Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Pickoff: A Novel
GP Hutchinson
Set in Roaring Twenties Chicago, this swift-moving actioner follows major league catcher Joe Rath as he copes with rivalries on his team, recent fatherhood and his troubled marriage, and temptingly beautiful singer Amie Dawes, who involves him with gangsters. A depressed Joe tries to help Amie escape from her abusive mobster boyfriend even as team tensions and his demotion to second string lead to fist fights. Amie's boyfriend becomes increasingly jealous of the relationship between Joe and Amie, and the ballplayers find themselves facing a violent showdown as Joe has to decide what's important in his life: his family, his career, or Amie.

Hutchinson's love of baseball comes through in every ballgame scene, and sports aficionados will relish the descriptions, pulled off with such panache that even nonfans will find themselves drawn in. Equally accomplished are the scenes in speakeasies and the period argot: “Did you see the gams on those Shebas?” Joe's introduction to the seductive Amie has a deft, noirish touch about it. The plot is a little thin, and Joe's transformation into an avenging angel may be a bit over the top—how do ballplayers become such adept fighters?—but the bloody action scenes between gangsters and ballplayers are nicely choreographed.

Anchoring all the busy action scenes is Joe's character, a study in contrasts. From the beginning, it's clear he's a devoted family man delighting in his child, but he's also a tough athlete. His internal struggle becomes clear as he finds himself increasingly attracted to Amie and the two of them walk a fine line between friendship and romance. Joe thinks he is platonically comforting her: "With his hand still in hers…she nestled against him." But then he realizes: "Maybe not so safe." The richness of Joe's character and the unusual professional sports setting elevate this book above the usual gangster melodrama, and readers will find themselves caring deeply about Joe, Amie and their friends.

Takeaway: Sports and crime-fiction fans alike will enjoy this 1920s major league thriller.

Great for fans of: Dick Francis, William L. DeAndrea’s Five O'Clock Lightning.

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

Click here for more about Pickoff
Bipolar Basics: Unpacking the Nuances and Understanding Solutions
Tracey I Marks
Organized for easy access and understanding, psychiatrist Marks’s debut is a practical guide to the defining characteristics of bipolar disorder, the disorder’s effective treatments, and how to differentiate it from other mental health disorders. Marks debunks the pervasive myths that link recurring depression to bipolar disorder, demonstrating instead that actual bipolar disorder is marked by mania or hypomania. From there, she shortlists crucial symptoms and warning signs, introducing readers to the facts about bipolar disorder while steering them in the direction of potential treatments and lifestyle changes to manage it.

Readers well-seasoned in mental health literature may find this introductory guide occasionally simplified, but Marks effectively breaks down a complex topic for novice mental health readers, cutting through jargon and clearly defining key terms. For those curious about telling bipolar apart from other disorders, such as anxiety or borderline personality, Marks acknowledges the areas of overlap while illuminating the disparities with clear, memorable metaphors: Manifestations of bipolar disorder, Marks notes, can feel episodic, something like “the unexpected arrival of bad weather,” while the racing thoughts that often come with the disorder can feel like a “time-lapse video of a blooming flower where the petals just keep coming.” Marks also surveys bright light therapy, lithium prescription, and other common treatment modalities, and includes a helpful aside covering why medication compliance is essential for stabilization.

Brochure-style illustrations help to clarify key concepts and provide readers with reference points for important takeaway information, and the bipolar management strategies are uncomplicated and easy to follow. Marks offers a six-step suicide safety plan that could save lives (“Step Three: Identify Social Contacts or Settings That Distract You From the Crisis”), though some might argue that the guide downplays the danger of “passive” suicidal thoughts. Other vital resources include a comprehensive relapse prevention plan that addresses triggers, reactions, and potential interventions/replacement behaviors.Those seeking initial advice about recognizing and treating bipolar disorder will appreciate this clear, user-friendly guide.

Takeaway: A helpful entry-level look at bipolar disorder’s common characteristics and potential treatment options.

