Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.

Moon Mountain
Jess Porto
With bursts of suspense and tension throughout, Porto’s Halloween-set debut novel unfolds with a pervading atmosphere of alarm and intrigue. In 1997 in Moon Mountain, North Carolina, college senior Morgan Thomas and her best friend and roommate Sheridan are attending a Halloween party. But a creepy encounter with a guy in a ninja costume triggers a night of terror. Everyone shrugs off an “intense boom” they hear coming from the forest, but after Morgan goes home she wakes up not in her bed but in the woods—and with no memory of how she got there. When the party hostess is found bludgeoned to death in a bloody mess, Morgan questions whether she might have unknowingly committed the crime.

Porto stretches out the foreboding at a slow, methodical pace, with dread, thrills, and family secrets emerging one drip at a time. Over many days of blinding headaches, haunting dreams, and voices that urge her to a mysterious cabin, Morgan fears she’s either going insane or sleepwalking. Meanwhile, Porto digs into small-town politics and power. Sheridan’s family is uber wealthy; her uncle is mayor and her grandparents, Wendell and Vera Gallagher, own a prosperous honey farm. Handsome Detective Grayson Blair is investigating the murder, but when signs point to one of the Gallaghers’ twin grandsons Colin or Noah, the Gallagher family quickly squashes the investigation. But the Gallaghers have always been kind to Morgan, letting her live rent-free with Sheridan. Morgan begins to question that relationship when elderly Vera mysteriously takes ill.

Readers looking for narrative momentum over chilling atmosphere and slow-burn mysteries may find the pace frustrating. Still, Moon Mountain offers polished prose, a visceral sense of place, characters capable of surprises, and an unnerving new variation on the classic “cabin in the woods” theme. The conclusion hints at more to come.

Takeaway: A slow-burn thriller of a woman facing murder, secrets, and the lure of a cabin in the woods.

Great for fans of: Freida McFadden’s The Housemaid, Lisa Jewell’s I Found You.

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

Click here for more about Moon Mountain
Enough: Journey of Ancestry, Identity and Faith
Lloiden Garza
Garza plumbs the complexities of identity and intricacies of her Filipino heritage in this affecting, often tender debut memoir. She centers her musings on an almost-lifelong search to discover the identity of her biological father, a quest initiated after hearing from family, just before she turned 13, that her mother’s husband, Ed, was not her father. Garza recounts her immediate shock, feeling as “if a book was torn in two, then half was thrown away,” at the news, alongside the aftermath—her close relationship with Ed turned inside out, the seething anger at her mother’s secret, and the blow to her self-worth that kickstarted a lifetime of searching for answers.

Those answers prove more elusive than Garza initially suspects, in part due to her family’s cultural norms and her mother’s reluctance to broach the topic, and she opens up to readers about the emotional toll from years of pursuing dead ends and cryptic family secrets. She characterizes her childhood as one plagued by self-doubt, even before the paternal uncertainty, and shares an intimate view of the challenges her family experienced immigrating to the United States. Church is portrayed as a cornerstone for the family, despite Garza’s friends there referring to her as “FOB” (“fresh off the boat”), and she carries that focus into her adulthood, often relying on her spirituality to guide the search for her father.

Readers will feel compassion for Garza’s desperation when her years of searching, including multiple DNA tests and false leads, seem to be futile: “I felt trapped behind an invisible wall: separate, alone, and cut off” she writes. She offers a glimpse into her adult years in the background, chronicling her marriages and parenthood, and the conclusion, though unexpected, will inspire, as she reveals “small pieces of truth had been around me all along, waiting for the right time for me to understand the meaning.”

Takeaway: The emotional account of an immigrant’s search for her biological father.

Great for fans of: Katherine Linn Caire’s Accidental Sisters, Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us.

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

Click here for more about Enough
30 Days In Belfast
Rita A. Gordon
Fresh out of a breakup with her attorney boyfriend Alejandro, who just happens to represent her “Black billionaire” father’s company, Rick Ross Enterprises, Rose Ross is trying to juggle her role as COO of the company while simultaneously expanding her art foundation. To get closer to her goal of opening an art gallery with her own hand-picked pieces, Rose jumps at the chance to curate Europe’s most prestigious art event of the year, offered via Brianna Morrison, her ailing friend, in Belfast, Ireland. But despite her need to deliver a perfect exhibition, Rose is distracted by changes brewing in her father’s company—and the attention-grabbing complication of Brianna’s drop-dead gorgeous brothers.

