersing them in Emily’s life and allowing them to see the world through her eyes.

This strength may also be part of the story’s weakness: the roller-coaster of events that sweeps Emily across a damaged country flies at blazing speed, dropping her in what is essentially a whole new world, complete with a family she’d all but forgotten and a magical legacy. Even seasoned readers of urban fantasy may find it difficult to suspend disbelief as the many fantastical elements–everything from Emily’s mentorship with Shalane the famous spiritualist, to dragons, to the subplot about rise of the lizard people–clash together, diminishing the impact of each inventive idea. However, the polished, flowing prose delights, and Barré memorably evokes the very distant past as it’s resurrected in contemporary times.

Takeaway: A supernatural melange of mystical creatures, pagan rituals, and a world out of balance.

Great for fans of: Steven A. McKay’s The Druid Warrior, David A. Wells’s Thinblade.

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

Click here for more about Awen Rising
Fighting To Breathe, Third Edition
Jong Yi
“Unfortunately, the medical profession is not immune to racism, coupled with corruption and white privilege,” Yi, a nurse who has become an anti-racism advocate notes in introductory material to this, her debut novel. The story opens with nurse Ginger Kim, in Washington state, fighting to breathe. It’s March 10, 2020, and Kim is one of the first Americans to face Covid-19. (“We’re all going to get this thing before it’s through,” a paramedic says.) As Kim comes in and out of consciousness, she tries to convince the paramedics to take her to a different hospital than the one that’s closest—the one where she has worked and both witnessed and endured pervasive, alarming racism. Kim can’t quite tell the paramedics, but Yi tells the reader: She wanted to go “somewhere they wouldn’t let her die… …just because she was Korean.”

The novel’s perspective splits from there, as Yi follows both Kim’s treatment, often through the point-of-view of Hyun, another Korean RN, and Kim’s past, as the patient revisits her South Korean childhood, 1980’s Gwangju Uprising, her coming to America, and eventually the shocking behavior and treatment she experiences as a nurse: she’s marginalized, discriminated against, and eventually blamed for others’ failings. In the present, Hyun, too, faces all that, as well as the challenges of March 2020—uncertainty about treatments, a lack of PPE, and rapidly filling hospitals—as she fights to keep Kim alive.

Yi’s brief, tense narrative draws on her own experiences in nursing—and in striving to expose and eradicate discrimination and bias. For both characters, that’s part of the job, an extension of the mission of healing. Yi’s abbreviated treatment of Kim’s immigrant experience and her detailed, engaging dramatization of an early Covid case are compelling, but Fighting to Breathe is more powerful as truth telling than as novelistic storytelling, as what’s most urgent and memorable here is the revelation of all that nurses of color face as they care for us all.

Takeaway: Melvina Semper’s Discrimination Experienced in the Nursing Profession by Minority Nurses: Fifty True Stories from Nurses in New York City, Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat.

Great for fans of: This brief, tense novel exposes the discrimination experienced by nurses of color from the vantage of the pandemic’s start.

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

Click here for more about Fighting To Breathe, Third Edition
A Spell of Rowans
Byrd Nash
This light fantasy from Nash (author of the College Fae series and more) follows the three Rowan siblings–Victoria, Phillipa, and Liam–as they face the aftermath of their mother’s death and the fact that all three may be targets of a potential murderer. Rachel, their mother, was an abusive parent and all-around bad person. The siblings realize that, prior to her death, she had been blackmailing residents of the town, leading to a long list of suspects for her murder. Led by Victoria, the Rowan siblings are forced to confront the traumatic past that splintered them from one another and try to save themselves and their town of Grimsby from their mother’s legacy.

The characters and their evolving relationships are one of this engaging story’s strongest elements. Victoria, who hasn’t been home in fifteen years, has a particularly tender connection with her younger brother Liam, who may be on the autism spectrum. She also rekindles a potential romance with Reed, her old high school boyfriend, that proves sweet and satisfying. Nash also remains adept at pacing. The story moves quickly, never getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition even as it addresses themes of recovery, family, and forgiveness. Chapters end on strong hooks, and the twists and turns are well-planned, exciting, and emotionally satisfying.