Great for fans of: Carlin Barnes and Marketa Wills’s Understanding Mental Illness, Aimee Daramus’s Understanding Bipolar Disorder.

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

Click here for more about Bipolar Basics
Transformation in Times of Crisis
Nitin Rakesh & Jerry Wind
Rakesh and Wind’s timely primer offers strategies for capitalizing on opportunities during crises and relays a careful assessment of how leveraging trends and consumer preferences can help businesses navigate the post-pandemic market. Replete with actionable, practical advice and up-to-date analysis, Transformation in Times of Crisis centers on the authors’ eight principles for “creating principle and value” in the world after Covid, principles crafted to guide businesses, marketing teams, and others in revitalizing approaches toward technology and talent while keeping an adaptive organizational perspective. Interdependent chapters steadily build the authors’ cases on sustainability, centering the customer, embracing digital transformation, and the process of implementing changes. The authors cast an attentive eye toward the global market—especially the U.S. and India—and break down with welcome clarity the factors that lead to recent success for start-ups and established companies.

In accessible, energetic prose, Rakesh and Wind urge readers to consider any disruptive change as an opportunity to reexamine the values and goals of their ventures. While they employ some familiar examples, such as Amazon, to demonstrate how companies found silver linings in a grim climate, they also shine a light on how smaller businesses like cleaning services, delivery services, and grocery stores have stepped up to challenges—“changed their mental model”—and thrived, always showing the research that backs up their arguments. The authors, a CEO and an academic, spare readers dense jargon and instead pepper the text with flowcharts, images, tables, self-assessment tools, and questions for reflection, bridging disciplines and making the long chapters approachable.

Citing case histories of companies like Pixar, Jio Platforms, Apple, Microsoft, and a host of start-ups, Rakesh and Wind's comprehensive and optimistic roadmap (“While there is a lull in business activities, you can map out and push toward a customer-centric digital transformation of your organization”) offers clear-eyed insight into the evolving economy that will aid businesses, leaders, and general readers in managing risks and opportunities.

Takeaway: A compelling guide to turning disruption into opportunity during difficult economic times.

Great for fans of: Susan Kahn’s Bounce Back: How to Fail Fast and be Resilient at Work, Edward Segal and Nicholas Brealey’s Crisis Ahead.

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

Click here for more about Transformation in Times of Crisis
Mermaid Tears
Susan L Read
Read’s debut, the first in a series centered on a New England middle school, is a sensitive, heartfelt account of a young girl’s journey toward mental health. Fifth-grader Sarah loves reading, crafts, playing with her friends, and mermaids, but while her interests are typical, her behavior is increasingly not. She begins to feel like her actions are out of her control —and when she enters middle school, she struggles with grades, friendships, and erratic behavior outbursts that she can’t explain. Sarah decides everyone would be better off if she were to leave, but after sharing her feelings with a homeroom teacher, she discovers a new path forward.

Read’s experience as an educator is reflected in her skillful depiction of Sarah’s middle school happenings—from the pressures of the cafeteria to the awkwardness of the “boy-girl thing,” she captures the essence of day-to-day student life. Though the narrative voice is more mature and formal than the average middle school student, Sarah expresses age-appropriate, authentic priorities and concerns. Some readers will wish for more details on Sarah’s everyday struggles, but the frustration, guilt, fear, and pain that these incidents cause her are described in rich detail.

Read captures these feelings most effectively in poems embedded throughout the story, resonant interludes that distill Sarah’s emotions while expressing her love for mermaids and the power and freedom they represent—a stark contrast to her own life. But alongside its poetry, the novel offers a down-to-earth look at the realities of experiencing mental illness at this age, as well as how important teachers, friends, and family are for children who are facing such challenges. Sarah’s story is both genuine and inspiring, and readers will root for her as she learns to recognize and harness her own power.

Takeaway: Middle school students and their parents will enjoy this novel’s empathetic, honest exploration of mental health.

