The Self-Published Stars of 2014
Our first-ever Indie Starred Reviews Annual showcases all the self-published books that received starred reviews in 2014.Welcome to PW’s first-ever Indie Starred Reviews Annual. Over the last 12 months, we’ve reviewed hundreds of self-published titles in a wide variety of genres. In this issue of PW Select, you’ll find all the books that received starred reviews in 2014, as well as interviews with some of the indie authors whose books earned high praise from our reviewers.
13:24: A Story of Faith and Obsession
M. Dolon Hickmon. Rehoboam, $16.99 paper (376p) ISBN 978-0-9911066-0-8
Hickmon unleashes a shocking blitzkrieg of murder, conspiracy, and child abuse in this disturbing, breathlessly plotted murder mystery. When 14-year-old Chris Pesner murders his mother and her boyfriend, Andrew, the media blames heavy metal band Rehoboam’s violent, blasphemous lyrics. But homicide detective William Hursel’s investigation unearths a dark web of child abuse and black market pornography. Merging biblical tales, psychology, and social criticism, Hickmon stares into the distressing abyss of child exploitation with daring honesty. Designed to provoke, scenes of underage abuse avoid the pornographic by focusing on psychological damage—thus rousing pity and disgust, not titillation. Eschewing easy answers for moral complexity, this thriller is unsettling entertainment that offers catharsis.
Forrest Carr. CreateSpace, $13.99 paper (276p) ISBN 978-1-5003-0095-1
Fresh thinking and feeling animate this heartfelt postapocalyptic novel. John Cruz’s awakening after four years in a catatonic stupor is part of a worldwide healing of the insane. On the other hand, mentally healthy people are losing their minds, falling into comas, succumbing to vicious madness, or engaging in bestial cannibalism. The cause might be the recurrence of a global pandemic from the early 1900s, or a huge comet passing through our solar system. All John cares about is saving as much of his newly recovered home life as he can, and he’s willing to gun down any number of “crazies” to that end. When his beloved wife becomes a zombie-like flesh-craving fiend, however, John faces new practical problems and moral dilemmas. The book is stuffed with untrimmable character-driven dialogue, and Carr’s sincere investment in the concept of people groping their way through hell on Earth makes his story a fascinating read all the way to its chilly, barely hopeful conclusion.
The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
Ruth Hull Chatlien. Amika Press, $17.95 paper (484p) ISBN 978-1-937484-16-3
When young Betsy Patterson marries dashing but irresponsible Jerome Bonaparte—the brother of Napoleon—she dreams of an exciting new life at the French court. Instead, her brother-in-law’s hostility leads to her bitter struggle to legitimize herself as a Bonaparte. Meticulously researched, engrossing in detail, and full of the customs, values, and prejudices of the era, Chatlien’s novel brings to life crucial moments in history alongside Betsy’s quest for recognition. The chaos of Napoleon’s reign and maritime hostilities engross without overshadowing Madame Bonaparte’s heartaches and small triumphs. Chatlien doesn’t flinch from exposing our hunger for wealth and power, and confronts difficult themes such as slavery and domestic inequality. A solid example of its genre, this account of one woman’s stubborn determination will appeal to romance aficionados and historical devotees alike.
Anvil of God: Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles
J. Boyce Gleason. iUniverse, $33.95 (440p) ISBN 978-1-4759-9020-1
Gleason’s gripping historical novel—the first volume in his Carolingian Chronicles—offers readers a vivid mix of bloody battles, intriguing characters, and plenty of pagan sex rites. The year is 741, and Charles “The Hammer” Martel, the Frankish general and mayor of the palace who held off the Saracens and preserved Christianity in Western Europe, is on his deathbed. In the palace at Quierzy (located in modern-day France), the politicking around succession is laden with intrigue, which Gleason makes lively and entertaining, while giving considerable space and full character development to the women who walk the corridors of power. Trudi, Charles’s daughter, embraces paganism, while her brothers grapple with the role of the church in a reconstituted kingdom. As the saga unfolds, Trudi takes flight to avoid a forced marriage of political convenience, while her brothers battle each other in the skillfully described siege of the city of Laon. As both stories move toward their exciting conclusions, the mix of history, action, drama, and vigorous doses of sex makes this debut historical novel a page-turner.
