Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Forget Me Not: A Caregiver’s Guide to Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease
Torri L. Fisher
“Proper caregiving provides your [loved one] with support and companionship that significantly helps manage the progression of the disease,” Fisher writes in this clear-eyed, informative debut on assisting loved ones with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Following her mother’s diagnosis with the disease in 2018, Fisher sought to share her knowledge of caregiving to help those going through similar experiences. She explains the basics of Alzheimer’s disease and illuminates the challenges that come along with it—caregiving, support teams, engagement with healthcare professionals, and potential legal hurdles—while outlining ways for both caregivers and Alzheimer’s patients alike to find peace and happiness despite the disease.

Fisher tackles this difficult topic with care, compassion, and a welcome sense of practicality, from handling issues of power of attorney and guardianship, to questions to ask healthcare providers, to recognizing the mental health effects caregivers often face, such as social isolation, depression, and even stigmatization. “Spread awareness, and fight stigmatization,” she writes. But she reminds readers to “Give yourself grace.” Offering a unique personal perspective from Fisher’s mother as well as insight from the author’s own time as a caregiver, Forget Me Not provides hard-earned, invaluable advice and ideas in clear prose and an easily digestible format.

While informative and helpful throughout, one of the guide’s most valuable aspects is a selection of quotes from Fisher’s mother (“I’m sorry if you told me already, but why do I have to take THIS pill?”), which powerfully outline the feelings that loved ones encounter while experiencing this disease—and remind us of Fisher’s precept “Don’t assume they are always confused.” This not only showcases Fisher’s compassionate view of those living with Alzheimer’s but also demonstrates the urgency of understanding the perspective of those being cared for. Fisher helps those caring for their loved ones navigate tricky situations that might arise by offering insider information from both a caregiver and a person living with the disease.

Takeaway: An urgently practical and informative read for anyone with a loved one facing Alzheimer’s disease.

Great for fans of: Jonathan Graff-Radford and Angela M. Lunde’s Mayo Clinic on Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias, Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins’s The 36 Hour Day.

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

Wizards of Arcadia: 1
Daniel Xavier Luna
In Luna’s world of magic and fantasy, twin teenage brothers Andrew and Adrian discover an exciting family secret: they’re wizards, capable of channeling the waves of energy all around us. But what starts out as a thrilling new adventure into the world of teleportation, potions, and pet Pegasi slowly morphs into something more perilous. Evil lurks in the shadows and their world gets flipped upside down when they learn their father, who has been a mysterious absence from their lives, is not just a powerful wizard—but that he’s been imprisoned for 16 years, and, upon his surprise early release, wants to see his boys. Now, everything the twins love is being threatened. With the help of a large cast of family and friends, the twins team up to battle a darkness that endangers their new magical reality.

Luna boldly pens the trials and tribulations of adolescents, the betrayal of secrets suddenly unearthed, and the courage to fight for a cause, while also dedicating precious scene space to the mundane. The novel is chatty rather than fast-paced, a choice that emphasizes characters and their growth, potentially setting up a series, while the point-of-view bounces from one character to the next, leaving no cast member behind in this wildly large ensemble of family, friends, and foes. Still, some readers may wish that the scenes were more concise, especially once the quest—involving a hunt for a powerful wizard and then three crystals—kicks off.

Still, there are plenty of twists and some legitimate shock as the characters dig deeper into the magical world Luna has created—and it is a world, rich and detailed, crafted by a writer who understands what readers expect from the genre, and how satisfying it is to see those expectations upended. Relationships are tested as exposed secrets threaten to unravel the twins’ family, but loyalty and love reign supreme. Fans of magic, fantasy, and epic quests will find satisfaction in this character-driven adventure.

Takeaway: Heroes are molded and adventure is afoot in this fantasy YA debut filled with magic.

Great for fans of: Adam Silvera’s Infinity Son, Cinda Williams Chima.