Great for fans of: Christine Day’s The Sea in Winter, Lisa Thompson’s The Goldfish Boy, Jack Gantos’s Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.

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

Click here for more about Mermaid Tears
Susan A Jane Austen Prequel: A Jane Austen Prequel
Simon McVeigh
Novelist, editor, and ghostwriter McVeigh (While the Music Lasts) offers an outstanding addition to the canon of Jane Austen-inspired fiction with this utterly charming period novel, a prequel to Austen’s sharp-elbowed Lady Susan. Poor and orphaned, Susan Smithson is 16 and living in London with her uncle George, an attorney, and her aunt Emily. After being booted from her school due to unseemly rumors, Susan is dispatched to rural Hunsford, Kent, to live with her aunt Charlotte, her beloved cousin Alicia, and her rector uncle William — but not before catching the fancy of formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who fashions herself to be Susan’s mentor. Shenanigans abound in Kent, including producing a play, secret engagements, and a surprising death, not to mention a reversal of fortune for several characters.

McVeigh’s Austenesque prose and plotting are pitch-perfect, and in fact many readers will forget they’re reading the words of a contemporary novelist. One chapter opens, “Lady Catherine, who prided herself on her timeliness, expected to leave for the country at half-eleven, and by half-ten was already harrying her servants, berating her coachmen and confusing her maids, while Susan sat quietly in the drawing-room, pretending to be immersed in a book.” Susan, of course, is a mischievous and clever heroine in the tradition of Austen’s pluckiest characters, and McVeigh populates her story with a cast of first-rate supporting characters, especially Susan’s cousin Alicia, who in the end provides the biggest surprise of the tale.

McVeigh’s depiction of Regency society and class castes rings true on every page, offering a clear picture of how restrictive circumstances were for anyone not rich, white, and male. (She also demonstrates the outrages that society allowed privileged men to get away with.) While this title will be catnip to dedicated Austen fans, even new initiates into her work will be captivated by this lively tale.

Takeaway:This exceptionally crafted Austen-inspired novel echoes the master herself.

Great for fans of: Jane Austen, Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, Jo Baker’s Longbourn.

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

Click here for more about Susan A Jane Austen Prequel
The Flower Boat Girl: A novel based on a true story
Larry Feign
Feign, the cartoonist and writer, immerses readers in this historical fiction based on the life of a nineteenth-century sex worker who is kidnapped by pirates—and later marries one of their number. In early 19th century China, Shek Yang is sold into prostitution by her father and eventually kidnapped by pirate captain Cheng Yat, the “a sea scum bandit” who forces her into marriage and gives her the name Cheng Yat Sou— “Cheng Yat’s honored wife.” She endures rape by her husband, becomes pregnant despite seeking preventive measures, and yearns for freedom. Cheng Yat Sou nevertheless uses her intelligence and business acumen to achieve tremendous success as his business partner in a profitable pirate confederation.

The fast-paced plotting, focused on the tenacity of a woman who survives horrific circumstances, and Feign’s evocative prose and attention to detail quickly makes the narrative compelling: “Maybe only prison was more colorless, boring, and worm-ridden than spending day after day on a moving ship, but at least prison offered shelter from late summer sun and squall,” the protagonist memorably declares. Feign endows his characters with persuasive voices, illuminating the driving forces behind their cutthroat choices and imbuing their histories with meaning and depth. Convincing historic detail regarding maritime life, the 19th century economy, and the story’s far-flung locations brings life to a world of seafaring danger and struggles for dominance. The abuse elements of the narrative are handled with sensitivity.

While some historical novels seem so rooted in the past that their relevance is not clear to present day readers, Feign shrewdly ties his narrative of 19th century China to contemporary life by focusing on how relationships are shaped by circumstance and experiences. References to poetry and thought-provoking insights (“You can’t sail backward, so why worry about the waves behind you?”) add lyricism as this story of a woman’s resilience surges toward a conclusion that will satisfy lovers of thoughtful historical fiction.