Gordon’s debut offers readers a winning combination of intrigue and romance, revealed slowly through the lens of opulent travel and luxurious living. Rose, desperate to make a name for herself apart from her father’s renown, is forced to travel with a security detail due to past kidnapping attempts, and her will-they-won’t-they chemistry with her “six foot-five man-of-steel chief of security” Troy adds heat to the mix. Meanwhile, Brianna’s brothers, Niall and Aedan, each pursue Rose in their own fashion: Niall is a steady admirer in the background, while Aedan sweeps Rose off to classy dinners and exotic locations to win her over. The brothers are surprisingly accepting of their dual pursuit, and Rose, despite her declarations of not being interested in a relationship, quickly becomes enamored with both.

All this becomes even more teasingly complicated when her ex unexpectedly shows up in Belfast. Gordon adds tension by mingling this escapist romantic fantasy of a rich, beautiful heiress striving to make her own name while pursued by luscious men with a slice of danger, as several ne’er-do-wells also are after Rose, and Brianna’s cousin is formulating her own racist plot to disrupt the exhibition. Fans of luxurious, globe-crossing love stories with wit and intrigue will be delighted.

Takeaway: This euphoric romance finds an heiress forced to choose between several dishy prospects.

Great for fans of: Denise Grover Swank’s The Player, Lauren Layne’s I Knew You Were Trouble.

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

Click here for more about 30 Days In Belfast
Inca Wraith: A Young Explorers Adventure
S T Cameron
In this imaginative middle-grade tale, the first of his Young Explorer titles, Cameron highlights courageous kids, understanding adults, and a healthy dose of suspense that will keep readers on their toes. When 11-year-old CJ Kask travels to Peru in 1917 with his parents and a number of his Young Explorer friends, the group is puzzling out why a dig at an ancient Incan temple has mysteriously halted. The reasons soon become clear: a nefarious plan to steal gold by a corrupt camp physician and his cronies. CJ and his friends intercept Morse-coded messages, hoping to prevent the plot. But there’s a complicating factor: a mysterious wraith who seems to be protecting the land. When CJ and his friends are caught in a life-or-death struggle, survival and success seem far away. But will good triumph?

Cameron imbues this appealingly spooky adventure tale with strong young characters—including an impressive female protagonist, Sadie, and fearless CJ—who exhibit grace and intelligence throughout. This will endear his storytelling to middle-grade readers who may feel overlooked by the adults in their lives, as will his feel for tension, as he ably ratchets up the suspense at every possible turn, ensnaring readers in a captivating and fast-paced plot that builds to real surprises. The wraith—revealed as an Incan boy killed in a battle in Spring 1532—proves to be a powerful ally for the good guys, ably reinforcing the light in the concept of good versus evil and advocating for listening to one’s better angels.

The technologies featured, Morse-code receivers and other rudimentary communications methods, will jolt the present day’s cellphone-obsessed young adults, who have never lived in a world without a phone that is basically a handheld computer. Even reluctant readers will be immediately caught up in Cameron’s adventurous tale and will eagerly stand by for the next story in the series.

Takeaway: This fast-paced paranormal archaeological adventure will entice middle-grade suspense readers.

Great for fans of: Ben Gartner’s The Eye of Ra, James Ponti’s City Spies, Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky.

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

Click here for more about Inca Wraith
Immigrant Psychology: Heart, Mind, and Soul
Joachim O. F. Reimann, Ph.D. Dolores I. Rodríguez-Reimann, Ph.D.
This straightforward, practically minded handbook describes common psychological disorders and challenges experienced by some members of immigrant populations and details the stressors that commonly lead to mental and emotional difficulties. The authors cover major diagnoses likely to be seen in immigrant patients, as well as common behavioral manifestations such as anger, insomnia, and chronic pain, drawing on both their clinical backgrounds and their own experience as immigrants. Their aim: to guide professional peers, including policy makers and providers of frontline service, toward cultural competency with these populations while encouraging other immigrants to get appropriate support when they need it.