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

Click here for more about Wizards of Arcadia
The Queen of Gay Street
Esther Mollica
Mollica’s (I Feel Love: Notes on Queer Joy) memoir is a raunchy, fun, tell-all love letter to New York City and finding one’s place in it. Mollica left San Francisco to move to Astoria, Queens, in 2008 to recover from a devastating breakup and pursue her dream of writing. With the tart, self-deprecating humor that powers the book, Mollica reasons, “After all, wasn’t New York’s motto basically, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your undersexed’?” She also discusses with disarming frankness her family’s cycle of abuse, her efforts at establishing a career, her strings of unfortunate dates and lovers, and how she found love in the city. Especially engaging is her account of the heartbreak and hilarity of writing “Broads in the Big Apple,” a column in the lesbian magazine, GRL that became “comic relief for a microscopic subset of lesbian magazine journalists.”

“My destiny in life was to make zero sustainable dollars writing about pussy and crying at bars,” Mollica writes. In sharp, column-like vignettes covering her life in New York, she tells that story, conjuring the buzz and uncertainty of dating and Great Recession-era writing jobs with an emphasis on three major narrative components: her relationship with her abusive parents and how that shaped her love life; her unhealthy on-again-off-again relationship with her editor, Juliet, at GRL; and how she eventually found a healthy love. Of her relationship with Juliet, Mollica writes, with her customary incisiveness, “We wrote that bad romance. We revised it over and over…then ended up tossing it into a dumpster fire of lesbian drama.”

This is as much a briskly comic recounting of the lesbian dating scene of the late aughts as it is an affecting case study of finding love that’s not necessarily “requited” but at least “acknowledged.” With a feel for the telling detail and a deft hand at both punchlines and insights, Mollica offers a dishy, affecting memoir that should resonate with readers well beyond that “microscopic subset.”

Takeaway: A hilarious, irresistible account of a lesbian writing and dating in ‘00s New York.

Great for fans of: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, Connor Franta’s Note to Self, Michelle Tea’s How to Grow Up.

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

Click here for more about The Queen of Gay Street
Brixton Nights
Amy Tollyfield
Tollyfield writes this elegant novella with intricate detail and grace about the rough childhood of a lesbian who struggles with acceptance and forming relationships. Still distraught over the break-up with her girlfriend Steph many years ago in Brixton, thirty-something Christina moves to Hull, England, for its thriving gay scene. She is confident about her trajectory in life, moving out of her adoptive mother’s house and working in a factory because it keeps her active. Chris’s co-worker, an Irish bisexual woman named Siobhan, is a promising love interest, an “electric character” with a “laugh that swept through the warehouse floor,” but since Steph left Chris for a man, Chris is touchingly wary of being betrayed again.

Tollyfield confronts the trauma of abandonment, betrayal, familial loyalty, and the struggle to be ready to give love and be worthy of accepting love. Throughout the book, Chris flashes back to her troubled childhood when her prostituting and alcoholic mother abandoned Chris and her younger brother Kyle to a friend. They were soon adopted by Simone, a devout Christian who was more interested in the act of caring for the children than in their actual lives.

Long narrative sections with minimal dialogue are alive with striking details of cluttered, working-class neighborhoods, wayward citizens, and the drift of life. Tollyfield, a poet, keeps the language lively and weighted with feeling. Emotions heat up when Kyle acts out, develops an addiction, and clashes with Simone’s boyfriend Greg, which hinders Chris and Kyle’s search for their missing mother. Chris admits to her therapist that she yearns for a life partner, describing her perfect woman: “Her laugh will fill the street. Her laugh will fill the city. She’ll open my world, open my mind.” But when Siobhan is ready for intimacy, Chris holds back, convincingly, her reluctance feeling true, relatable, and moving. This perceptive and deeply human account of Chris’s emotional journey will keep readers engrossed.

Takeaway: A resonant chronicle of a woman sorting out her baggage so she can be ready for love again.

Great for fans of: Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s The Adventures of China Iron, Ali Smith.