Takeaway: A compelling novel of the resilience of a 19th-century woman forced into marriage to a pirate.

Great for fans of: Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women, Amy Stanley’s Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and her World.

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

Click here for more about The Flower Boat Girl
Mission in Paris 1990
Bill Pearl
Pearl’s sequel to Hearts on Fire, Paris 1968 again finds Robert Samberg at the center of real-world conflict between west and east, this time following the one-time student firebrand tasked by the U.S. government during the first Bush administration with a mission of reconciliation. Samberg, now a high-rolling radio tycoon, gets dispatched to Hanoi and then Paris to lead back channel negotiations aimed at restoring diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Vietnam, 22 years after having served as a secret go-between for Lyndon Johnson and Le Duc Tho. Complicating matters, as always, are politics, business, and the heart, as Samberg discovers that the representative of the Vietnam he will be facing is My Hanh, the Vietnamese woman who broke his heart in the ‘60s–and whose son, a young firebrand, has Samberg’s eyes.

Swift paced and committed to realism, Pearl’s follow-up boasts sharp, thoughtful dialogue pitting ideologies against each other. At an awkward meeting, An, Hanh’s son, denounces the “collective responsibility” and “rhetorical progressivism” of Americans, while Samberg, an anti-war Democrat, finds himself on the defensive, accused of culpability for a tragedy he risked his life to stop. “I grew up,” Samberg replies when Hanh asks how a leader of France’s 1968 student revolution could become a proud capitalist; the tension between Samberg’s self regard and how Hanh sees him adds nuance and power to their scenes.

Those scenes move so quickly, though, with shocking revelations and vituperative accusations, that the emotional beats don’t always land. Pearl reports what Samberg says in these tense moments, but doesn’t always plumb his mind and heart. Elsewhere, descriptive passages engaged with history pulse with emotion, evoking pain, weight, and even beauty of history. When the story turns violent, Pearl avoids fantasy, understanding that it’s the brutal risk of heroism that makes it heroic, a wise touch in a novel that will appeal to readers eager to face history.

Takeaway: A fast-paced and realistic novel of an American facing the legacy of the Vietnam War.

Great for fans of: Donald Anderson’s Aftermath: An Anthology of Post-Vietnam Fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer.

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

Click here for more about Mission in Paris 1990
Breathe & Swim Deep
Jenna Marcus
Marcus (My Unusual Talent) delivers a timely and moving ode to the lengths we will go for our family. Wolfgang loves two things more than anything else: reading and his brother, Van Gogh. When their father dies unexpectedly from Covid-19, the brothers set out to find their last known living relative—their mother, who left them eleven years before. The boys embark on a journey from Florida to New York, the last place they know that she had lived, with a wad of cash and a few enticing clues: annotated paperback books Wolfgang discovered in his dad’s closet and a keepsake box.

The fast pacing carries readers along nicely, though given the novel’s short length, the ending feels rushed. The real strength of this story lies in Wolfgang and Van Gogh’s relationship and their journey to learn secrets about their family while delving into self-discovery at the same time —their joint race against sickness, vulnerability, and family destruction is heart-rending in its authenticity. Ultimately, Wolfgang develops trust in himself, rather than just relying on his big brother to protect him.

The bond between Wolfgang and Van Gogh is justifiably front and center, and Marcus invests such detail in it that side characters, even those important to the story line, are not fully fleshed out by comparison. Some feel flat, such as the boys’ father, who is presented without much nuance as a Covid denying Trump supporter, his political orientation coming across not as a trait to explore and attempt to understand but as shorthand for his simply being a bad person. This portrayal is sure to be polarizing, especially as he’s at the heart of the story: The boys’ rocky and strained relationship with him wreaks havoc on their other relationship dynamics. Still, teen readers looking for realistic contemporary adventure and strong sibling dynamics will delight in the Thomas brothers’ quick-moving journey.