While the sparse prose moves the story along quickly, occasionally the reader may appreciate more detail, such as more specifics regarding the family home and the town itself to more securely anchor the story time and space. While the story is told from Victoria’s first-person perspective, Nash limits reader access to her inner world beyond the immediate moment being narrated. Still, while it at times favors momentum over depth, A Spell of Rowans is an entertaining, moving story that readers of family sagas, sibling dynamics, and fantasy set in our contemporary world will enjoy.

Takeaway: Family drama meets magic with a touch of romance in this fast-paced fantasy.

Great for fans of: Julia Rochester’s The House at the Edge of the World, Tara Conklin’s The Last Romantics.

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

Click here for more about A Spell of Rowans
Ancient Measurement: How Ancient Civilizations created Precise and Reproducibel Standards
Roland A. Boucher
Boucher proposes a clever theory about ancient units of measurement and then tests that theory against historical data and artifacts. After noting that a major Sumerian unit of measurement is the same as what was initially proposed as the meter in the seventeenth century, Boucher, an engineer, posits that all ancient measurements are based on the length of a pendulum swinging at a certain rate. His analysis focuses on five different pendulum-based units of measurement and then derives from them alternative ways to measure time (from the passage of the sun, the moon, and a star, respectively), as well as latitude details, producing nine slightly dissimilar unit measurements, such as the geodetic foot from ancient Sumeria and the royal cubit from ancient Egypt.

Boucher’s observations and equations are impressive and meticulously recorded in his extensive tables of data, illustrations of astronomical phenomena, his own constructed pendulum apparatus, and illustrations of ancient measurement standards. Boucher works to derive units of length through the pendulum, but most of the surviving units are volume and weight (thankfully, these are derived from the units of length). Some readers may wish for deeper exploration of historical literature: though Boucher does cite a limited number of texts, credible assurance that his measurement standards are authoritative would bolster his argument, as would documentary evidence of the use of pendulums in measurement.

Despite the technical nature of this work, Boucher takes care to define terms clearly and walk readers through the basics of determining length from a pendulum. He also clearly illustrates how this history began with the ancient Sumerians but continues to impact us even today, through the imperial system of measurement. Ancient Measurement expertly traces how past engineers would have been able to use celestial observation and the pendulum to create accurate and reproducible units of measurement, foundational elements of commerce and civilization.

Takeaway: The engineering-minded historian will find this theory of ancient measurements illuminating and well analyzed.

Great for fans of: David Rooney’s About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks, Simon Winchester’s The Perfectionists.

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

Click here for more about Ancient Measurement
Bonez by: Mr. Roses
Mr. Roses
In Roses’ spirited, distinctive book for middle-grade readers, a boy called Bonez navigates the world of professional skateboarding as well as his relationship with his first girlfriend, Peep. When Bonez beats reigning champ Sally in a high-profile skateboarding race, his life changes. Suddenly agents are knocking on his door, offering him fame and fortune in exchange for his talents and trademark “skeleton boy” logo. At the same time, Bonez gets to know and falls in love with Peep–though their connection falters when his new popularity goes to his head. These experiences teach Bonez important life lessons about maintaining focus, overcoming failure, and staying humble.

Readers also get to know Bonez’s lively lifelong friends Essie and Quigz, but the most refreshing character is the tough and fierce Sally, an exceptional skateboarder in her own right. The evolution of Sally’s relationship with Quigz is sweet and charming, growing from mutually antagonistic to empathetic and caring. Roses uses rhyming prose throughout this tale–it’s written, the press materials note, “like a song”–which sometimes comes across as surprising or clever but at others can be awkward or distracting: “Quigz walked over to the swing set and handed Sally the flowers. She took the pretty bunch from Quigz and down fell some tear showers.” The rhyming prose is laid out in paragraphs rather than verse form, and the dialogue is rendered in rhyme, too, formatted in the style of a script.