The authors exhibit a deep knowledge base, a passion for caring for immigrants, and a perspective not always represented among organizations, clinicians, and others who work with this population. They examine stressors specific to immigrants, such as acculturative stress, complicated grief for loved ones lost on the journey, and intergenerational trauma. Their insights on cultural expectations, barriers to treatment, and the intersection of mental health documentation and legal concerns of immigrants will be especially helpful to non-immigrant practitioners, and their reminder that common assessment tools have unspoken cultural biases is critical. Their broad gloss of common migration trauma emphasizes the universality of these experiences, independent of country of origin, but offering more specifics about current key populations would help practitioners start discussions with their clients from a more informed place. Case study sidebars and a comprehensive glossary may help community workers to build familiarity with the clinical side of services.

Despite the abundance of helpful information, the prose leans toward the didactic, and suffers for its split target audience: the descriptions of disorders sometimes present information at too basic a level for professionals, but could be overwhelming for lay readers. Still, this volume stands as an urgent intervention, illuminating crucial distinctions, laying out new approaches, and encouraging greater understanding.

Takeaway: A valuable resource offering psychological context for those who work with immigrant populations

Great for fans of: Claudia Kolker’s The Immigrant Advantage, Phyllis Marie Jensen’s A Depth Psychology Model of Immigration and Adaptation.

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

Click here for more about Immigrant Psychology
Decanted
Linda Sheehan
This love letter to all things wine and personal growth from Sheean (Foreplay) sparkles with rich, detailed passion for the subject and finishes with a slightly sweet note of promise. Samantha Goodyear is a 20-something accountant running the rat race in New York City. She and her friends spend their time bonding over a mutual love of wine and slight existential dread over 60+ hour work weeks locked in concrete buildings. Inspired by her great aunt, Vivian, who braved the wilds of Paris just before the Nazi invasion, Samantha takes the chance to escape New York for the vineyards of France to immerse herself in her life’s calling, wine making, with a side trip into love. While her journey takes her from New York to France to California’s Napa Valley, it’s her emotional maturation, combined with the mirrored viewpoint of Vivian as a young woman, that powers the novel.

The dual perspectives of Samantha in the present and Vivian in the 1940s illuminates the parallel paths of their work and the genesis of Samantha’s love of wine. While clearly charting the course of the changes in a woman’s life, the novel also explores the art of winemaking with considerable care and effort, at times at the expense of narrative momentum. Still, the world of wine that’s so exactingly described is Samantha’s crucible; while some of her choices can seem immature, she matures over the novel’s course like a grape on a vine. Even non-oenophiles will find themselves immersed in the vibrant depictions of wine tastings and history, thirsting for what comes next.

As every type of wine is not to every person’s taste, not every line of prose works for all readers. Samantha’s voice seems less certain than Vivian’s, with some dialog verging on awkward. That’s rooted in character, though, and the novel will leave readers craving answers to certain questions and anxiously awaiting the next sip.

Takeaway: A love letter to all things wine, charting the growth of a woman following her passion.

Great for fans of: Anne Mah’s The Lost Vintage, Susan Mallery’s The Vineyard at Painted Moon.

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

Click here for more about Decanted
UnPunished: How to Let Go of Punishments and Find Your Parenting Peace
Michelle Kenney, M.Ed
Parenting coach Kenney tries to answer the long-standing question “What is a perfect parent?” in this accessible debut. Drawing from client anecdotes and her own experience raising two daughters, Kenney reinforces the ideal of "connective parenting" as opposed to a more traditional style, candidly sharing her struggles with mom shame, taking on the myth of “good” versus “bad” children, and divulging temper tantrum scenes from her own life that will comfort any parent who’s ever struggled with feeling “bad because I had a child who hit and kicked me, had tantrums, and screamed in public.”

The idea of connective parenting forms the foundation throughout this helpful, illuminating guide, and Kenney contends that it’s a more peaceful and practical approach for both parents and children. Using first hand examples from her own life, Kenney argues against punishing or attempting to control a child; instead, she recommends allowing children to express themselves and teaches parents how to respond compassionately. Kenney’s parenting style encourages parents to relieve the pressure of “seeking perfection” for both themselves and their children, a skill that comes with intense self-reflection, and her easy-to-use advice covers creative ways to connect with teens, convenient self-care tips, how to diffuse tense situations, and more.

The emphasis is on long-term change, and Kenney is upfront about the myth of a quick fix (there is no “magic system of parenting that will suddenly bring everything into balance,” she writes). Her straightforward guidance will empower parents to remove labels and reinforce authenticity, allowing readers to have fun in the process (Kenney even offers creative steps to injecting play into stressful interactions, a method she terms “PlayListen”). This is a vital resource for parents, teachers, or any adults who regularly interacts with children. In Kenney’s own words, “Peaceful parenting is a real thing. It’s just waiting for you to take the first step.”