Takeaway: A fast-paced and timely exploration of brotherly love in the midst of family and political turmoil.

Great for fans of: Gayle Forman’s if I Stay, Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere.

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

Click here for more about Breathe & Swim Deep
A Grimoire Dark: A Supernatural Thriller (The Spirit Hunter Series Book 1)
D.S. Quinton
Set in early-1960’s Louisiana, the first installment in Quinton’s Spirit Hunter series follows Delphine Larouche – known as Del – as she leaves the St. Augustine orphanage with Jimmy, a ten-year-old boy with mental disabilities that she has taken under her wing. Del, an orphan herself, dreams of becoming a reporter and saving enough money for a house, but her life is disrupted when she tags along with Frank, a private investigator, on a call. Bodies are turning up in the swamp, and soon she’s caught up in trying to identify the source of the killings. Skeptical of Vodou (which she calls "Voodoo"), Del believes it might be a serial killer, but it soon becomes evident that dark magic is terrorizing the community and the dead themselves are rising.

Quinton offers evocative descriptions of an old New Orleans where in the cemeteries “Above-ground crypts, white as decaying bone, lay in repose in close, straight rows,” and he’s adept at crafting creepy images that stay with the reader, such as a skull that appears to “have been licked clean.” The novel is alive with the fascinating particulars of Vodou, such as gris charms and dolls that bite, though some everyday period and personality details that would help anchor key characters like Jimmy and Frank come a little too late.

Some readers may find it curious and distracting that some of the characters are written speaking in a strong Creole dialect (“I got isshoo’s a’right”) especially as Del, who grew up in the same region, does not do so herself. Structurally, the novel is sound, though it takes a while for the story to get going, with many violent acts being committed while the cast gets introduced and Del and Frank spin their wheels. Those who enjoy evocative prose and taking their time in a richly atmospheric magical world will enjoy this series kickoff.

Takeaway: Vodou with a touch of noir in this promising bayou urban fantasy.

Great for fans of: Theophilus Monroe, Adrian Phoenix’s Black Dust Mambo, John Everson’s Voodoo Heart.

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

Oval Man
Mary M Davis Gage
Gage debuts with an educational delight, filled with vibrant illustrations that pop with color and playful shapes. Triangularus, a monster from the planet Isosceles formed entirely of green triangles, despairs that where he’s from “all the food has three corners and tastes like garbage grease.” So, he hops in his Right Rocket and embarks on a quest for three-pointed food boasting taste and texture–which leads him to target Earth and its legendary delicacy, pizza. Meanwhile, Oval Man, the story’s hero and owner of a spaceship named Sweet Tater, lives on Ovaliscious with his wife Ovalah (who happens to be the planet’s president) and dog Ovaltina. He takes on the job of hunting down Triangularus to spoil his theft of Earth’s pizza from its hungry school children.

Light and somewhat lilting prose moves readers quickly through the tale’s simple plot. Educational concepts appropriate to children in the higher range of picture book years are peppered throughout, while scientific and astronomical references–from the Milky Way galaxy to Mars’s lack of water–play nicely alongside the narrative’s emphasis on geometry. The characters are appealingly rendered, and the painted starscapes in the scenes of intergalactic travel are eye-popping, sometimes drawing focus from the text. Gage and illustrator Anya Louise Davis round out the book by including an art lesson at the end, giving readers the opportunity to draw their own figure made only of ovals, just like the cheery and courageous protagonist.

Gage’s simplistic, albeit catchy nomenclature is one area in which this gem falls short–though the invented proper nouns are memorable, their repetition quickly becomes overwhelming. The somewhat elevated vocabulary may challenge young readers and their caregivers, but will also provide learning opportunities. However, this story’s cool gizmos and delightfully named spacecraft, not to mention the slight cliffhanger ending, ensure this playful tale will be an entertaining bedtime reading.

Takeaway: A fun, brightly colored geometrical adventure for younger children.

Great for fans of: Aviaq Johnston’s What’s My Superpower?, Claire Evans’s The Three Little Superpigs.