Simple black-and-white illustrations help bring the characters to life, showing Bonez and his friends skateboarding, teasing each other, and expressing a range of emotions. While appealing, the illustrations are not the star of this show, however; this story and its mature themes of being genuine are most appropriate for a preteen audience. Ultimately, Bonez learns that relationships are more important than winning any race, which will resonate with young readers who are just beginning to discover themselves.

Takeaway: The spirited story of a a boy called Bonez navigating the world of professional skateboarding–and his relationships.

Great for fans of: K.A. Holt’s House Arrest, Kevin Emerson’s Breakout.

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

Click here for more about Bonez by: Mr. Roses
Natālija
Natalija Petrockis and Valda Zalums Gebhart
This heart-wrenching World War II memoir reveals how Natālija Petrockis, a Latvian living under German occupation, fled with her family when, in the summer of 1944, the Russian Red Army reached the borders of their beloved city, Rīga. The sisters Natalija, Musīte and Vera planned their flight to ensure that their father did not again fall into Russian hands; an earlier imprisonment had almost resulted in his death. On Musīte’s instructions, Natālija–though the youngest–takes charge and, together with their parents and children, Natāljia and Vera board a train to Liepāja. Musīte and her husband Kārlis stay behind, promising to join them a day later. None of them realise that the parting is final. The train is diverted by the German troops and later bombed, and thus begins the travails of the family as they flee the Russians in hopes of reaching the American front and rescue.

Written in Latvian and translated by her daughter, Valda, the most striking quality of the memoir is the author’s eye for detail. In immersive, suspenseful scenes, she remembers not just physical characteristics like her surroundings or particulars of a journey, but also powerfully evokes the expressions on faces and her own in-the-moment thoughts and fears: “We watched the bombs fall to the ground like glowing candles, followed by bursts of loud explosions, and sending splashes of light into the vastness of the sky.” Her love for her family in the face of constant hunger and fear is stirring. Even when circumstances are dire, she feels thankful that they are at least together.

By reliving her terrible journey, Natālija demonstrates the incredible resilience of the human spirit in the face of hardship. Like other World War II and refugee memoirs, this will leave the reader shaken, convinced about the futility of war and the untold suffering it causes, most often to people who have no hand in its outbreak.

Takeaway: This World War II refugee memoir demonstrates the indomitable human spirit and the meaninglessness of war.

Great for fans of: Nella Last’s Nella Last’s War, Madeleine K. Albright’s Prague Winter, Eleanor Perényi’s More Was Lost.

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

Click here for more about Natālija
The Unquiet Genius: A Classic WWII Spy Thriller
Glenn Dyer
Nazi-stomping spy Conor Thorn returns in Dyer’s The Unquiet Genius, the third book in the series, in another World War II mission. Accompanied by his lover Emily Bright, a cunning MI6 agent, and priest Sean Sullivan, Thorn must stop Hitler and company from securing the atomic weapon that could win the war for the Reich. Filled with gunfights, clandestine operations, and shocking family secrets coming to surface, The Unquiet Genius finds Thorn on the Western front in Italy, on a desperate race to locate a supposedly dead scientist.

Dyer excels at capturing this thriller’s pastoral backdrop, with farmers riding their livestock on the rural roads, cafes filled with colorful townspeople and enticing food, and a monastery housing secrets behind its ancient walls and between its men of God. Whether the action takes place out in the open or in a poorly lit backroom, readers will feel the tension as Conor and company try to locate the missing physicist before the Nazis do, even when, in the cloisters, intriguing conversations arise about humanity’s capacity to wield godlike power in the form of atomic weapons… and whether or not we have a right to such power.

From beginning to end the story enthralls with its crisp action, high stakes, and clever twists and turns. Dyer’s like a puppeteer pulling the strings of readers’ imaginations. The cast offers a welcome range of personalities, and each gets their fifteen minutes of fame. While some action/espionage tales fall short on their character development, Dyer does a fantastic job at keeping his spies, monks, and heroes well rounded without becoming Mary Sues. (Committed to getting the job done, Conor’s not above punching an assailant in the groin.) His people are sometimes flawed but not without their redeeming qualities, and they always rise compellingly to the challenge in whatever history-shaking danger they face.

