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Fifty First Dates After Fifty: A Memoir
Rachel Hutchings
Blending memoir and self-help, self-proclaimed Bay Area hippie Arnold offers a quick, refreshing––and surprisingly pro-sex––read about redefining relationships and expectations in a monogamous-normative world. Arnold recounts what she has dubbed “the dating project,” a time in her life, over the course of two years, when she went on 50 first dates searching for her one perfect partner––while trying to get over her noncommittal ex-boyfriend. That period finds her dabbling in polyamory, attending sex parties, and dating married men, convinced that once she finds “the one” she will settle down and be monogamous. But during her journey she finds more than misadventures or an ideal partner. She makes new friends and learns new truths about herself. “Oh yeah!” she exults. “I remembered. I love sex! It energizes and mellows me out at the same time.”

The book’s an engaging example of how the journey matters more than the destination: Turns out, Arnold’s true goal was to love and accept herself for who she is. Arnold’s introspection and clarity (she describes her type as the “spiritual businessman”) will inspire even skeptical readers to evaluate their love lives and perhaps even face and accept aspects of themselves, such as a curiosity about polyamory, that they may not have before. Arnold’s frank description and thoughtful reflection on her dozens of dates––from good to bad, from being rejected to having to reject––will make women readers feel heard and understood.

However, Arnold takes a lot of time describing her work with the Human Awareness Institute, putting a lot of stock on what she has learned there, which makes some of this memoir’s accounts of breakthroughs feel promotional––and risks losing readers enticed by the book’s title. In the final pages, Arnold tends to explain rather than dramatize, burdening the narrative with expositional detail. Still, when Arnold tells these stories with brutal honesty––with herself and her readers––Fifty First Dates shines.

Takeaway: Perfect for the poly-curious and their skeptical counterparts, this account of looking for love after fifty offers surprise and discoveries.

Great for fans of: Zoey Leigh Peterson’s Next Year, For Sure, Sophie Lucido Johnson’s Many Love: A Memoir of Polyamour and Finding Love.

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

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Till Daph Do Us Part: Weddings. Funerals. Sleuthing.
Phillipa Nefri Clark
Clark (Last Known Contact) offers an enticing kickoff to the Daphne Jones cozy mystery series with the story of a charming wedding celebrant who becomes embroiled in the murder of a newlywed. Daphne Jones enjoys traveling the countryside of Victoria, Australia, with her husband John in their caravan, the Bluebell, marrying couples. On a trip to Little Bridges, Daphne officiates at the wedding of Lisa Brooker to Steve Tanning, Lisa’s third go-round at marrying men related to one another. Lisa’s two previous marriages, to Steve’s cousins, ended with her husbands’ untimely deaths, and this time, shortly after the ceremony, the groom is discovered unresponsive in a pool. Against the advice of local law enforcement. Daphne investigates Steve’s death. The body count rises as her investigation gets too close to the truth, putting her life in danger.

In Daphne, Clark has crafted an ideal cozy mystery sleuth, an appealing and inquisitive woman engaged in a lively profession that allows her to observe people in moments of pitched emotion without attracting their attention. She’s confident yet relatable, having to tell herself, at times, to “stop babbling,” and her love for her job (“Being a celebrant means the world to me”) and fear of losing clients is endearing. As an older woman without connections to the police, Daphne may be discounted by those around her as someone lacking investigative skills, which makes her success as an amateur sleuth all the more believable.

The introduction of multiple suspects adds to the suspense as Clark gradually reveals information about the long-standing feud between the Tanning and Brooker families. Considering her history, the bride can’t be discounted as a potential black widow type, but Clark keeps the pages turning with smooth plotting as Daphne journeys in her caravan, charming yet dogged in the first of what looks to be many investigations to uncover a killer.

Takeaway: A charming wedding officiant turned amateur sleuth pursues the identity of a murderer after a newlywed's death.

Great for fans of: Tonya Kappes’s Beaches, Bungalows and Burglaries, Emma Jameson’s A Death at Seascape House.