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

Click here for more about Oval Man
HERE WE GO LOOP DE LOOP
William Jack Sibley
Set in the south Texas town of Rita Blanca, where the Dairy Queen is still “the locus of all things essential to civil existence,” Sibley’s boisterous comic novel blends small-town satire and humanist warmth as it unspools its tales of isolated people learning to love. At the heart of the sprawling townie cast is Marty Pennebaker, recalled from her Manhattan career to oversee 50,000 acres and care for her ailing rancher father. Marty has been carrying on in secret with Pettus Lyndecker, the strapping son of a broke and occasionally criminal family; Pettus’s sisters run a flower shop in town facing competition from a well-heeled neighbor’s new rival store. As that conflict heads toward possible violence, a handsome man from Monterrey, Mexico, arrives in town bearing a check for $250 thousand dollars–and a surprise connection to Marty’s deceased brother, Tom.

Sibley seems to relish crashing his characters into each other’s lives and letting the sparks fly. His prose is sharp and evocative–witness the “hard, flat, hot, and cruel” landscape of mesquite trees and barbed wire–and offers epigrammatic jewels: “[I]n Texas nearly everyone claimed to be Christian, from bank robbers to topless dancers.” A screenwriter and playwright, he reveals story and character through the kind of comic dialogue and incidents that people who aren’t from a place might think are exaggerated—and that people who are from a place are usually too polite to dish to outsiders.

A funny thing happens, though, as the story moves through its weddings, funerals, crimes, confrontations, and surprise romances. Sibley reveals open hearts and minds among his cast, reminding readers not to assume that small-town means simple. “Caught in all this vastness, this stillness, day after day, year after year–it’ll turn you mad as a snared coyote,” one character muses. At its best, Here We Go finds these snared coyotes daring to find new ways to love.

Takeaway: A satirical small-town Texas comedy with welcome, surprising heart.

Great for fans of: Cathie Pelletier, Donald Harrington.

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

Click here for more about HERE WE GO LOOP DE LOOP
The Jesus Nut
John Prather
Prather’s brisk, lighthearted satirical novel doesn’t condemn organized religion per se as it targets three individuals who fail to live up to their own ideals. Religious Studies Professor Haley Berkshire rejects all belief systems and denies the existence of any deity. Berkshire’s sin is pride, her PhD functioning as revenge against an anti-intellectual family. When she uncovers an apocryphal gospel rejected from inclusion in the Bible (The Gospel According to Trevor), Berkshire fixates on its account of Jesus enduring a heretofore unknown wound during the crucifixion. “As God is my witness,” she declares at an academic conference, “I will discover the Testicle of Christ!”

Her quest for this holy relic attracts several followers, eager to renew their faith. Catholic priest Brian William Callum Robert O’Shea faces lust for the first time in decades and steps onto a slippery slope by befriending perky stripper Simone, who joins him on an eye-opening road trip. Homeless veteran Jesse Morales worries about sloth, convinced he’s the Second Coming of Christ–and an ineffectual messiah at that. His odyssey activates long dormant memories, and forces him to confront stifling fears. While Berkshire and O’Shea maintain a scholarly distance, Morales lives out their conviction that religion’s true purpose is engendering compassion.

Prather (The Adminisphere) on occasion unleashes the scathing incredulity of a merciless satirist like Carl Hiaasen, but for the most part he displays genuine affection for his bewildered characters. (Not so much for moralizing evangelists like Jerry Falwell Jr.) After expressing self-doubt, O’Shea and Morales are rewarded with bittersweet acknowledgments of imperfection, though Berkshire’s intractable righteousness makes her transformation more nuanced. She becomes known as The Jesus Nut for pursuing it, and must rethink her own views about belief. The quixotic journey provides, if not enlightenment, at least some unexpected blessings in Prather’s funny and charitable satire of religious zealotry and moral certitude.