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

Click here for more about Brixton Nights
Outside My Window Unswerstanding Children and the Stress Trauma response Model: Understanding Children and the Stress Trauma Response Model
Vicky Scott
Using a window as an extended metaphor for the Window of Tolerance, a stress trauma response model, psychologist Scott explains to both children and caregivers the cognitive processes that happen when prolonged stress and trauma is endured, both validating the child while also providing suggestions for how to bring a child back inside their window. Paired with Chamberlain’s expressive and at times abstract pastel illustrations, Outside My Window has been crafted to make a heavy and complicated topic approachable for young readers, especially with the use of rhyming text.

Achieving its lofty goals— meeting kids on their level and validating them, explaining trauma theory to caregivers, validating traumatized adults who have a “hurt child part inside”—means Outside My Window is a complex, explanatory read delving into difficult subjects with welcome clarity and inviting frankness. The authors note that it’s crafted to inspire “therapeutic, compassionate and helpful” conversations between children and adults, and the child narrator’s generalized account of fight or flight responses and what it means to have “Three brains /all in my head” will naturally inspire questions and comment, as will the at-times unsettling art. (Those three brains, mammal and reptile and human, inspire a fascinating three-way Janus image that will intrigue young readers.) Small graphs of the trauma response model accompany occasional pages, in the corner, separate from the illustrations, with fuller explanations, included in the backmatter.

Ideally read with a grown-up, Outside My Window is a safe and useful book and tool that illuminates, in relatable language, the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the tricky subject of how to recognize, understand, and live with their survival responses. Perhaps best suited for clinical practices, school counselors or teachers, Outside My Window will serve as a resource for traumatized children and the adults in their lives who care for them.

Takeaway: This picture book introduction to stress and trauma responses will inspire therapeutic discussion.

Great for fans of: Susan Farber Strauss’s Healing Days, Chandra Ghosh Ippen’s Once I Was Very Very Scared.

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

Island of Redemption
Chris Reynolds
In this inspirational Christian adventure, Reynolds (Ghost Gold) charts a flawed man’s journey towards salvation, literally and spiritually. Off the coast of Barbados, a horrendous storm during a solo boating trip washes well-to-do middle-aged Mark Lambert ashore on a deserted island. Luckily, plentiful food and fresh water provide paradise living. Better still, a flirtatious, fantasy-worthy woman named Angel persuades Mark to listen to her daily Christian teachings. Over the next eight years, her ideology cleanses his soul. Their parting coincides with the arrival of Mark’s daughter who searches for a legendary pirate woman’s booty. As father and daughter go in quest of the missing riches, they piece together the island’s mysterious past.

Inspired by the author’s own religious conversion, uplifting themes characterize Mark’s narrative, along with a steady stream of Christian aphorisms. “Regrets are the past crippling the present” and “Joy…is the serious business of heaven,” learns the castaway, bringing him serenity even as he despairs of ever seeing his home or family again. Upbeat self-talk and Angel’s playful companionship maintain a light tone throughout. This positivity, along with nods to Navajo and metaphysical beliefs, enliven otherwise serious lessons about God’s plans. Amid Mark’s fantastic luck, readers cheer as he recognizes past wrongs, grieves, and strives to become a better man.

When his treasure-seeking daughter enters the story, the plot turns refreshingly adventurous with a Da Vinci Code-esque zeal for puzzles and portents. Religious clues from a pious pirate’s diary, like Jesus’ age at death and the Cross of the Calvary’s location, lead the family on a scavenger hunt around the idyllic island. Depictions of frolicking dolphins, waterfalls, and rainbows add a tropical vacation spirit that grows in delight as Mark’s God-enhanced future unfolds. Reynolds delivers classic Christian inspiration anchored in the Prosperity Gospel and seasoned with romance and quick history lessons.

Takeaway: This inspirational Christian adventure boasts a castaway, a treasure hunt, and ancient mysteries.

Great for fans of: Lisa T. Bergren’s Begotten, Jeanette Windle’s Firestorm.