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

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BRIDGE ACROS THE OCEAN: The story of three American cyclists, two Japanese espionage agents, a Taiwanese businesswoman and the world's most revolutionary bicycle
JACK B ROCHESTER
Ex-counterintelligence officer Jed Smith and his partners at the New Hampshire-based Smithworks bicycle company have invented the Spinner, a revolutionary new bicycle drive. In the hopes of securing a groundbreaking deal, they travel to Taiwan to meet with Joyful Bike, a major manufacturer—but unfortunately they attract the attention of Japanese “information worms,” freelance corporate spies intent on stealing industrial secrets. Now the Smithworks team’s time in Taiwan is split between navigating Chinese culture and business protocol, and attempting to outwit their pursuers long enough to close the deal. Meanwhile, Jed falls for Joyful Bike’s attractive director of business development, Lai Jung-Shan, though a relationship between the two seems unlikely to succeed.

Rochester’s story is part thriller, part love letter to bicycling, and it’s clear he’s writing from a position of intimate knowledge and passion, as convincing atmosphere and minute detail color every page. He also brings that precision and thoroughness to the presentation of Chinese culture, etiquette, manners, and setting, immersing readers in the atmosphere and imagery along the way. While this verisimilitude is one of the story’s strengths, it also slows down the pacing, threatening to overload the reader with information and at times diminishing the focus on the heart of the narrative, which is the characters.

The information worms subplot, meanwhile, offers a strong hook, though the would-be thieves ultimately prove more of a nuisance than a true threat, with authorial intent breaking through to warn readers of the dangers of IP theft and corporate espionage. Meanwhile, Jed’s emerging connection to Jung-Shan as they navigate the opening stages of a relationship is enjoyable and natural, though there’s a subtle tendency to overly romanticize and exoticize Jeb’s attraction to the Taiwan-born woman, including his thinking of her as “inscrutable,” a term that has often been used by western writers to stereotype Asians. Despite these shortcomings, the overall story is engaging and smoothly told, and will interest cycling enthusiasts and readers fascinated by international business and real-world espionage.

Takeaway: A thriller with a human element, which will appeal to readers who appreciate bicycling and Chinese culture.

Great for fans of: Evan Osnos’s Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, Dave Eggers’s A Hologram for the King.

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

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Erroll Garner: The Most Happy Piano, The Centennial Edition (1921-2021)
James M. Doran
Doran’s “centennial edition” of his exhaustive, irreplaceable study of the life, times, and work of jazz giant Erroll Garner arrives, in updated and expanded form, two decades after the book went out of print—and collectors and fans of the jubilant pianist sometimes known as “The Happy Man” found themselves having to shell out a mint for used copies. Now, though, Doran’s tome returns on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the late Garner’s 1921 birth, its bifurcated structure–split between an account of Garner’s life told by the people who knew him and the most authoritative of Garner discographies, spanning the eras of the 78 to the CD.

That dual focus means the book remains a treasure trove for both the casual fan, eager to read the oral history’s anecdotes of family and musicians, and the Garner diehard committed to mastering the details of this master improviser’s every mid-century radio broadcast, recording date, or TV appearance–Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan, and Johnny Carson all found time for jazz music in the early 1960s. The biographical section, meanwhile, bursts with lively talk and vivid detail from dozens of interviewees, many of them now deceased. “Three things about Erroll: He was great, he always smoked, and he was always late,” notes pianist Alyce Brooks, while the storied bassist Ray Brown, who knew Garner when both were making a name for themselves in Pittsburgh, says “Erroll Garner played with such feeling that you feel like paying him to play with him.”

True to the spirit of a musician with the most inviting of demeanors and musical approaches, The Most Happy Piano stands as an unusually welcoming jazz book. Like a Garner performance (such as the one captured on 1955’s best seller Concert By the Sea), Doran’s study has the feeling of a celebration. It doesn’t just tell the story of a singular American musician; it preserves the memories of those who knew him for the benefit of the future.

Takeaway: Back in print at last, this irreplaceable study of jazz great Erroll Garner offers riches for casual fans and diehard collectors.

Great for fans of: Nat Shaprio and Nat Hentoff’s Hear Me Talkin' to Ya, Ben Sidran’s Talkin’ Jazz: An Oral History.

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

The Whisper of Dragons
Michelle Picard
Picard (The Eden Court Saga) returns with a fantasy that prioritizes story above all else—literally. Set on a contemporary Earth rocked by increased earthquakes and natural disasters. Kavi, a “Story whisperer” of the secretive, matrilineal Rawiya clan, is heir to a dragon guardian, Amthorn, who tells her that these tectonic shifts are due to the Void. The Void—quite literally defined as “the absence of Story”—leads to the weakening connections between humans, which in turn, is leading to the destruction of the Earth itself, as “The Stories are the connections between all matter of the Universe.” Kavi’s friend Stacia has been kidnapped by a man who wants to combine her magic with artificial intelligence, and Kavi, her childhood love Gideon, and others go on a quest to save Stacia—and save our world from the void.