Takeaway: This irreverent but empathetic satire offers a comic look at flawed humans in the pursuit of God.

Great for fans of: Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Roland Merullo’s Breakfast With Buddha.

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

Click here for more about The Jesus Nut
Dark and Light Verse
Allen Lee Ireland
Ireland (Loners and Mothers) deftly balances conventional poetic form with complex, idiosyncratic topics in his second collection of poems. In the opening dedication, Ireland introduces his work as being “for all the carriers of light,” an apt invitation as each of this volume’s sections reflects and refracts a variety of emotions and topics connected to concepts of light and dark. Within that framework, poems here offer electric descriptions of outer space, ruminations about academia, and heartfelt reflections on motherhood. While his topics are varied, Ireland utilizes rhythm and rhyme via sonnets, limericks, and other forms to weave this collection together.

Like a pastel sky shifting to twilight or dawn, these poems are layered--light shines through darkness, and dark hides beneath light. These “light[s] and dark[s]” are sometimes literal and sometimes symbolic. Ireland often complicates what these opposite forces usually represent; in “Chinese Box,” for example, darkness provides safety and comfort, as a way to hide trauma: “Put bad memories in a box, / And lock it with a hundred locks, / Then stuff it deep in a trap-door safe / That not a soul, not even you, / Knows the combination to. / Then leave the room, and lock that, too.” The emotional darkness of a cemetery is painted in a surprisingly light, celebratory tone in “May Day:” “Such celebration is there round his grave! / The birds are singing, a cacophony / Of different keys. The wind is like a wave, / And all the flowers are tossing in its sea.” While there is ample beauty and sophistication in these symbolic depictions, Ireland’s skill also shines in his poetic portraits of famous figures such as Heath Ledger, Neil Armstrong, and the fictional Nurse Ratched.

Ireland recognizes that we live in a complex world. Through their moments of beauty and pain, his poems remind us that “Not even the universe is eternal. / But isn't it close enough?”

Takeaway: Dreamy descriptions of the natural world, with a tight command of rhythm and rhyme.

Great for fans of: Gregory Orr, Richard Wilbur, C.R. Schwab.

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

Click here for more about Dark and Light Verse
Unsung Heroes: Volume 1
Kyle Gurkovich
Brave heroes think on their feet as they traverse time in a quest to save the world in Gurkovich’s adventure-packed debut novel. In 10th century Ireland, 23-year-old Cathal is an expert with the bow and worries his mother with his thrill seeking. Crowley, an elderly woodcutter, inducts the husky hunter into a centuries-old war: Crowley explains that godlike entities called Greater Beings were divided into the good Elluna ruled by Viktor and the evil Tarnok ruled by Terranos, each with their human army of worshippers on Earth. The Greater Beings put their collective powers into five God Stones for safekeeping in case of another Tarnok uprising, but the Tarnok stole and scattered them throughout history. Cathal must travel through time to find the stones to prevent the Tarnok from enslaving the world.

A capable and enthusiastic character, Cathal eagerly signs on to the dangerous mission, aided by new super healing abilities and help from his 17-year-old cousin Liam and the angelic Elluna warrior Gabriel. To gather the stones, Cathal and Liam travel to prohibition-era Chicago, the Rape of Nanking in 1937, Nazi Germany in 1944, and to the Kingdom of Poland in 1241, where they track the Mongolian army. At every turn, they are threatened by Tarnok agent Skorn, a Delta Force soldier from 1999, who is aided by Viking and Nazi assistants. Acknowledging man’s inhumanity to man, Cathal remarks, “Every generation experiences terrible tragedy. History often does seem to repeat itself.” Gurkovich keeps the action rolling with Tommy guns and swords, land mines, and magic scrolls.

Traditional science fiction tropes of time travel and a quest to gather many pieces of a puzzle are fused with a clever mix of cultural and historical detail. Although some clunky language and anachronistic dialog distract from immersion (“This Terranos fellow, he sounds pretty intense”), Gurkovich provides plenty of twists, suspense, and resourceful characters. Readers will be drawn in to the time jumps and sticky situations.