Takeaway: This rip-roaring, Nazi-punching World War II thriller will keep spy fans on the edge of their seats.

Great for fans of: Alan Furst’s Under Occupation, Greg Iles’s Black Cross.

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

Click here for more about The Unquiet Genius
Reefenue: Cannabis and the Cash
John Harrington
From its title, readers might expect that this scruffy yet idealistic caper, Harrington’s debut, comes with the whiff of marijuana smoke. The politics and promise of weed are crucial to the story, of course, but you don’t have to know the differences between indica and sativa to appreciate the hook: After surviving a bomb scare, a public-spirited Massachusetts senator, driven by insights into leadership and problem solving he gleaned as a child from a diabetic neighbor, commits to getting out in front of the inevitable federal legalization of marijuana—and ensuring that the revenue weed generates gets targeted toward the country’s most pressing problems “before the graft and greed and all that other manipulation gets rolling.”

Good governance is the enemy of crime, though, so soon the senator’s team becomes the target of the same shadowy villain who planted the mysterious package at Senator Peter McGillicuddy’s Boston door. A chatty, upbeat espionage adventure follows, featuring a kidnapping, a likable field team, a genius computer engineer, and a heavy with a classically gargantuan bad guy lair, where weed is cultivated and the workers can be commanded to make out with each other. The feeling is loose, sometimes comic, with plot momentum sacrificed to loquacious characters–much of the story’s action, context, and laughs comes through dialogue (“He just threw a bottle down on the ground at the foot of that little sapling near the bus stop!” one cop says to another in the same car). That blunts the suspense but creates a hangout vibe, even in the sections in which a rookie cop faces corruption on his first day on the force.

The idealistic streak sets Reefenue apart, as Harrington envisions some political actors who truly strive to better our world and cut-and-dried villains trying to thwart them. Readers expecting a nuanced look at efforts to stymie corruption in the new world of legal weed won’t find that here, but this thriller’s big heart is refreshing.

Takeaway: This upbeat thriller about the politics of weed legalization dares to be idealistic.

Great for fans of: George V. Higgins, Christopher Buckley.

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

Click here for more about Reefenue
Quickwater Oracles: Conversations & Meditations
Ruth Thompson
In this philosophical, nature-minded collection of free verse, poet Thompson (Whale Fall & Black Sage) opens up about her experiences channeling a wide range of beings whose voices she has discovered in meditation. Inviting readers to think of the work as “translations or as a created artifact or as pure fantasy,” she shares her renditions of conversations with and revelations from dolphins, bears, water, birds, faeries, and other, hazier sources (she calls some “vast non-embodied fields of intelligence”) that, together, build an image of the world as interconnected and peaceful. These voices encourage Thompson to write, remind her to find joy in the world around her, and push her to reconsider her sense of her self as isolated (“you still think as humans do, and this is by distinction of one thing from another”) and her body as secondary: “[m]ake your body the mistress of the household for a while and see how different you will feel.”

The poetry’s exuberance is a nice balance to its weighty themes. Thompson blends classical New Age ideals—“inside is just as real an experience as life around you”—as well as more contemporary understandings of interconnection and mindfulness: “Love ... is more a state of full awareness.” Sometimes the notions can be a bit puzzling, like Thompson’s channeling of Gaia, who views current environmental devastation as “just the playing out of choices” but has “no preference” for what happens, but the work can be viewed as prophetic statements that bear fruit from the process of trying to understand them.

Thompson’s channeled voices emit unique personalities. A laconic horse concludes a brief poem with “That’s all I have to say,” while the dolphins are more frenetic (“You make whoop-poems! Hahahahaha!”), and the dragons enigmatic beings of power who declare “[b]ut know that vastness is vastness is vastness! We are not bigger than you!” Readers open to paranormal insights will enjoy Thompson’s idiosyncratic, unconventional poems and her mind-bending exploration of what the world could look like with some creative reorienting.