This gets complicated when Kavi faces not just danger but betrayal. Picard proves adept at creating complex characters with interesting relationships. Kavi in particular is a compelling protagonist, and her relationship with Gideon–her childhood love who was exiled from the clan– is both sweet and rich, as is her dynamic with Guardian Amthorn, whom she clearly cares for but who is set against humanity.

Picard writes effective, imaginative prose, though this fantasy’s worldbuilding isn’t always clear, such as how exactly the Rawiya clan lives hidden away from “twenty-first century iPhone and YouTube lives” when they ride dragons and exercise mind-control on ordinary humans. The magical system, combining AI, dragons, and the Void, could be presented with greater clarity. Using her Crita, Kavi can create new Stories, which can control the way people and things act. “There are rules. Your power has limits,” Amthorn says to her late in the story, but those limits remain mysterious. Still, the characters and the idea that humanity has lost the Stories that connect us to the Earth and each other make for a compelling, enjoyable low fantasy.

Takeaway: This contemporary fantasy pits a secret dragon-riding clan against the Void that has separated humanity from stories, the Earth, and each other.

Great for fans of: V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones.

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

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People of the Sun
Ben Gartner
Time-traveling siblings Sarah and John return in the spirited third installment in Gartner’s Eye of Ra series. As their family prepares to move across the country again, Sarah and John are kidnapped by a mysterious older man and woman. The young protagonists discover that their ability to move through time comes from a technology that will be developed in 2049—though things will go awry during a product demonstration, thanks to a solar flare in the atmosphere, severely altering reality by scattering the audience across the past. Now, Sarah and John must again save the day, by returning the audience members to the future—and restoring their “story line” before it ceases to exist.

This adventure takes the young siblings to 1519, when Hernán Cortés arrives on the shores of what is now Mexico, and one castaway from 2049 attempts to prevent the fall of the Aztec Empire. These circumstances allow Gartner to vividly recreate ancient Aztec society while more deeply exploring the protagonists’ growth. Rich historic detail breathes fresh life into this new adventure, As Gartner goes beyond name checking gods and historical figures to highlight resplendent Aztec clothing and a currency system that values items like cacao. Meanwhile, Sarah and John must come to grips with what it means to control only what’s actually within their grasp–with a duty to preserve the past while still trying to prevent their story line from disappearing.

With apparent ease, Gartner weaves the story through time, space, and back again. The exposition on the science of time travel tangled with surprise revelations on occasion feels a bit heavy but manages not to impede the adventure’s fast-paced energy. Although such a burden of responsibility would be unrealistic for actual 10- or 12-year-olds, Gartner balances the difficult decisions the protagonists face with humor—even appealing to video game aficionados by using rogue-like game strategies in battle.

Takeaway: Middle-grade readers with a love of high-stakes fantasy will be pleased with this time-crossed historical adventure.

Great for fans of: P.B. Kerr’s Children of the Lamp series, Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series.

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

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I Quit! The Life-Affirming Joy of Giving Up
Coonoor Behal
Behal’s debut self-help book strikes a tone like a franker version of the Chicken Soup series with a collection of upbeat interviews with everyday people reflecting on how quitting something—from bad habits to grad school to unhealthy relationships to the circus—helped create positive change or lead them toward a better, more joyful existence. Each chapter shares a different person’s story, with plenty of direct quotes and frequent callbacks to how the individual stories relate to Behal’s own life or experiences. Behal wraps up each chapter by asking her subjects a series of standardized questions, like “Any regrets?” (usually the answer is “no”) and “What tradeoffs did you accept by quitting?”

Each story shows how quitting something worked out for the person in question. Some, like “I Quit the American Dream”—a narrative built around the questions “Why isn’t what I have enough? Why am I feeling so discontent?”—find Behal’s subjects quitting a variety of specific behaviors and beliefs in service to quitting a more generalized concept. Several chapters, like “I Quit Evangelical Christianity” and “I Quit Being a ‘Good Little Black Girl’” center on challenging issues and daring to make courageous changes in the face of systemic societal forces.