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

Click here for more about Island of Redemption
Against the Wild Wind: A Memoir of Love, Sacrifice, and a Daughter's Search for a Missing Journey
Giana Nguyen-Utgaard
Nguyen-Utgaard’s painfully beautiful memoir recounts the life and struggles of two generations of her family in Vietnam’s war-torn second half of the 20th century. Primarily centered around the life of her mother, a famed stage actor in the 1940s who endured horrors and sacrifice afterwards, Against the Wild Wind tells both this deeply personal story, with an emphasis on how profoundly Nguyen-Utgaard “was molded in my mother’s silence,” as well as the larger narrative of Vietnam and its people.Throughout, breaking down her nation’s complex history and recounting the violence and political turmoil, Nguyen-Utgaard reminds readers that the price of war is finally paid by the masses and felt for generations.

By focusing on her mother Nhã Tiên’s experience during the anti-French resistance, the exodus of 1954, and other jolting events that lead up to the fall of Saigon in 1975, Nguyen-Utgaard sheds welcome light on the hardships that the women of Vietnam in particular had to bear while ensuring the survival of their families. The aftermath of war and the inter-generational trauma that permeates the lives of the survivors is also a recurrent and powerfully evoked theme. Nguyen-Utgaard calls herself and the other children of war “emotionally starved,” for her entire generation has grown up in dysfunctional families, carrying the wounds of an unstable childhood and absent parents.

Sweeping over decades yet deftly centering telling details and the extraordinary resilience of subjects who come alive as individuals on the page, Against the Wild Wind bursts with life in spite of its dark subject matter. Nguyen-Utgaard celebrates the countryside and villages and “orderly-divided rice fields,” the Hanoi Grand Theatre, the Saigon river, and her mother’s “enchanting” reminiscences of village life, including an essay her mother wrote, as a young student, that touchingly touts the many uses of bamboo. The author’s “yearning for her mother” and her mother’s “yearning for Vietnam” bind the themes of mother and motherland, resulting in a memorable, powerful read.

Takeaway: The powerfully told memoir of a daughter, her mother, and war-torn Vietnam.

Great for fans of: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, Binh Tu Tran’s The Red Earth.

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

Click here for more about Against the Wild Wind
Hunters Point: A Novel of San Francisco
Peter Kageyama
The knockout first entry in Kageyama’s (For the Love of Cities) detective series starring Katsuhiro Takemoto (known as Kats to his friends), Kageyama’s fiction debut, opens up with Kats on the set of one of what would become one of the most storied of all movies, beneath the Golden Gate in 1957, offering his experience as a private detective to the acting elite. The glitter and glam fades, though, when he’s asked by a man from the Bay neighborhood of Hunter’s Point to protect his family business from a money-hungry land shark intent on buying land for the construction of a baseball stadium. Little does he know just how deep this rabbit hole goes, in a case that will bring him up against organized crime and the very future of his city.

The twisty case that follows reads as a love letter to the Cool Gray City and its neighborhoods and people, exemplifying the message of Kageyama’s previous books about loving where you live. The striking cover image, hand-drawn illustrations, and Kageyama’s own sharply evocative prose whisk readers away to the lights and shadows of the city at mid-century, from Navy Yards to North Beach’s beatniks, a term Kageyama points out, in an endnote, was confined in ‘58 by legendary S.F. newsman Herb Caen. With colorful representations of Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, Dorothea Lange, and many others, we experience a city where people live, write, dream, connect and—this is a crime novel, after all—scheme.

But it’s the original characters and storytelling that set this apart from the pack of San Francisco noirs.The engaging Katsuhiro and Molly, a woman he meets on the case, both are inspired, Kageyama notes, by the author’s parents. Katsuhiro endured time in the internment camps established by the United States government during World War II, and joined the Nisei Units in the Army, material all handled with sensitivity and intelligence, as is the blossoming romance between the two. Besides its arresting plotting and suspense, Hunters Point becomes a vital vessel to illuminate the past and those who lived there.