Belated and Other Stories
Elisabeth Russell Taylor. Kimblewood Press, $14.95 paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-4912-8531-2
The transforming power of love cripples hearts and minds in this dark, enigmatic collection from Taylor (Pillion Riders, Mother Country). In these 16 shorts, the author pierces the facade of everyday life to reveal isolation and helplessness. “Les Amantes” is a farewell to fidelity and sacred memory after a lover’s death. In “Charlotte” a Jewish woman struggles against ghosts of conscience, need, and loyalty in postwar England. The dark fable “Take Care”—in which guests overrun a home—is reminiscent of the work of August Strindberg. A counselor’s security is shattered by a patient in “Supporting Roles.” What is not revealed in these tales is as dramatic as what is, with Taylor hinting at different and tantalizing narrative possibilities. These tales of longing, jealousy, and loss reveal the discomfiting effects of love on the mind, soul, and body.
Chiral Mad 2
Edited by Michael Bailey. Written Backwards, $20 paper (424p) ISBN 978-1-4942-3997-8
Bailey (Palindrome Hannah) builds on the success of his previous anthology, Chiral Mad—which, like the sequel, was compiled to raise money for Down syndrome charities—by providing a diverse collection of 28 horror stories from seasoned writers and novices. The central theme of chirality—in chemistry, the term “chiral” refers to a molecule that is not symmetrical—seems particularly apropos to a volume on psychological horror, as it hints at a fundamental incoherence or irresoluble conflict of perception and reality, of personality and the external. In Mason Ian Bundschuh’s “Another Man’s Bones,” for example, the past and present collide. Max Booth III, in “Flowers Blooming in the Season of Atrophy,” probes the aftermath of and clashing perspectives about a school massacre, to suggest that the effects of tragedy can be redemptive. In “Indian Summer,” Philip C. Perron unveils the malignant impact of a woman’s social isolation on two adolescents. The devastating effect of devotion to warped artistic genius is violently depicted by David Morrell in “Orange Is for Anguish, Blue Is for Insanity.” Appropriately for a horror anthology, in his introduction, Bailey employs the imagery of teeth seizing the reader. Given the caliber of this winning collection, readers won’t mind being bitten.
The Donation of Constantine
Simon LeVay. CreateSpace/Lambourn Books, $16.95 paper (425p) ISBN 978-1-4701-3215-6
LeVay (When Science Goes Wrong) provides an intriguing look at eighth-century Rome and a critique of the complexities of historical truth in this fictional account of the creation of one of the seminal documents in European history: the Donation of Constantine. With Aistulf, King of the Lombards, poised to overrun Rome, Paul, the brother of Pope Stephen II, and Leoba, a nun, missionary, and scribe, concoct a desperate scheme to forge a letter from Emperor Constantine I giving the Pope temporal power over the West. LeVay presents an intriguing view of the clash between social necessity and individual faith that successfully evokes a world with concerns familiar to modern-day readers. Additionally, the author offers a coherent, fact-based picture of the ambiguities of historical truth and the shakiness of the foundations of society. The inclusion of historical background information weighs down the narrative at times, but the complexity of the novel’s issues provides room for reflection on the perversion of fact and dogma in the face of necessity.
Kevin Bohacz. Mazel & Sechel, $14.95 paper (389p) ISBN 978-0-9791815-3-5
In this sequel to Bohacz’s Immortality, two years after the devastation of mass human extinctions in kill zones, mankind is still grasping for survival. An oppressive union of government and big business controls an exhausted America, which is divided between walled-in Protectorates and the unpoliced Outlands. Against this chaotic backdrop, paleobiologist and genetic researcher Mark Freedman and policewoman Sarah Mayfair continue their evolution into transhumans—nanotech hybrids with a connection to the god machine, the artificial intelligence that caused the recent massacres, in an effort to derail the destruction of the Earth’s biosphere. Bohacz provides mind-bending portrayals of factions vying for power and reflections on the essence and fragility of humanity. But philosophical concerns never obtrude on the fast-paced plot, as authorities investigate communes of hybrids, and Freedman and Mayfair must choose between absorption into a collective mind or fidelity to their remaining humanity. The question of who can be trusted impels the reader to keep turning the pages of this highly satisfying and dynamic techno-thriller.