Takeaway: This joyful collection of free verse poses challenging alternative views of nature and humanity in a compact, unique style.

Great for fans of: Sanaya Roman, Isabel Martin-Ventura; Matt Buonocore’s Lost In Wonder.

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

Autumn and The Forest Guardians
Dustin Gibson
Alive with themes of rebirth and transformation, Gibson’s elegiac picture book offers a fresh, moving take on the season cycle. A young girl, Autumn, wakes up on a forest floor, the golden-leafed woods around her in sync with her name. Ellie, a chatty squirrel, fills Autumn in: She’s now a Guardian of one of the four forests, charged with taking care of it and its inhabitants. Ellie warns her not to wander to the forest’s edge, where some kind of evil lurks. Soon, though, after reveling in the beauty of fall and befriending a host of woodland creatures, Ellie gets lost and finds herself passing through the other three forests and meeting their guardians, diverse young women named Summer, Spring, and Winter.

The other forests vary from Autumn’s, of course, with Spring’s teeming with flowers and Winter’s laid over with snow. But the Guardians share a common trait: each grieves and fears the changes coming to her forest as time passes and the season she’s named for ends. Autumn senses that each Guardian is experiencing a cycle rather than an ending. “Your flowers are not dying!” she tells Spring. “They are being reborn!” Still, Autumn fears “the Rot” that has started to overtake her patch of woods, but the lesson about cycles of rebirth is made explicit in a dream by a wise woman of the forest: “These ‘Rots’ have a role: to clear the way for change.”

Autumn and the Forest Guardians invites young readers to perceive of seasonal change through a memorable, intuitive metaphorical framework that celebrates continual transformation. Nisa Tomak’s engaging illustrations capture the annual transformation of a forest, with detail worth poring over, colors that evoke each season’s feeling, and an emphasis on the smallness of humans in the face of nature. Gibson’s prose at times gets a touch wordy, with some text pages as dense as the illustrations are spare, but overall the book is a wise, rousing treat for budding nature lovers.

Takeaway: This inviting picture book offers young readers a wise new way to think about seasonal change.

Great for fans of: Kenard Pak’s Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, Patricia MacLachlan’s My Friend Earth.

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

Click here for more about Autumn and The Forest Guardians
Rites to a Good Life: Everyday Rituals of Healing and Transformation
Frederick Marx
Marx, the producer, director, and writer best known for the epochal 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, offers this searching yet practical guidebook to living a more meaningful life, with an emphasis on two causes to which he has dedicated much of his life, teen initiation and “Mature Masculinity.” A teen initiation, in the parlance of the African Rites of Passage movement--which gets a thumbnail history in the book—is a transformative, ritualistic experience “that accesses and re-empowers the wisdom of Elders and unleashes and empowers the capacities of youth” while bringing teens “into the community of adults, to take their seat at the village table, to be honored, accepted and treated as equals.”

Mature Masculinity, meanwhile, flowers from the same idea: Marx notes that millions of boys “are not accomplishing the transition from adolescence to adulthood,” and calls for the initiation of boys into a manhood of integrity, accountability, emotional intelligence, and at harmony and in balance with the feminine. Of course, Marx believes all teens should experience initiations, though he notes (with an apology for indulging in sweeping generalities, “It’s arguably more important for men to have a sense of mission or purpose in life because they’re more dangerous without it.”

Marx brings considerable persuasive power and storyteller’s craft to his calls for initiation and mentorship, clear-eyed action steps for the short and long term, and a welcome willingness to acknowledge his own blind spots and generalizations. He often lets thinkers he’s interviewed make the case, quoting at length from Chike Nwoffiah (“Do we prepare our young people so that as they are moving from one stage to the next, that they understand that for every privilege there is a corresponding responsibility?”), Meredith Little (“we’ve grown up in a context that really doesn’t have community”), and others. The result is a warmly provocative endorsement of the Rites of Passage movement and the idea of guiding all people, young and old, through life’s great transformations.