Takeaway: This stellar San Francisco noir novel boasts rich characterization and a vital connection to the past.

Great for fans of: Joe Gores, Gary Phillips’ One-Shot Harry.

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

Click here for more about Hunters Point
As Time Goes By
W. Royce Adams
The heartwarming As Time Goes By finds the prolific Adams—who has published a slew of articles, chapter books, juvenile novels, and even a short story collection—telling the stories of his own life in a series of snapshots of disparate people, places, and events that come together to offer a panoramic view. From his childhood relationship with his grandfather, to his long list of girlfriends, to comic capers like the time, in a Navy plane unable to land on account of fog, Personnel Specialist Adams accidentally clocked his Commander in the head with a flashlight, As Time Goes By takes us on a journey through the terrain of a fascinating life in direct, inviting prose and a welcome sense of play, even as he faces hard truths and existential questions.

The book is divided into three distinct parts: Early Years, Middle Years and Later Years. Though this structure offers a distinctly chronological ordering, the stories themselves often aren’t directly related to each other. Instead, each chapter paints a portrait of an interesting character Adams met, or divulges a valuable lesson he learned, working like short stories in and of themselves. Adams's prose is eloquent yet unfussy, controlled yet never strained, characterized by a touching humanity that makes the reader feel everything the author is feeling.

One compelling throughline is Adams’s love of literature and music, especially his passion for jazz. His account of meeting the singer Abbie Hart at the storied Lighthouse club in California’s Hermosa Beach, and subsequently covering her career for Downbeat—and then eventually marrying her—is a breezy pleasure, pulsing with life and evocative of a long-gone milieu that, fortunately, we still can touch through recordings and stories like this. “I felt unhinged with happiness,” Adams writes. Lovers of humane short stories—trading in family, love and loss—and memoirs will enjoy this book, which is extremely pure and evocative.

Takeaway: This arresting memoir bursts with life, insight, and an infectious love of jazz and writing.

Great for fans of: Scott Yanow’s Life Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist, Lee Smith’s Dimestore: A Writer's Life.

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

Click here for more about As Time Goes By
The Elk in the Glade: The World of Pioneer and Painter Jennie Hicks
Bruce E Whitacre
In this richly descriptive book of poetry, Whitacre examines the life of landscape painter Jennie Hicks, who sold her work out of her home for more than 30 years. He starts with some background on Hicks—she and her family lived in southwest Nebraska for most of the twentieth century, giving them a chronologically broad yet distinctly Midwestern perspective on U.S. history. Hicks was also Whitacre’s great-grandmother, and his poems serve as artful retellings of the stories he heard growing up. “She loves to tell,” he writes in “Jennie at Thanksgiving.” “She grows younger in telling / about blizzards, sod houses, wagons fording the river, / until we are called to the long table in the narrow room.”

That sense of place, history, and domesticity glows throughout these absorbing verses, as Whitacre captures the bittersweet essence of Hicks’ challenging and at times traumatic life. As a child, her pioneer father dragged her mostly unwilling family from Ohio to the Nebraska prairie, and a sense of longing for home and family would follow her for the rest of her life. What stands out most are the little scenes that bring Hicks’ heartache and simple pleasures colorfully to life. In “Christmas Oranges,” she is delighted when her father gives the family a bowl of citrus fruit: “the only ones any of them would eat that year.” The poems follow Hicks as she learns to paint, marries—and later buries—her husband, and eventually grows old.

The book also includes several of Hicks’ oil paintings, which depict the mountains she left behind as a child along with various types of wildlife and forests of evergreen trees jutting toward the sky. Side by side with the paintings, Whitacre’s book serves as a deeply personal yet relatable account of one woman’s life and turn-of-the-century lifestyle—and clearly demonstrates why this talented painter and pioneer stands as someone to remember.

Takeaway: These richly descriptive and affecting poems examine the life of Midwestern landscape painter Jennie Hicks.

Great for fans of: Laura Donnelly, New Poetry from the Midwest.