Takeaway: This wise, illuminating parenting guide emphasizes connection over control.

Great for fans of: Destini Ann Davis’s Very Intentional Parenting, Kelly Rippon’s Parent Up.

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

Click here for more about UnPunished
Fore Play
Linda Sheehan
The risqué cover’s a tip-off to the comic spirit of this golf-world satire from Sheehan (Decanted), which finds L.A.’s longstanding Bellstone Country Club—and glitzy, Ferrari-driving pro golfer Mandy Manville—facing down schemers, up-and-comers, bad bets, and other existential threats to their continued fabulousness. While Bellstone’s president tries to make good after risking the future of a club once frequented by Hope and Sinatra on a bum tip about a fixed prizefight, Mandy—who puts on Southern charm but is in truth a Jersey flamethrower—plots to keep newcomer Jody Benson, an accomplished Ivy League golfer, from competing in Bellstone’s annual women’s championship. First prize: an invite to the hilariously named Cialis Invitational Pro-Am, in Scotland.

Sheehan’s dishy, sharp-elbowed storytelling will appeal to readers who relish seeing the pompous, well-heeled step in it en route to a happy ending. The cast of fools and swells is deep, with priests, environmentalists, cops, a “pole dancer” named Amber, and more soaking up the spotlight, and their tangled motives keep the pages turning. The vain, capable-of-anything Mandy proves the most irresistible, an antihero who is herself playing a character, a Southern charmer. “This face and form still showcase some of my best work yet,” her plastic surgeon gushes, which is funny, but amid all the laughs Sheehan stirs a sneaky empathy at the intense effort it takes Mandy to embody the outlandish role she feels she must in a world of old money and legacy connections.

Readers looking for traditional romance should look elsewhere, as even the steamy scenes here—like the doozy in which a doctor and patient conduct “a series of tests to determine how many times he was able to ejaculate in an hour”—are played for laughs. The plotting is brisk and twisty, with some shrewdly planted surprises, as early details that seem merely amusing prove crucial to jolts later. The golf’s exciting, too.

Takeaway: Dishy comic satire at a ritzy L.A. golf club, centered on an irresistible antiheroine.

Great for fans of: Lindsey J. Palmer’s Pretty in Ink, Dan Jenkins’s Dead Solid Perfect.

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

Click here for more about Fore Play
The God Experience: Making Contact
Mark Bonair
“Putting aside all religious affiliations, 80 percent of Americans say they still believe in some notion of God or a greater spirit being," writes Bonair in this thoughtful guide to using mindfulness, meditation, and prayer to seek a true connection to the Spirit of God. While Bonair acknowledges that using the term “God” can be limiting, he aims to help those who are “spiritual but not religious” understand the divine nature of a “universal Creator” by exploring religious misconceptions and developing a fresh understanding of God’s character. That character, according to Bonair, is compassionate and gracious, the opposite of the angry and unforgiving deity often depicted in organized religion.

Readers will find this a valuable resource to quiet the noise of the physical world and tap into a deeper understanding of the spiritual realm. Bonair starts by breaking down the historical representations of God, touching on the interplay between science and faith, the ancient roots of Western religion, and the barriers created by spiritual myths—and he contends those barriers should be stripped away in order to see the “human attempt to connect and identify with the spirit phase of reality” underneath. To help readers experience a “personal spiritual experience,” Bonair offers a host of meditation and self-reflection techniques that will cultivate an open mind, including positive visualizations, developing meaningful prayer habits, and a convenient nine-step spiritual problem-solving method.

Bonair’s accommodating style allows readers the grace and opportunity to grow in a way that will align with their unique spiritual beliefs, and throughout the guide he contends that spirituality is a basic human need (it’s “ironic that millions of people who openly reject religion also profess to live spiritual lives, or at least to entertain spiritual ideals” he writes). This insightful debut is the perfect resource for anyone seeking to enhance their spiritual self.

Takeaway: This perceptive guide explores God and spirituality outside the conformity of organized religion.

Great for fans of: John Bartunek’s Spiritual but Not Religious, Linda A. Mercadante’s Beliefs Without Borders.