Though it’s clear the book is meant to convey a certain type of message about living authentically, not being afraid to let go, and how giving up opportunities can sometimes allow for other new ones to appear, Behal offers little explicit guidance to that end. Readers who have less of a certain grasp of how to take steps to make affirmative change, or who are seeking direct advice on how to walk away from something, would benefit from insight into the difference between healthy and unhealthy quitting. Still, those seeking positive stories of self-actualization and empowerment will find this a relaxing, supportive read, and perhaps a good example to encourage change.

Takeaway: This collection of real-life stories of people who dared to quit in favor of something better will appeal to readers eager to make a change.

Great for fans of: Susan Shapiro’s Unhooked, Amy Johnson’s The Little Book of Big Change.

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

18: an unschooling experience
marta obiols llistar
In this sharply focused memoir, Obiols, a former elementary school teacher, demonstrates what an “unschooling” education looks like for her particular family and its particular needs—and why this unorthodox form of teaching children has, in her experience, proven so fruitful. Unschooling, of course, is a form of curriculum-free home school education tailored to a child’s interests. On the occasion of her oldest child (and student) turning 18, Obiols has penned this inviting account of what she’s learned about guiding her children toward what they most wanted to learn.

“Basically, Konji learned and is still learning when he wants to learn,” Obiols writes of her younger son, whose passions have led him to geography, especially atlases and tall buildings, studies that have led to learning about architecture, government, and other countries. Reading about topics that stir their passions is supplemented with stimulating play and organized activities in the community, such as soccer, track, and free classes at a local arts center. Obiols sees unschooling as a route to letting kids discover what they want and need to know, without bureaucracy or the misery that Obiols and her older kids so often experienced in schools. Whether her kids want to go to college she leaves up to them, though she’s eager to help them either way.

18 addresses the most pressing question that people have when they first learn about the unschooling concept. “But how do you know they’re learning?” Obiols writes, “There is no need for testing. The children passionately tell you all about what they’ve learned.” She has composed this book more as a reflection than as a guide or example for how readers should unschool themselves. Occasionally, more detail might make her case for unschooling more persuasive: how exactly is a scavenger hunt at Costco an educational opportunity? But mostly this inviting memoir makes this unorthodox approach to learning sound natural, humane, and promising.

Takeaway: Readers interested in radically student-focused home schooling will find inspiration in this reflective memoir.

Great for fans of: Peter Gray’s Free to Learn, Rachel Rainbolt’s Sage Home Schooling.

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

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The Father, the Son & the Slave
Christopher Grant
Grant’s historical epic opens with a hook for the ages. Two thousand years ago, in a Nazareth under curfew enforced by the Roman legion, Iesu, a prophet and rabbi and exile, risks returning home to ask the man who raised him, the carpenter Josef, a question whose answer will shape epochs: “Are you my father?” Not long after Josef’s reply, Iesu—called a “skinny wretch” by his mother, Maryam—asks for a blessing, as he’s soon to be married. Looming over this warm and surprising scene, meanwhile, are Josef’s latest commission: the wooden “torture frames” from which the Romans hang criminals.

From there, Grant’s detailed, naturalistic story tracks Iesu and company across a desert empire of chariots and aqueducts and baptists named John, from Nazareth to Jerusalem, where the young firebrand, dogged in speaking out against corruption, will face his fate. “The people see hope in my message, while priests fear for their power,” says this Iesu, a practical man caught between heaven and Earth. Asked of his reputation for miracles, he asks his mother to describe what he did when the wine ran out at a wedding celebration. “You added water to the empty casks and made sport with the children rolling them around,” she says. Trickier to gainsay, of course, are instances of what many take as miraculous healing, scenes rendered with skill, suspense, and room for interpretation.

Grant’s realistic yet emotional approach invites readers to consider the most famous story ever told from some new angles. One touching element: Maryam’s vindication as her son’s reputation swells, years after her tale of a divine pregnancy inspired laughter. Josef, too, emerges as a full and compelling character, in one set piece drawing on Hebrew law to contest charges of blasphemy. Grant adds meat to the parables, pays welcome attention to political realities of the era, draws engaging relationships, and leaves it to readers to draw conclusions about where the human meets the divine.

Takeaway: A human, historic spin on the gospel narrative, written with warmth, wisdom, and vivid detail.