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

Click here for more about The Elk in the Glade
Eye of the Ocelot
Volta Rose
Centered on the illicit international trade in endangered animals, Rose’s debut mystery, the first in the Abigail Fiorelli series, is a pleasing read. Former cop Roger Lemieux finds the grisly remains of an ocelot in a canal and reports it to Abigail Fiorelli, who immediately starts an investigation. The evidence points towards a wealthy and powerful cult, the Artemisians, worshippers of the Greek goddess Artemis. Abby is assisted by retired cop Roger and forensics expert Andrew Coleman, who as a Black, gay officer feels somewhat alienated from the force. After dangerous encounters with the cult, she comes to know of an important meeting scheduled and makes elaborate plans to apprehend the shadowy culprits.

Rose’s prose adapts wonderfully to the setting. It is tense and terse in encounters and chase sequences, but also languid and evocative describing Abby’s birding treks. The clues are also nicely detailed and placed, though Rose splits the focus, especially later in the novel, between this engaging, upsetting mystery and Abby’s coping with grief and loss. The cult rituals—lit candles, exotic meat, flowing tunics, rhythmic dance as backdrop to sex on an altar—are familiar but still creepy, and the interplay between Abby and her cohort often thoughtful, even tender, building the reader engagement in the team and their lives that it takes to build a series upon.

The steps of the investigation balance the everyday mundanity of policework and the tense anticipation of more active steps. “Don’t be a hero,” Abby’s police chief warns her, in the buildup to one confrontation with the Artemisians, and the question of what she’ll do feels as pressing as what to expect from her targets. Readers who prefer swift pacing should be aware that Rose digs deep into Abby’s relationships during this buildup, though even this at-times touching material ultimately feeds the suspense: “One distracted moment,” she muses, “could mean someone getting hurt or even killed.” This promising series starter offers detection and character depth.

Takeaway: A character-rich mystery series starter taking on the illegal trade in endangered animals.

Great for fans of: Will Staples’s Animals, Brian Klingborg’s Wild Prey.

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

Click here for more about Eye of the Ocelot
The Excursion: A gripping suspense thriller with heart
Tony Freeburg
Paine (The Resentment) shines in this dark thriller of hunters, class war, and remote mountain terror. Charly Highsmith has led a challenging life: due to her mother’s years of spending the rent money on drugs and alcohol, Charly and her autistic brother Jacob at times lived on the streets in Denver. But on her deathbed, Joan Highsmith tells her daughter that her long-missing father has died and left his Rocky Mountain cabin, along with his estate, to Charly and Jacob. Charly’s family last used the cabin the summer her parents divorced and her father abandoned the family. Excited to visit the cabin, Charly organizes a reunion with her annoyingly perfect cousins Amanda and Cam for nostalgia’s sake.

Not for the faint of heart, Paine’s perfectly paced, diabolically clever plot delivers effective twists and turns—including a truly shocking, gasp-worthy surprise at the story’s end. The suspense starts with Charly and Jacob’s arrival. Turns out the cabin’s already in use by a mysterious man named Randall Thorne, who claims that his company owns the property. Randall organizes private excursions for hunters, and has planned one for a smarmy millionaire, Barry Rockwell, who has arrived at the cabin with his social-media influencer girlfriend Kennedy McCallister. Horrifyingly, it soon becomes clear that Rockwell (and author Paine, for that matter) are capable of much darker schemes than Charly and Jacob expect: that these hunting trips aren’t targeting animal prey—they’re after a more dangerous game, and all hell breaks loose when Charly discovers the jolting truth.

Paine does a masterful job of creating characters who evoke strong emotional responses, whether that’s to love them or hate them, all while ramping up the tension and the body count while maintaining plausibility. This devious, horrific tale will stay with lovers of suspense long after the final page is turned.

Takeaway: This dark thriller delivers heart-pounding twists that will grip readers.

Great for fans of: John Saul, Patrick Lestewka’s The Preserve.