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

Click here for more about The God Experience
The Broken Darkness
theresa braun
This first short story collection from Fountain Dead author Braun offers 13 horror tales complete with ghosts, jilted lovers, mysterious figures lurking in the night, and even a disheveled guardian angel in desperate need of an attitude adjustment. Braun masters the art of visceral writing by bringing the haunts to life through the sizzling of “biological slop” and frightening moments filled with oozing blood, chilling apparitions, and grotesque medical experiments. The unique combination of seemingly unrelated individual tales forms an eerie and unsettling menagerie of terror sure to entice horror fans.

The stories explore a variety of themes, such as love and kindness, religion and faith, and breaking cycles of abuse. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a fast-paced warning to be careful what one wishes for, and “Guilty as Cell” explores the dangers of texting while driving. “Heirloom” blurs the line between fantasy and reality when a therapist contemplates the meaning of power, while “Legend Trippers” cautions readers that thrill seeking can come with disastrous consequences. Braun keeps her audience engaged while blending genres with offerings like “Lost Time” and “Stillborn,” mixing horror with a dash of speculative fiction, while “Dying for an Invitation” summons readers to Transylvania for a tale of twisted gothic love.

Several of Braun’s dynamic characters draw inspiration from familiar lore, such as vampires or ashrays—mythic creatures with ties to Scottish folklore, rumored to absorb their victims. Others skillfully toy with modern twists on familiar protagonists, including a loner teenage who happens to be a Satanist and a nurse who ends up at the center of a disturbing secret. Braun’s main players often find themselves in battles not only for their lives but for their souls, which heightens the stakes and conjures nail-biting tension. Horror fans will appreciate the variety of characters, themes, and scares in this unsettling collection.

Takeaway: A collection of fast-paced horror stories with memorable characters and terror galore.

Great for fans of: Laura Diaz de Arce’s Monstrosity, Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny.

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

Click here for more about The Broken Darkness
Sherriff of Starr County
David A. Bowles
Bowles’s fifth entry in his Westward Sagas series (after Comanche Trace) bursts with all the trappings of a classic frontier adventure—but also confronts the more subtle socio-political dynamics of mid-19th-century Texas. Will Smith, Texas Ranger turned sheriff of newly formed Starr County, is charged with maintaining the law of the land in a brutal zone along the Nueces Strip, a scorched territory rife with violence. As Will fights to preserve peace between the Tejanos and the Anglos, he must also round up dangerous fugitives, handle a brewing cholera threat, and act as political agent in a boundary dispute that has the potential to turn into civil war.

The complex relationships and baggage accompanying years of conflict between the inhabitants of Texas is expertly conveyed from the beginning. Texas Ranger Will is addressed as “Los Diablo Tejanos” (devil from Texas), a title left over from the Rangers’ cruelty during the Mexican-American War, and he faces a constant threat of attack, whether from the Mexican Army, the indigenous peoples, or the clash of Tejanos and Anglos in the unsettled climate of a newly annexed state. Some readers may find the character arcs unidimensional and slightly rushed, but Bowles compensates with a richly crafted setting.

The Nueces Strip’s arid and harsh landscape is vividly wrought, and Bowles is meticulous when it comes to the details, such as the pioneering use of the telegraph and the ever-present frontier need for gunpowder and munitions. The story’s themes—friendship, law, morality, and family—evoke the romanticism of the Wild West, but Bowles is careful to interlace them with the significant battles, bills, and legislation that shaped Texas history, and he carries off a conclusion that sets the stage for the next in the series. Historical fiction fans will be pleased with this intricate portrait of a spirited and untamed Texas.

Takeaway: Rich with history, this entry transports readers to the untamed lands of Texas.

Great for fans of: Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, A.W. Hart’s The Ranger.

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

Click here for more about Sherriff of Starr County
In Custody: A Carrie Green Novel
Lundy Bancroft
Bancroft (Why Does He Do That?) makes his fiction debut with the first in his Carrie Green mystery series, following intern journalist Green as she works to solve the disappearance of a young girl and her mother. When she receives the Morriston Chronicle’s low-priority assignment to cover Lauren Harbison and her missing 10-year-old daughter, Brandi, Green throws caution to the wind while digging for clues—and immediately feels sympathy for Kelly Harbison, Brandi’s divorced father, despite his gruff exterior. When Kelly, who’s screaming kidnapping to anyone who will listen, opens up to Green and shares insider details, it quickly catches the attention of law enforcement and skyrockets to a bigger concern.