Great for fans of: Colm Toibín’s The Testament of Mary, Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

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

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Cama: Your Special Friend: Change, Kindness, Love, Forgiveness
Cheryl Beck
In four charming stories about change, kindness, love, and forgiveness, Beck’s warm-hearted picture book spotlights kids getting through challenging situations with the help of a mystical toy elephant named Cama. In the first tale, a woman named Mrs. Gingerberry finds the striking pachyderm at a rummage sale, recognizing it as something special. She gives it to her daughter, Sapphire, who is struggling with the news that her best friend is moving away. Eventually, Cama helps a dejected Sapphire connect with new friends. In other stories, characters navigate finding a lost pet, coping with anxiety, and finding a way to share something they love, all with Cama at their side.

Beck shrewdly chooses not to let the elephant alone be what gets these kids over the hump. Despite Cama’s magic, the characters still must dig into their own innate strengths to solve their problems. In the final story about forgiveness, a shy little boy named Timmy brings Cama to school to make him feel more comfortable–and to help him face Kyle, the class bully. When Kyle accidentally falls during recess and breaks the elephant’s trunk, the rest of the class finally turns on him–and Timmy finds himself in the uncomfortable position of sticking up for Kyle, who later becomes Timmy’s friend.

The characters are also diverse–one story centers on a Spanish-speaking family, while another follows a boy named Dayne who is trying out for the wheelchair basketball team. This type of representation will help a wider variety of children to feel seen and understood. Melissa Charpentier’s brightly colored, dreamlike watercolor illustrations will also help children become engrossed in these relatable miniature dramas, while Beck’s clear, straightforward prose is easy for new readers to understand. Children will easily identify with these characters and their familiar emotions–and long for a friend as special as Cama.

Takeaway: Four endearing stories of overcoming problems with the power of love and the help of a toy elephant.

Great for fans of: Mo Willems’s Knuffle Bunny, Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing.

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

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The Conscious Virus: An Aedgar Wisdom Novel
Miki Mitayn
This ambitious spiritual adventure, the first novel in Mitayn’s Aedgar Wisdom Series, finds a doctor, Nerida, and her shaman life partner Mari, guided across Australia by spirits like Aedgar, who often appears as a blue wren, and M’Hoq Toq, a Native American Medicine Man. Mari’s entranced encounters with these channeled beings help the couple discover new ways of seeing, being, and healing, as they occasionally slip into the past and a ravaged future–until Covid-19 hits, and their lives and world gets upended. In an age of grief, outrage, and quarantine, the couple and the spirits face the possibility that the virus is “conscious” and intentionally created, and that for all its destructive power it offers humanity a chance to improve itself and its relationship to this planet.

Then the spirits start warning the women against Covid vaccines. Mitayn’s novel combines travelogue updates of the women’s journeys and quarantine updates of what life was like in Western Australia during the pandemic, both of which prove compelling, especially thanks to the warm central relationship between Nerida and Mari. Also compelling, at times, are the novel’s lengthy colloquies with spirits who inveigh against humanity’s urge to travel for no reason and to prioritize “paper with numbers on it” over all else, especially the Earth, the life on it, the poor, and anything “with consciousness.”

But the drama in the novel’s final third centers on Nerida’s uncertainty about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. The spirit Aedgar warns against them, arguing that the medical establishment will subject the populace to a battery of "so-called" vaccines that will change our DNA. It’s disappointing that transcendent communication with a spirit sounds so much like contemporary anti-vax campaigns. Ultimately, Nerida does not become an anti-vaccine crusader, but the book’s prolonged focus on vaccine hesitancy–and Aedgar’s insistence that Covid was “created” as a “weapon”–will limit its audience to readers already interested in this perspective.

Takeaway: A spiritual exploration of Australian life during Covid gives way to extended consideration of anti-vax views.

Great for fans of: Judy Nunn’s Spirits of the Ghan, Harvey Arden’s Dreamkeepers: A Spirit-Journey into Aboriginal Australia.

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

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The Path To True Leadership: A Strategy for Leadership Growth
Charles Leonard Gill
Gill debuts with a succinct guide for Christians seeking to become capable, powerful leaders, built on Christian teachings and brimming with uplifting encouragement. Stressing the need to be intentional, specifically through a laser focus on developing a well-defined future plan and following through with action steps, he presents an approach to life and leadership based on three foundational principles: To achieve or to lead, you must exercise faith and apply God’s teaching; maintain physical health; and pursue lifelong education. Gill develops these principles--and lays out advice specific to leadership—all with a strong emphasis on faith, arguing “[i]t costs you nothing to believe, and may cost you everything not to.”