Laura Morelli. Laura Morelli, $12.49 paper (335p) ISBN 978-0-9893671-0-3
Sixteenth-century Venice is the star of Morelli’s well-crafted historical novel about teenage Luca Vianello, the eldest son and heir of the city’s most renowned gondola builder. After his beloved mother dies during childbirth at the age of 44, Luca argues with his father and blames him for the tragedy. In a rage, Luca accidently sets fire to his father’s workshop and leaves home. Luca works a succession of menial jobs under an alias, until he becomes the personal gondolier of a noted artist named Trevisan and finds himself smitten with a stunning young woman whom Trevisan is painting. While a wealth of period lore and beautifully rendered setting—the city’s unique sounds, smells, and heritage—dominate her novel, Morelli creates poignantly convincing characters in this handsome coming-of-age novel about adoration, pain, and destiny.
Jerry Jay Carroll. Jerry Jay
Carroll, $14 paper (362p) ISBN 978-0-9898269-0-7
This meticulously constructed thriller from Carroll delivers healthy doses of political conspiracy, paranoia, and pulse-pounding suspense. Oral historian Harriet Gallatin gets more than she bargained for when she begins recording the recollections of former Navy Lt. Lowell Brady, who now resides in an old-age home, but who, during WWII, uncovered a terrible secret about Pearl Harbor. And when Gallatin is ordered to report what Brady shares, what began as a routine assignment becomes a race against time and a battle for survival. Military absurdity and governmental betrayal are depicted with wit and humor in this provocative portrait of outsiders whose honor transforms them from respectable citizens to demonized agitators. Cantankerous, lewd, vulgar, and skillfully rendered by the author, Brady is as warm as he is infuriating. Carroll has crafted a crowd-pleasing page-turner, replete with cultural criticism and refreshing honesty.
The Honeymoon Trap
Kelly Hunter. Tule, $2.99 e-book (104p) ISBN 978-1-940296-59-3
Hunter tells this tiny jewel of a tale with an unabashed gusto that matches her heroine’s sparkling panache. One of Eli Jackson’s best friends is Fuzzy, a fellow gamer he hangs out with online on Friday afternoons for an hour of role-playing games and light chatter. When Fuzzy, also known as Zoey Daniels, shows up in the irrepressible flesh (and a delectable purple gown) at a gamers’ convention on Australia’s Gold Coast, Eli is shocked by their instantaneous sexual connection. But the obstacles to romance are significant: Eli still isn’t over the death of his previous girlfriend, and Zoey has a few issues about which she’s being uncharacteristically discreet. The emphasis is on startlingly direct communication and the headlong rush of impulse, leading to a marvelous, funny whirlwind of a romance.
Tamara Linse. Willow Words, $14.95 paper (238p) ISBN 978-0-9913867-0-3
In this winning debut collection of short stories, Linse presents a vivid portrait of life in the American West. The author weaves together tales of a young tomboy who struggles with expectations of femininity, a young girl trying to understand sexuality, and pregnant women and the bonds they share. Linse deftly evokes contemporary rural Wyoming, the collection’s setting—as well as the unique characters that populate it. The stories are brief vignettes, and readers will find themselves curious about what happens after each tale draws to a close. While it may be difficult to distinguish between a few of the characters, readers will be drawn in to the collection’s world and will find themselves wanting to read more of Linse’s intimate tales.
Jamie Farrell. Jamie Farrell, $4.99 e-book (300p) ISBN 978-1-940517-05-6
Farrell (Mr. Good Enough) marries warmth with tongue-in-cheek wit in this marvelous romantic comedy, first in the Misfit Brides of Bliss contemporary series. Natalie Castellano, who just took over the Bliss Bridal boutique after her mother’s death, is a divorcée—a cardinal sin in the love-obsessed town of Bliss, Ill., the “Most Married-est Town on Earth.” The all-powerful chair of the Knot Festival shuns Natalie, and her business is suffering. C.J. Blue, still shaken four years after his wife’s death in combat, reluctantly returns to Bliss for his sister’s wedding, desperately trying not to get talked into competing in the town’s Husband Games. Yet all of his good intentions fly out the window when he meets Natalie in a darkened confessional. Natalie and C.J.’s journey toward love, filled with scenes of high hilarity and vivid emotion, resonates with warmth and realism. A cast of quirky characters adds just the perfect touch to a heartwarming comedy of errors.