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

Click here for more about The Excursion
Mickey Collins
Kevin Forde
Forde (The Leaving Cert) serves up a mix of crime and punishment with this voice-driven, stream-of-consciousness tale set in Ireland and penned in the tradition of that island’s great novelists. Mickey Collins, the son of pregnant drug dealer Tanya Collins, lives on the outskirts of society, viewing as simply part of everyday life things such as shoplifting, random violence, suicide, dropping out of school, and jail sentences where cellmates smoke heroin, inmates are beaten merely for sport, and an elaborate caste system reigns. Forde leads readers through two decades of Mickey’s life, recounting a hardscrabble existence that shows how a disadvantaged life evolves.

Mickey’s hard-edged, offhandedly lyric, richly Irish voice powers the novel, the sentences like something you might overhear from the best storyteller in the pub. The prose steeps readers in Mickey’s mind, moments, and milieu—and demands, over dense monologuing paragraphs of “I tell ya”s and idiomatic expression, that they either sink or swim. A vital comic spirit brightens the material, especially as Mickey recounts youthful dustups and scrapes, like getting caught “​​thrun the chicken nuggets deliberately” out a hotel window, or pretending to sell The Big Issue and then hitting up pedestrians for fifty pence for making them smile. His character portraits, quick and cutting, delight throughout, full people captured in a minimum of words.

Forde offers striking insight into the realities of addiction and how easy it is for a user to need more and more: “every hit of heroin was like a tiny bit smaller than the last one,” Mickey tells us, adding “usually, after a while it wouldn’t barely get you into the sky.” Forde also adds depth and nuance to Mickey’s character as he muses about his exploits with his baby sister, Jordan SueAnne—tellingly, our protagonist has no problem with selling and consuming drugs during their outings, but he draws the line at changing nappies. Forde’s style requires a close reading to keep up, but its authenticity and deep humanity shine through every word.

Takeaway: Readers who enjoy voice-driven Irish literary storytelling will devour this account of a wild life.

Great for fans of: Mike McCormack, Rob Doyle.

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

Click here for more about Mickey Collins
Joint Venture
Carol Rhees
Rhees’s debut pits the fraught debates of dispensing legalized marijuana against the backdrop of small-town dynamics. Alice and Helen, both raised in Poplar Point, have led two very different lives: Alice, every bit a freethinker, stayed in town, content to live a quiet, provincial life, while the more popular and worldly Helen moved away, until a cheating spouse and her adult daughter, Kim, bring her back to town. When Alice’s son, Bear, wants to open a marijuana dispensary in his father’s old store, Helen quickly seizes on the idea as a way to be financially successful without her husband.

Despite the premise and punning title, Joint Venture shouldn’t be classified as a work only of interest to readers fascinated by debates over legalization, as the end result is a comic but emotionally complex story with well-developed characters readers will enjoy laughing with and rooting for. The relationship between Alice and Helen, acrimonious to begin with, is immediately tested when they form an uneasy truce to start a business together. Both bring valuable insight to the project, but their plans also whip the small community of Poplar Point into a frenzy. Many people stand to benefit from the store, but the local Reverend Larson rallies supporters of his own to squash the initiative. Despite these roadblocks, the two forge ahead—until an unknown danger knocks on the door, putting their lives—and those of their loved ones—at risk.

Rhees chooses a timely and unconventional focus, but the evolving relationship between Alice and Helen proves to be the true heart of the story. The exploration of how two very different women work to find a common ground is an important one, and Rhees shows how close and contentious small town communities can be—both fighting against each other and rallying around beloved members in need.

Takeaway: Opening a small-town marijuana shop brings longtime enemies together while driving the community apart.

Great for fans of: T.C. Boyle’s Budding Prospects: A Pastoral , Fiona Mozley’s Hot Stew.