Gill organizes this slim guide around his three central truths, expanding on each with anecdotes from his past as well as drawing from well-established leadership sources, such as Bruce Tuckman’s stages of group development. To encourage readers to accept the impossibility of perfection, he writes frankly about his own personal challenges stemming from his active military service, and he uses his own failures as illustrations for regrowth and transformation. Christian readers will appreciate the shared private spiritual experience–including Gill’s somewhat surprising account of “speak[ing] my son into existence”–and his continuous use of Bible verses to clarify concepts.

Despite a heartening core message, some elements of Gill’s treatise would prove more persuasive with further development. His emphasis on physical fitness is refreshing, but the brief chapter on health is also somewhat pitiless, as when he insists that putting on some “pandemic weight” can “take a leader off the path to true leadership.” More clear and helpful are passages encouraging readers to develop leadership characteristics by giving back to underserved populations and concrete steps on how to build meaningful relationships with employees–and Gill’s observation that “faith is like insurance” is intriguing. Readers seeking basic ideas on leadership skills supported with Christian beliefs will find a start to build on here.

Takeaway: A examination of what it takes to be an effective leader, paired with Christian faith principles and supporting Bible verses.

Great for fans of: James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner’s Learning Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders’s Spiritual Leadership.

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

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A Place LIke This: Finding Myself in a Cape Cod Cottage
Sally W Buffington
Musician, writer, and photographer Buffington’s enchanting debut contemplates how her in-laws’ summer cottage on Cape Cod, lovingly called “Craigville,” fostered her creative interest in writing and photography, and how houses come to figure into “the landscape of our hearts and minds.” In January 1968, her fiancé, Andy, introduces her to Craigville, the winter air “as cold as the water of baptism.” Later she forges her own space in a cottage crowded with three generations of Buffingtons: parents, Jim Jr. “Dad” and Lois “Mom” Buffington; sons, Jim, Pete, and Andy; and Jim’s wife, Judy, and their children.

This warm celebration is not without some minor conflict. Mom runs Craigville as “CDO: Chief Domestic Officer” with an attitude of “Stick to what you were trained for” and “the way we’ve always done it,” dismissing Buffington’s burgeoning creative passions and desire to “learn this place for itself, and for myself.” The three Buffington brothers are “The Broze: a group of quirky, talkative guys,” able to cover nine different topics in one conversation; while Buffington is charmed, some readers may be disenchanted by the thought Broze dominating conversation and Craigville. However, humor and Mom’s classic blueberry pies temper the sometimes-oppressive atmosphere. Midlife readers will identify with Buffington’s pursuit of “cottage independence,” freedom from Mom’s established routine and control, and a desk in a quiet spot at which to write; readers may even be able to taste the “pungent wild fruit whose spicy fragrance perfumed the kitchen during baking.”

Simple yet captivating photos of the family, cottage, and memories, such as a toy monkey hanging from a light, appear throughout the narrative, demonstrating how Buffington can “see things other people don’t see” in everyday scenes and find them beautiful. But her prose is where that ability most shines through. This memoir paints a vivid and lasting memory of a home with as much personality as the family who lived there.

Takeaway: Midlife readers and those interested in homes passed down through generations will enjoy this memoir of a classic Cape Cod cottage.

Great for fans of: Joan Anderson’s A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, Erika Montgomery’s A Summer to Remember.

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

Bittersharp
K.D. Burrows
Burrows debuts with a creepy and effective haunted house story, dual-tracked to interlace contemporary terror with sordid romantic drama. In 2018, Rachel Shepherd arrives at the old Virginia mansion her father and stepmother are converting to a B&B—to discover her father has hanged himself and left a fearful suicide note, her stepmother Lily is behaving bizarrely, and that Rachel herself keeps seeing an apparition of a woman in a red dress. Flashbacks to 1927 find Eve Boland visiting her cousin Luke, while her friendship with his actress wife Corrine takes dark turns. In the present, when Rachel enlists newly renewed flame Isaiah for help, their discovery of Eve’s diary and a stash of photos launches them into a battle with a ghost fighting to protect her secrets.

Burrows’ choice to give the historical side as much attention as the modern aftermath pays off in a richly integrated story that forces the reader to simultaneously—and uncomfortably—engage in both romance and horror aesthetics. Opening with Eve as a feisty old lady uncowed by the murderous presence in her home, only later to disclose her relationship to Corrine’s ghost, Burrows ties Corrine’s presence to Isaiah and Rachel’s first breakup, and the timeline pulls together emotionally as Eve’s diary in 1927 starts to reveal the facts. Deep characterization makes Eve, Corrine, and Rachel all feel like protagonists in a women’s story that leaves the men in their lives more tangential.