Craig Tollifson. Ozgood Books, 99¢ e-book (67p) ISBN 9781310723056
“Zhanna wanted to burn the couch. I watched the TV. She watched the couch. It was like that every night.” So begins Tollifson’s (Mother) hilarious dark comedy about a 12-year-old girl hell-bent on setting the living room seating aflame and the woman who’s become her unwilling sentinel. Zhanna, adopted at age nine from a Russian orphanage, has never bonded with Marilyn, and with a glibly unconcerned father/husband away from home more often than not, the two have established an uneasy détente, aided by night vision cameras, motion sensor alarms, and a wholly inept and inappropriate therapist who can’t seem to grasp the gravity of Marilyn’s situation: “I felt heat coming from the door and worried if the window in Dr. Gary’s office would open, and if we could safely get out,” Marilyn narrates. “We were two floors up and I had no memory of whether or not the building had a fire escape.... My throat was closing. These could be the last few moments of my life.” An arresting narrative from beginning to end, Tollifson’s short novel introduces a cast of characters you’ll remember for some time.
Joanne Lockyer. Lion Heart, $3.99 e-book (352p) ISBN 978-0-9925362-2-0
Australian author Lockyer’s refreshing debut historical abandons the fainting flowers of London’s ballrooms in favor of Rachel Cavanagh, a privateer’s granddaughter determined to make her own way in repressive 1816 England. The ship Castalia sinks in the English Channel, and the only survivors are Rachel and the blind, dashing Marquess of Rossum. Both are pulled aboard another ship by a mysterious man named Jonathon Lecky. Rachel is hit hard by the deaths of her aunt and maid, but she lifts her chin and plans to continue to live an unconventional life. The London papers, shared grief, and Rachel’s title-hungry mother all push her toward a romance with her new friend Rossum, but when fate drops Lecky back in her path, Rachel has a risky opportunity to abandon a life of duty and explore the world. Two great love interests and excellent characterization are supported by Lockyer’s smooth style, and love-triangle skeptics will appreciate that Rachel’s choice never feels forced, contrived, or arbitrary.
Paddy Bostock. Wings ePress, $4.99 e-book (346p) ASIN B00N842F76
Bostock’s idiosyncratic, high-energy romp follows the escapades of young ex-soldier Noddy, who dreams of staging a Liverpudlian revolution and being crowned King of Liverpool. After committing the shocking crime of shooting a government minister in the bottom, Noddy is hounded across England by the press. Meanwhile, Noddy’s brother Knobby searches for Noddy, accompanied by a strange elf, Mordecai, who seems to know all about Noddy’s exploits. Bostock (Hand in Glove) deconstructs common fantasy tropes and pokes fun at the state of British politics with brisk, pointed satire. Liverpudlian culture provides an entertaining backdrop. Noddy and his girlfriend, Meryl, are believable and unique characters; their chemistry is delightful, and the rest of the idiosyncratic cast rounds out the story well. This refreshing novel disregards genre clichés, and is all the better for its insistence on self-definition.
Out There: A Novel
Sarah Stark. Leaf Storm Press, $17.95 paper (238p) ISBN 978-0-9914105-0-7
In this lyrical, evocative novel, Stark summons the possibility of salvation in tragedy. Iraq war veteran Jefferson Long Soldier returns home with a wounded soul and a copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which he carried with him through combat and credits for saving his life. But when neither family nor a psychologist can help ease his transition to civilian life, Jefferson journeys by motorbike across Mexico in search of salvation and the reclusive García Márquez. A tribute to magical realism and the transforming power of fiction, Stark’s novel juxtaposes violence and gentleness and merges logic with sensuous atmosphere to question the boundaries of reality. Jefferson’s struggle for peace reveals an existence as fluid and magical as a dream—but with consequences.
Second Hand Stops
Katie St. Claire. CreateSpace, $12.99 paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-4949-9669-7
In this winning novel from St. Claire, six 18-year-olds—all raised together in a manor house in England—are forced to drink a life-prolonging elixir to receive multimillion-dollar inheritances and internships in New York City courtesy of an anonymous benefactor. This promising premise kicks off St. Claire’s Black Moon series, and finds Julia Malone abandoning her sheltered upbringing in England to become vice president of the product research and development firm Van Buren Industries in the Big Apple. Julia’s telepathic abilities help her sustain her lifetime bond with confidante and former housemate Nic amid luxurious Manhattan penthouses, but feed her concerns about possibly duplicitous company staff. The unclear motives of Claude Van Buren, the inscrutable benefactor, in promoting a skin cream that includes traces of the untested elixir, which had ambiguous effects on the teens, leave Julia wondering about its safety and her future. St. Claire’s novel is well plotted and the characters skillfully developed. Her convincing portrayal of Julia’s angst and Nic’s loyalty help make this a lively paranormal fantasy adventure. Julia’s insistence that she is a normal teen, albeit with unusual abilities, makes her a character with which readers—both young and old—can empathize.