Takeaway: An impassioned, well-argued call for initiating young people into adulthood through organized “rites of passage.”

Great for fans of: Li'a Petrone’s Rites of Passage for the Young Black Male in America, Maryanne Howland’s Warrior Rising: How Four Men Helped a Boy on His Journey to Manhood.

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

Click here for more about Rites to a Good Life
Banned from California: -Jim Foshee- Persecution, Redemption, Liberation ... and the Gay Civil Rights Movement
Robert C. Steele
In this lively and moving biography, a vital contribution to the history of LGBTQ life and activism in 20th century America, veteran reporter and broadcaster Steele memorializes the life of Jim Foshee, who first fled Idaho for California at age 15, in 1954 and went on to witness and experience the front lines of the nascent gay liberation movement. Eventually, Foshee (like Steele) would devote himself to researching and preserving gay history. Steele draws generously on interviews with Foshee and his contemporaries to tell the story, touching frankly on an abusive childhood, harassment by law enforcement, the occasional celebrity sighting, the secretive early days of the Mettachine Society, and Foshee’s choice, as a teenager, to be open about his homosexuality—easier in California than in Idaho, but still dangerous.

Foshee’s life fascinates, and his tales crackle on the page. Among the topics covered: hitchhiking; police raids of gay bars; 1967 in Haight-Ashbury; getting sentenced to five years at Huntsville for theft; finding love and happiness in Denver. For all the illuminating history that he and Steele have dug up, much of the book’s pleasure comes from Foshee’s voice: “I told myself, ‘I will not be embarrassed. I’m a grand queen, and I’m performing for all of my appreciative fans,’” Foshee says, recounting how he got through being forced to disrobe in front of other inmates. Despite moments of high drama, including Foshee’s stint on a chain gang, the book’s focus is on the everyday existence of gay Americans—and the development of community, independent media, and eventually a liberation movement.

The book is alive with personal and local stories. One especially welcome element: Steele and Foshee’s commemoration of gay magazines and newspapers, from Los Angeles and Denver and elsewhere, priceless chronicles of their era, from the late ‘50s to the era of AIDS and beyond. Banned From California, named for a nonsensical order a judge issued teenaged Foshee, documents a welcome sea change, over the course of one remarkable life.

Takeaway: This lively biography of a gay activist and historian captures an extraordinary life and a century of change.

Great for fans of: Michael Schiavi’s The Life and Times of Vito Russo, Mary Ann Cherry’s Morris Kight: Humanist, Liberationist, Fantabulist.

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

Click here for more about Banned from California
The Making of a Dragonfly: Following Christ Through the Winds of Change
Mary Ethel Eckard
The second edition of Eckard’s memoir is a thoughtful contemplation on the difficulties she has experienced in her adulthood. An ordained minister and the founder of Dragonfly Ministries, whose mission centers on the spiritual growth of women, Eckard discusses the key moments in her life that have informed her spirituality—such as a kidney donation, the complications in a pair of marriages, and building a ministry from the ground up. In personal and intimate reflection, writing to a Christian and mainly female audience, Eckard describes her loneliness, pride, and self-consciousness as a woman seeking to know her God and discovering that her heart bends toward obedience and surrender.

The dragonfly, she notes, is strongest when closest to the sunlight that is the source of its strength, and she describes her discovery that she is the same, with the source of her strength being God. Drawing on her own experiences, as well as her Southern Baptist upbringing, Eckard describes in detail her relationship with God throughout the different stages in her adult life. A major theme of Eckard’s writing is her spiritual insecurity (“How was I to discern between my big heart and God’s voice?”) set against the journey of her learning to trust in God. Her depiction of these uncertainties is juxtaposed by a steady belief that God is guiding her in decision-making, an ambiguity that speaks to the complexities of contemporary Christian faith, though she never addresses this directly.

In this second edition, Eckard has included a study guide at the end of each chapter: the tools include questions, prompts for reflection, action steps, and guidance for prayers. Some of these meditations prove repetitive, though many Christian readers, especially women, will find comfort in Eckard’s account of doubts and revelation. She is honest about the challenges of her Christian journey, and the effort and rewards of flying close to the light.