Pacing is thoughtful and solid, so that Rachel’s discoveries, Eve’s disclosures, and Corrine’s increased paranormal activity keep pace with one another. The revelations regularly surprise, while never feeling like they come out of nowhere, and Burrows uses the shared physical space of the two stories effectively. Charging Rachel and Lily’s already strong antagonism with the power of Corrine’s takeover of Lily’s body gives a delightfully terrifying sense of the past literally grabbing into the present.

Takeaway: Readers who love relationship drama—whether historical, romantic, or spooky—will find this ghost story grabs hard and refuses to let go.

Great for fans of: Anne Rivers Siddons’s The House Next Door , Tananarive Due’s The Good House.

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

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The Inclusive Leader: Taking Intentional Action for Justice and Equity
Artika Tyner
Tyner’s forward-thinking management guide encourages readers toward becoming well-rounded, inclusive leaders in the community and the workplace, with an emphasis on practical steps toward creating diversity within organizations and identifying and correcting for one’s own implicit biases. The Inclusive Leader calls for creating change by navigating biases head on, encouraging straight-forward discussions within organizations, and taking the initiative to address organizational behavior for the better. By tying this mission to a framework that studies four key linked areas of how we live our lives—the intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, and societal aspects of living—Tyner demonstrates how leadership and organizational success are rooted in the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Simply put, healthy DEI makes for healthier workplace interactions, better job performance, and ultimately the betterment of society itself.

The founding director of The Center on Race, Leadership, and Social Justice at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Tyner lays out that framework with eloquent clarity, urging leaders to increase their cultural intelligence and set DEI goals—and commit to them. Inclusive leadership is a practice, not a talking point, one that demands leaders “actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making” and “see diverse talent as a source of competitive advantage and inspire diverse people to drive organizational and individual performance towards a shared vision.'" Case studies, charts, infographics, copious original and practical advice, and thoughtful tools for reflection make the case and encourage readers to pause, reflect, and grow.

Tyner is precise and to-the-point, offering an informative and often entertaining roadmap whose principles apply to all manner of workplaces or organizations, perfect for readers entering management, entrepreneurs looking to create a comfortable environment for their employees, or anyone already in a position of leadership. The Inclusive Leader is a comprehensive, up-to-date toolbox designed to help readers build new ways of seeing, thinking, and leading—and to lead by example in fostering diverse, positive, welcoming environments in the workplace or the community.

Takeaway: A clear, precise how-to guide for leaders ready to walk the walk when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Great for fans of: Rita Server’s Leading for Justice, Jennifer Brown’s Inclusion.

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

Fooled by the Winners: How Survivor Bias Deceives Us
David Lockwood
Lockwood explores one of the most common cognitive biases, survivor bias, which he describes as the tendency to “Concentrat[e] on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not.” He posits that we need to understand both the survivors and the casualties in situations to develop a “clear view of the future” and to ensure our survival as a species. “[T]o be a survivor, we must not be fooled by the winners,” he argues. To illustrate this, he delves into varied teaching examples, including the hedge funds that succeed instead of failing–to assess potential risk, you should consider all an investment firm’s hedges, not just the profitable ones–as well as military bombers that don’t get shot down versus those that crash, and the evolutionary history of modern humanity itself, in contrast to earlier species who didn’t survive.

Lockwood analyzes survivor bias from two key perspectives, that of observers outside of the set of survivors and that of observers who are part of the survivor group, concluding that both perspectives are misleading in different ways. External observers can fall prey to mistakes such as overestimating the chances of a mutual fund’s success or believing in outside causes like ESP, while members of a survivor group are likely to underestimate the potential for future catastrophes, like nuclear war or climate change, simply because they have not happened yet. Lockwood cautions that observing these global risks clearly is necessary in order to effectively counter them.

Lockwood’s clear and brisk style breaks down complex ideas, and his past experience as a lecturer at Stanford, as well as on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, serves him well in making his case.Curious readers eager for a better grasp on complex mathematical principles or who enjoy big ideas will find this an accessible explanation of survivor bias and how it can cloud our thinking.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a big idea or to reduce their own cognitive bias will find this exploration of survivor bias illuminating.

Great for fans of: Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan, Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk.

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

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