Julian David Stone. For the Duration Press, $14.95 paper (408p) ISBN 978-0-9898315-0-5
The golden age of television comes to life in this scathingly critical and immensely entertaining novel from Stone. Set in 1950s New York, TV writer Jonny Dirby loses his job for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the United States during the Red Scare. But when he seeks revenge by altering the dialogue of sketch parodying Superman before its broadcast, he inadvertently creates Justice Girl, a character that quickly grabs viewers’ hearts. Jonny is quickly re-hired to create an entire show around Justice girl. The catch? Justice Girl is played by Felicity, a communist hunting fanatic determined to blacklist Johnny. Stone draws upon his career in entertainment to drive this lurid depiction of mass media’s power in shaping our fantasies, values, ideals, and fears. The author ably captures the tension and excitement of live television, focusing on how quickly this medium made and destroyed both careers and lives. This modern fable of fame and failure emphasizes the political and economic agendas that molded the entertainment industry and a generation. This fast-paced and emotionally vibrant satire is a treat for television buffs and general readers alike.
Azin Sametipour. CreateSpace, $14.99 paper (278p) ISBN 978-1-4912-6519-2
Personal choice, gender, and traditional Middle Eastern morals collide in this provocative romantic drama. Twenty-three-year-old Mahtab is a believably flawed heroine whose struggle for independence is a microcosm of Iranian society. She’s a violinist seeking to escape her morally rigid father, Rasool, and violent brother, Pasha. Mahtab’s life is further complicated when she reluctantly falls in love with Ashkan, an Iranian-American. Discovering that her family wishes her to marry Emad, she must choose between Ashkan and tradition amid harshly depicted escalating domestic abuse. A robust, confident style and probing characterizations highlight this startling novel that celebrates love without blinking at the pain of its protagonist. Sametipour juxtaposes violence and passion, tenderness and cruelty to startling effect. It’s not your typical boy-meets-girl fantasy; here actions have consequences, and while love occasionally triumphs, it comes with a price.
Pamela Ford. Aine Press, $3.99 e-book (316p) ASIN B00OT271O8
Contemporary romance novelist Ford (Her Best Bet) steps back in time with a sweeping historical love story that hits all the marks. In 1846, Ireland withers under a devastating potato famine while its indifferent English masters stand by. Kathleen Deacey reluctantly sails to Canada to find work to support her family and search for her missing fiancé. But when she’s tossed overboard by a storm, it’s an Englishman, Capt. Jack Montgomery, who rescues her and provides safe passage as his whaling ship heads home to Boston. Alone and terrified by her family’s plight, Kathleen must accept help from a man who symbolizes everything she despises—and with whom she’s reluctantly falling in love. Pacing the plot for maximum tension, Ford skillfully conveys the anguish and fury of her heroine and all the struggling Irish, both at home and abroad. She delivers genuine heat by teasing out the passion between her protagonists. Ford has made a deeply satisfying foray into new territory.
Stephen Barnwell. Antarctica Arts, $75 (140p) ISBN 978-0-9913216-0-5
Through a series of reimagined banknotes, coupons, and stamps, Barnwell, in the manner of much activist art, appropriates the aesthetic of the establishment in order to comment on and critique it. His is an art of juxtapositions and provocation: “Indebted States of America,” reads a $1 trillion “Oriental Reserve Note” bearing the signature of erstwhile U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and featuring a presidential portrait of “Chairman Dow”—who looks very much like Mao Zedong. More controversial perhaps is the “United States of Islam” series: U.S. currency depicting scenes of historical Islamic military victories, such as the fall of Jerusalem in 638 C.E. But Barnwell’s criticism is not limited to foreign policy and finance. With “American Excess,” a coupon similar to an antiquated bearer bond that depicts Uncle Sam tied to an oil rig, he ably criticizes the extent to which energy and other corporate interests influence American government and imperil the nation’s future. Barnwell’s work exposes the contradictions and hypocrisy of various power structures and even underscores the intricate elegance of currency as an aesthetic experience.