Takeaway: Eckard writes to Christian women about how God has guided her through the challenges of adult life.

Great for fans of: Wendy Pope’s Wait and See, Mary Katherine Backstrom’s Holy Hot Mess.

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

Click here for more about The Making of a Dragonfly
Mended Hearts
Angelina Disano
Disano’s debut highlights romance between a woman raising her younger brother and a CEO coping with his mother’s untimely death. Top-notch student Katie Williams left college before completing her degree, to raise her ten-year-old half-brother Tyler, after their mother died in a car accident. Katie secretly struggles with depression and regret over her decision to return home and take a job in banking. After her neighbor, Mrs. Stephens, dies from a brain aneurysm, Katie meets Matt, the son who comes to clean out his late mother’s apartment. While their relationship blossoms, both are wary of getting too serious—and their future is threatened when Tyler’s father decides to sue for custody if Matt, the CEO of a successful company, doesn’t pay him.

Disano crafts believable characters with a focus on their innermost thoughts and fears. Despite the “jolt of electricity” when they first kiss, the challenges Matt and Katie face in finding their way to each other come from the secrets that each wants to keep. Katie’s ambitions were thwarted by her mother’s death, leading her to raise her brother; despite her willingness to take on this responsibility, she faces worsening depression, which Disano describes with sensitive precision: “She still went to work, shopped for groceries, and took care of Tyler, but she didn’t want to do anything at all.”

Katie shoulders that burden, wary of the possible stigma of revealing it, in much the same way Matt, grieving his mother, initially hides his wealth and business success–his hesitancy stems from a former girlfriend who was more interested in his money than him. Disano slowly peels back the layers of these characters, revealing their wounds and desires, as they must find a way to total honesty if they want a chance at future happiness together. Readers of emotionally acute love stories will find an enjoyable balance of intimacy and action here.

Takeaway: A woman who dropped out of college to raise her younger brother considers risking her heart in this emotional romance.

Great for fans of: Colleen Hoover’s Ugly Love, Brittainy Cherry’s The Mixtape.

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

Click here for more about Mended Hearts
Suit to Saddle: Cycling to Self-Discovery on the Southern Tier
Larry Walsh
Walsh’s debut memoir covers his incredible journey across southern America via bicycle and his corresponding journey of self discovery. While facing a job loss in mid-life, Walsh chose to trek from San Diego to northern Florida in 57 days, offering himself the space and time to clear his head and chase after something new. Along his route, Walsh meets folks he never would have in his life in New Jersey. Along with ten other riders, he faces tremendous physical and mental torment through 3,120 miles, but time and again this odyssey rewarded and reinforced his new commitment to intentionality, gratitude, and wisdom.

Though this account is fairly lengthy, Walsh proves adept at the skill all long-distance cyclists must master: pacing. He transports readers right into the adventure, with each leg of his trip depicted in memorable detail. His descriptions of grueling yet liberating days in the saddle are the book’s heart. Though self discovery was his original motivation for the trip, Walsh demonstrates throughout that he knows himself well, which comes out in his reflections: he knows his own strengths, especially as a team member, and stays consistent when it comes to what inspires him or how to approach challenges.

Still, that self-discovery is paramount to the story, as Walsh demonstrates that it can come in all forms. He learns that he is happiest as himself—someone who chases dreams and accomplishes them even when the going gets tough. As a parent, friend, and spouse, Walsh learns the importance of being genuine and authentic. His honesty throughout the memoir is poignant and both exemplifies and crystallizes his concluding reflections. Readers on mid-life journeys of their own will cheer Walsh on as he reminds them that a journey doesn’t have to be a means to an end —it’s the trip itself that matters.

Takeaway: While facing a major transition in life, a family man takes to the pavement and rides across the U.S. on a bicycle.

Great for fans of: George Mahood’s Not Tonight Josephine, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

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

Click here for more about Suit to Saddle

Loading...