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

Click here for more about Joint Venture
A Bounty of Bone: A novel inspired by real events
PG Lengsfelder
Lengsfelder (Beautiful To The Bone) crafts a thrilling story about a woman haunted by her past who undertakes an incredible journey in order to save a young woman's life. Eunis’s albinism draws many looks from strangers, and she also has an uncanny connection with the weather—and to rain in particular. That curious skill informs her work at the Weather One TV channel, who dispatches her to South Africa on an assignment that, for Eunis, is soon overshadowed by her discovery that the niece of her surrogate mother has been kidnapped and maimed in Tanzania. Circumstances separate Eunis from her workmates, so she decides to try and find the girl and help her.

What follows is a crisply told seat-of-the-pants adventure with welcome environmental and humanitarian concerns. Eunis gets mixed up in the ramifications of the illegal timber trade flowing out of Tanzania and becomes reluctant allies with an enigmatic man named Mr. Ngowa. Though viewed as bad luck in most places, in Tanzania, she learns the shocking truth, ripped from real-world headlines, that people with albinism have been butchered for supernatural reasons. Lengsfelder introduces a host of inventive dangers (plane crash, sharks, deprivation, disease, and much more) as Eunis pursues the thinnest of threads in her search for the girl—and discovers her own power.

A Bounty of Bone keeps the reader off-balance with a series of jolting events, riding the edge between coincidence and the supernatural. The climax, which builds to near-Biblical proportions, is astonishing in its audacity and daring. While kept off-balance for most of the story, Eunis is far from a victim, and her ultimate triumph against a mysterious hunter called the Hyena is cleverly written. The result is an intense journey for both Eunis and the reader, as she sheds her reticence and fully embraces her true self for the first time, and the reader is treated to a visceral adventure.

Takeaway: Intricate mystery plotting and supernatural surprises make this Tanzanian adventure stand out.

Great for fans of: Minka Kent’s The Stillwater Girls, Christine Pride and Jo Piazza’s We Are Not Like Them.

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

Click here for more about A Bounty of Bone
Impossible To Be Human: A Novel
Robert Kalich
The pandemic, political chaos, and questions of what it takes to do good in the world dominate Kalich’s second followup to The Handicapper, his vivid 1981 novel about a cantor’s gambler son who puts together a winning sports handicapping system that makes him rich and a public figure. Now, in this exciting and wholly unpredictable second sequel (after 2019’s David Lazar), the one-time handicapper is back, a wealthy octogenarian facing aging, his latter-years zeal to make sure his life meant something, and the moral quandary of his friendship with the novel’s unexpected guest star: “Duck,” the impeachment-facing businessman president of the United States, an old acquaintance and ranting, Lear-like crank.

Kalich deftly illuminates the drift of mind of a regretful millionaire reflecting back, a man who marched in the Civil Rights efforts of the 1960s but who recognizes little has changed … and whose family is disappointed by his relationship with a president whose policies he hates. (He’d rather spend his time thinking about baseball and reading Clarice Lispector than talking to Duck.) As before, Kalich’s storytelling is sharp-elbowed but thoughtful, committed to exposing persuasive real-life details and ethical quandaries. The air is more rarified than in the grubby world of The Handicapper—but still rank. As Covid deaths accumulate, the president wants Lazar’s help in connecting with a Global Health startup that stands as one of Lazar’s great investments. But Duck’s not looking for international cooperation on Covid treatment; instead, it’s all business opportunities.

That business will profit Lazar of course, though he’s increasingly disgusted by it. He knew Duck when he “was receiving a million-dollar-a-year allowance from his racist father” and proving to be a “liar and cheat” in real estate— and as he becomes the president’s sounding board, in scenes that read like real-life eavesdropping on the nation’s most powerful men, Lazar find Duck’s worst qualities have not abated. The tension rises from whether Lazar will—or even can—try to change things. The ending is a surprising jolt, hopeful and cutting at once, compelling literary comedy laced with truth and outrage.

Takeaway: This surprising novel finds a sports handicapper, 40 years later, as the confidante of the pandemic-era president.

Great for fans of: Curtis Sittenfeld, Carl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me.

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

Click here for more about Impossible To Be Human

Loading...