A.K. Turner. Fever Streak Press, $12 paper (220p) ISBN 978-0-9913759-2-9
The third book in the Tales of Imperfection series from Turner (This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store, Mommy Had a Little Flask), a mother of two from Idaho, provides another hilarious account of parenthood. A self-admitted neat freak, the author details the important distinctions between paper towels and dishcloths, and wishes she could “conduct a class highlighting these differences and then create a test with various scenarios.” Also a lover of travel, she signs up for HomeExchange.com—a house-swapping service—in hopes of a family holiday to an exotic locale, while pondering the headline “Idaho: Just Like New York, Only Different.” With her characteristic good-spirited, self-deprecating humor, Turner describes taking her kids to a children’s art camp on the Jersey Shore and surviving a back-to-school night “ice cream unsocial.” Well paced, entertaining, and full of endearing stories on parenting, this new addition to Turner’s popular series will leave readers looking forward to the next installment.
Ellen Leopold. Valley Green Press, $9, paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-9898737-0-3
In this important collection of articles and essays, righteous outrage, education, and the redeeming power of love inform powerful narratives of women battling breast cancer. Leopold’s book documents not only the fear and pain of the disease but also the economic, political, and gender conflicts women have faced seeking proper treatment. Among the many highlights is Katharine Lee Bates’s poignant account of the death of her life partner, Katharine Coman. In “Shopping For The Cure,” profit-induced charities are exposed, while the public cheerfully buys into corporate interests in “The Tyranny of Cheerfulness,” exchanging activism for “cause marketing.” Urging readers to be advocates of change, this collection exposes a culture almost as destructive as the disease that it unwittingly accommodates.
Parents in Highschooland: Helping Students Succeed in the Critical Years
Karyn Rashoff. BarkingDogBooks, $12.95 paper (162p) ISBN 978-0-9897606-1-4
Rashoff uses her considerable experience (33 years as a high school counselor) to provide practical advice in this no-nonsense guidebook for parents and students. Rashoff’s tone is compassionate but firm, and she uses snappy, memorable comparisons to get her points across, while employing advice from families who have successfully navigated high school. Each chapter concludes with an enthusiastic directive or question, and readers will find help on a broad variety of topics, such as how to talk to your child and how to improve study habits. Rashoff also has suggestions for success from teachers of various subjects. The author is also attentive to issues surrounding ethnic diversity in schools, and includes a chapter on “Wisdom from Other Cultures.” Rashoff has compiled such a helpful book—well researched, on topic, with plenty of good examples—that it’s hard to give her anything but an A.
Michel Mockers. New Dawn Services, $19.95 paper (228p) ISBN 978-1-4993-4288-8
Mockers provides a riveting firsthand account of his role fighting the Nazi occupation of France from 1941 to 1944, in this story of courage, love, and coming of age in the midst of war. In the course of the book, he grows from an idle young 19-year-old student artist (who used the alias René) to a hardened senior leader of the Resistance at the age of 23. He leads the reader from one dangerous encounter with Nazis to another, and the book, with its excellent pacing, reads like a great spy thriller. Aside from the author, the most intriguing figures are three women who play key roles: Marika, a zealous German spy attempting to trap members of the resistance; Mary, a British Commando team leader coordinating Resistance activity; and Michelle, a French messenger who travels over German-controlled roads on her bike to coordinate the activities of different resistance bands. Michelle in particular is a heroine the reader will never forget. Mockers’s narrative holds the potential to become a classic antiwar war memoir, and it is a must-read for anyone inspired by the courage and determination of young people who take a stand against aggression in a dangerous and chaotic world.
Slowspoke: A Unicyclist’s Guide to America
Mark Schimmoeller. Synandra Press/Alice Peck Editorial, $14.95 paper (311p) ISBN 978-0-9860587-0-7
Sumptuous language and a disarming gentleness propel this profoundly simple, funny, and sincere memoir. Growing up as the child of idealistic homesteaders in Kentucky imbued Schimmoeller with a deep appreciation for nature and off-the-grid living, while leaving him feeling disconnected from the modern world. After graduating from college and finishing an unsatisfying internship at the Nation, Schimmoeller embarked on a solo journey across America on a unicycle. The author’s story of finding a way to live in the world on his own terms is told simultaneously with that of his attempts to save old-growth forest adjacent to his homestead in Kentucky. “It doesn’t make a difference one way or the other if I take a break,” he tells a stranger who questions the intensely slow pace of his mode of transport—an explanation that speaks to the author’s quest to find respite in a troubled world.