Takeaway: This exciting time travel adventure offers suspense and surprises with the fate of the world in the balance.

Great for fans of: Rysa Walker’s Timebound, Ryan North’s How to Invent Everything.

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

Click here for more about Unsung Heroes
Clean Sweep: A Novel
E. B. Lee
Lee's account of homeless life on the street in New York City is compassionate, brutally honest, and unsentimental. Told through the eyes of Carli Morris, an alias used by a woman who wanted to give back after selling her business, Clean Sweep weaves a personal mystery plot together with insights about how small gestures and consistency of behavior can make a difference for the homeless. Carli quickly moves beyond simply volunteering at the soup kitchen when she meets Grant, a charismatic volunteer for the shelter Four Bridges, dedicated to helping each street person one-on-one by meeting them at their level.

The narrative takes a personal turn when Carli starts to believe that Grant might be her long-lost brother Henry. Meanwhile, Carli grows fond of finely sketched Four Bridges characters like Cedric the can collector, Wilson, who may have been a perfume maker, and Vera, who stays in her spot after she was evicted from her old building she lived in with her husband. As that crew helps their friends dodge police sweeps, Carli notices Grant's behavior becoming increasingly erratic and works on paintings for a gallery show, discovering that her new passion has a powerful effect on her art.

Lee expertly creates vivid portraits of each character's flaws, weaknesses, and ultimate humanity. The small triumphs that give the narrative its power feel earned precisely because this cast experiencing homelessness are treated as human rather than objects of pity or disgust. Neither Carli nor Grant are presented as saints, and the latter's final fate is devastating; Carli sometimes feels less fully formed than the others, but eventually comes into sharper focus. Ultimately, it's a story about the profound effect of hidden trauma, especially for those who feel isolated. Lee reminds readers of serious fiction that there’s hope for those whom society has rejected, as long as we work for it.

Takeaway: A moving account of the invisible lives of people living on the street, filled with compassion.

Great for fans of: Willy Vlautin’s The Motel Life, Richard Wagamese’s Ragged Company.

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

Click here for more about Clean Sweep
Stealing Away: Stories
Kevin Revolinski
Revolinski’s twelve engrossing short stories center on characters attempting to make peace with the past while navigating tense relationships and uncertain futures. Most of these folks feel familiar enough to come from any Midwestern town, though some also inhabit Turkey, Peru and other international locations: a woman stuck in a boring job and a withering marriage; a grandfather who holds the distinction of being the oldest resident in his county; a man who returns to his childhood neighborhood in an attempt to understand the tragedy that unraveled his group of friends. Told by curious, no-nonsense narrators who for the most part seem weathered yet reliable, the stories are rich with immersive description and offer fresh insights on familiar themes, including the way trauma and a lack of genuine connection can change people.

In the title story, two teenagers plot to escape their unstable families and dead-end town by “selling” their car repeatedly on Craigslist, only to steal it back in the middle of the night. Unsurprisingly, this scam does not end well–but the real soul of the piece lies in the female narrator’s growing understanding of her complicated relationship with her troubled mother. In “Picking Blueberries”–another standout–a middle-aged man in a small town where “even the church doesn’t feel whole” reflects on his grandfather’s mortality: “Despite his years, he never had that air of waiting to die, but rather waiting for something that never comes …Work defined him, and without it he sank into moments of nonbeing. It was painful to watch.”

In this debut collection, Revolinski–an accomplished food and travel writer and memoirist– proves a keen observer of place, people, and the human condition, particularly the inner turmoil and ennui that accompany coming to terms with life’s harsh realities while still looking with a degree of hope for whatever comes next.

Takeaway: An enthralling, empathetic collection of stories about attempting to make peace with the past while facing uncertain futures.

Great for fans of: Ann Packer, Charles Baxter.

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

Click here for more about Stealing Away: Stories

Loading...