Readers will be pleasantly surprised by Bancroft’s skillful buildup of tension and eye for logical revelations that drive the plot. And Bancroft doesn’t draw the line at delivering dramatic suspense: he smoothly incorporates social themes into the novel, giving readers the lowdown on family law and divorce dynamics in the process. As Green digs deeper into the Harbisons’ history, the red flags accumulate, leading her to suspect that Kelly may be more than just a concerned father—and there may be more at stake for Lauren and Brandi than anyone imagined. Green’s passion for the truth is evident despite her questionable tactics (like entering Lauren’s home without a warrant or going undercover in a local safe project for battered women), making her an engaging, surprising character.

Readers who appreciate a sense of justice driving their mysteries will relish Bancroft’s plot development, and his reference to real-life court cases elevates the storyline. Some characters fit too easily into the tropes of the genre, particularly the law enforcement officials who take a backseat to an entry-level journalist more adept at finding and parsing clues, but the satisfying conclusion ties it together neatly and will leave readers curious for the next installment.

Takeaway: This satisfying mystery debut finds a young journalist investigating the disappearance of a mother and daughter.

Great for fans of: Samantha Jayne Allen’s Pay Dirt Road, Karin Slaughter.

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

Click here for more about In Custody: A Carrie Green Novel
The Brought Family Secrets: Defenders of The Light
Tami Stevenson
Stevenson debuts with this inventive Christian thriller that pits a family of believers, charged for generations as “defenders of the Light,” against unholy threats and mysteries, including demons, back mists, and the extraterrestrial. The angel Eliel, an old family friend, comes with “a memory of the past … and a memory of the future” for Ben, the Brought family’s gifted adult son, along with a revelation: their patch of rural Michigan is home to a lost, ancient temple built by the God-defying, giant-birthing “Watchers”—a temple that will soon be unearthed. Nature-loving aliens called “Willows” appear before the Broughts with a warning: when the temple is discovered, demons will be unleashed.

Memorable characterization, a fast pace, and a thoughtful reconciling of biblical fantasy with Christian belief set this series apart. The family’s already comfortable with aliens, including the Dubheians and the Starlings, both representative of a variety of “Others” whose presence, since the time of Adam and Eve, is noted in lost books of the Bible. The Broughts keep this secret for convincing reasons, but Stevenson is thoughtful about how to fit space-faring entities into Christian cosmology: “We need to remind people that whether any of this is true or not, it doesn’t matter when it comes to their salvation,” one Brought notes during an early multi-chapter exploration of secret histories.

The past’s mysteries also get excavated more literally in exciting sequences plumbing newly revealed tombs, complete with terrifying sculptures of dragons whose role in the climax readers will enjoy anticipating. As the family works to stop researchers from setting loose demons, Stevenson offers twists, revelations, a wedding, and above all a sense of adventure. The unfussy prose stays earthbound even when the characters quite literally take flight, but the plotting, worldbuilding, and cast are all promising and will appeal to Christian readers looking for fantasy that takes their beliefs seriously.

Takeaway: This Christian fantasy pits a Michigan family against a lost tomb, demons, and ancient secrets.

Great for fans of: James Bonk’s Light of the Ark, Joe Edd Morris’s The Lost Gospel.

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

Click here for more about The Brought Family Secrets
Intersections: Life-Changing Stories From my Rideshare Passengers
Andrew Spink
“I collected experiences. I absorbed wisdom. And now, I’m sharing those intersections with you” writes Spink in this three-part short story account of his time as an Uber driver. Drawing from his real-life experience with rideshare passengers, Spink’s debut recounts the meaningful intersections he witnessed: friends reconnecting, complicated family relationships, strangers sharing the intimate details of their lives, and more. Spink invites readers “to marvel at the people behind the characters [and] to find the meaning in their humanity” as he reveals a fascinating mix of personalities, each struggling with their own unique problems.

In “The Jumper,” security coordinator Ali, whose job locale moves every 10 weeks to keep its location a secret, stuns Spink when she recounts narrowly averting an employee suicide, while “Secrets” explores the complicated intergenerational dynamics of a father lamenting the loss of relationships with his children. Spink takes on the anxieties of immigration in “The Svislach,” a story that follows Nathan as he vacillates between choosing to stay in his hometown of Minsk or moving to Seattle for better opportunities. When glimpses of Mt. Rainier afford Nathan an immediate connection with his driver, his unease at being in a new country starts to fade: “Everything was foreign and new, yet for some reason it was starting to feel like a homecoming.” Spink continues that thread of community in “Magic,” with trans passenger Miranda, who finds belonging and a sliver of hope from her psychic neighbor’s words of wisdom—“We’re not meant to be alone. Working in cubicles, living in studio apartments, keeping to ourselves. We need love. Friendship. Even enemies and exes.”