Robert Uttaro. CreateSpace, $12.95 paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-4909-3166-1
Rape counselor Uttaro draws upon his years of experience to warn that sexual abuse is far more prevalent than most people suspect, and provides a moving series of survivor stories. Uttaro persuasively argues that each survivor’s story is unique—and this militates one-size-fits-all advice. The surprising revelations of the survivors Uttaro interviews corroborate his claim that justice is an individual concept that depends on what redress survivors seek. Uttaro’s assurances that survivors are not defined by sexual abuse offer the possibility of a positive resolution. This book is both informative for the general public and supportive for those who have suffered sexual abuse. It is hard to imagine that members of either group will not gain from reading it.
Michael Pauls and Dana Facaros. Tinselhouse, $8.11 e-book (202p) ISBN 978-1-86011-910-1
A witty and (appropriately) irreverent spoof on tourist guides, this Beelzebubian Baedeker tells intrepid vacationers everything they need to know about the hottest of all travel spots. It features chapters on how to research your trip (“Think of satanist groups as cultural embassies”), the best way to get there (indulge in the seven deadly sins), what to eat there (don’t!— remember Persephone?), and tips on day trips to Limbo (“a real must, has that neither-here-nor-thereish atmosphere”) and Purgatory (“a hot-and-bothered boot camp for the soul”). The tongue-in-cheekiness of their humor aside, Pauls and Facaros pack an impressive amount of data into their breezy commentary. Their conception of Hell’s topography, accommodations, and personnel is synthesized from Scripture; centuries of literature, mythology, and folklore; and the writings of popes, theologians, mystics, and visionaries. Funny, oddly informative, and illustrated with modified artistic renderings of Hell and its denizens, this book provides insights into our culture’s enduring fascination with a place where no one really wants to go.
The Casquette Girls
Alys Arden. For the Art of It Publishing, $3.99 e-book (522p) ISBN 978-0-9897577-2-0
In this Southern Gothic love letter to the spookier side of New Orleans’s storied past, Arden spins out a moody tale of magic and mystery, set against the backdrop of a city recovering from disaster. Two months after a massive hurricane nearly destroys New Orleans, 16-year-old Adele Le Moyne and her artist father return to a half-underwater home, where rebuilding goes hand in hand with curfews and scavenging. As Adele tries to return to normal, she’s swept up in inexplicable events, with strange people drifting in and out of her life and bodies turning up like clockwork. Adele finally discovers that the French Quarter is home to a clan of vampires and that only she, as a descendant of the coven that originally cursed them, can break the centuries-old spell that holds them there. The sense of place and weight of history are strong in this slow-burning dark fantasy, filled with colorful characters and growing tension. While the cast occasionally grows unwieldy and the story can get convoluted, it’s still a thoroughly satisfying page-turner and a strong debut for Arden. Ages 12–up.
Tracy E. Banghart. CreateSpace, $15.99
paper (372p) ISBN 978-1-4936-1320-5
Banghart (By Blood) offers a fast-paced, action-packed SF adventure, first in the Diatous Wars series, in which a young woman sacrifices her identity to fight for her homeland and the man she loves. When 18-year-old Aris Haan’s boyfriend, Calix, is “selected” to serve in the military of Atalanta, she’s left behind, since long-held tradition forbids women to fight. However, because of Aris’s ace piloting skills, she’s chosen to enter a secret program to become part of an elite search-and-rescue unit, technologically disguised as a male named Aristos. As the ongoing war against the dominion of Safara continues, Aris undergoes a trial by fire that threatens to change her beyond recognition. What starts as a tale of star-crossed romance quickly evolves into a gripping page-turner, with gender roles and identity explored and questioned at every turn. Aris overcomes societal disapproval and her own physical weakness to meet every challenge head-on, never faltering in the face of pain and danger. While there’s room for Banghart to further develop the futuristic setting, this is a very strong starting point. Ages 12–up.