The highlight of Spink’s storytelling is his poignant portrayal of sensitive relationships. He avoids providing easy solutions to life’s problems, instead conferring a sense of security and solace through sharing his riders’ woes, essentially paving a “way toward being whole” for both rider and reader alike.

Takeaway: An Uber driver reveals our universal need for connection in this touching collection.

Great for fans of: Corie Adjmi’s Life and Other Shortcomings, D. Wystan Owen’s Other People’s Love Affairs.

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

Click here for more about Intersections
The Reprobates
Benjamin Grose
Refreshingly light on traditional narrative, Grose’s debut novel-length character study takes readers to Munks, a once-lively nightclub now fallen to disrepair, struggling along in 2011’s urban England. Under the inept new management, Munks decays physically as pipes burst, the sound equipment is repossessed, and employees flee the sinking ship, at the same time as “new” bands, including Mumford and Sons and Ed Sheeran, get their starts on the dying dance floor. The nameless manager, on “borrowed time” after three years of tenure, narrates the day-to-day crises of property destruction, alcoholism, and camaraderie in the various identities he tries on, changing names based on the situation, with an ease he can’t bring to bear against his own addictions.

The vivid, sweat-glazed alcoholic environs of Munks and its ever-rotating cast of employees and patrons reflect Grose’s past experience working in a nightclub. The titular reprobates, employee and customer alike, are as interchangeable and highly alcoholic as the selection of shots available at the bar. Munks itself—the drinks, the petty office politics, and the contemporary playlist (helpfully already compiled on Grose’s website via Spotify)—carry both the narrative and prose, with the blank-slate manager’s sparse backstory existing only to break up long sections of rubbernecking Munks’s downfall and Grose’s choice to reflect the occasional dated humor that may be off-putting to some readers.

Character/location studies of this length are unusual, particularly as debuts, but what The Reprobates lacks in narrative arc it makes up for in loving homage to grunge and the ever-bygone nostalgia of a constantly “lost generation.” Grose’s depictions of the club’s rampant alcoholism are painstakingly evocative and realistic, and Munks could easily serve as an after-work bar in any beloved police procedural. This will entertain any reader who enjoys gritty realism or longs for their bachelor days of unfettered drinking and carousing.

Takeaway: A place-as-character homage to gritty nightclubs and youthful carousing.

Great for fans of: Robert Galbraith, J.R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar.

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

Click here for more about The Reprobates
River of the Red Earth People
Fred Cardin
Cardin evokes the free-wheeling spirit of 1960s America in this character-rich debut. Andy Vincent, beleaguered by his paranoid (and violent) mother and frustrated by his father’s tendency to detach from reality, harbors typical adolescent dreams: he wants to escape the small-town drudgery of Falkirk, Wisconsin, as much as he wants to end up with Sara, his beautiful but seemingly unattainable close friend. Caught in the mix are Andy and Sara’s sidekicks—Jon and Hollister—and Andy’s troublemaking younger brother, Harvey, an aspiring pool shark who’s as unruly as Andy is dreamy.

Readers fascinated by the era will be swept into the idealistic but turbulent era of Kennedy’s assassination, the Vietnam War, and the excitement of the Space Age as they follow the nebulous threads that eventually bring Andy, Sara, and Harvey to an uncertain, but hopeful, future. Andy, who’s convinced he “was trash because of his parents, his home,” finds the courage to break free and pursue Sara, who moved to California with her parents, despite his fear that he won’t measure up. Cardin draws a compelling contrast to Harvey, who manages an escape, too, in his own explosive way, only to find an unexpected family of his own, fitting the themes of disunion and ultimate hopefulness. As soon as they break ties with their parents, they’re free to discover both the joy—and the uncertainty—of new beginnings together.

The novel is on the lengthy side, and, like life, lacks a clearly defined climax, but Cardin’s character development is worth the commitment, and fans of complex interiority will be entertained. The brothers’ notable goals—“I believe I can do better than my parents. My brother Harvey says it’s his goal to not be them,” Andy declares—drive their adventure, and readers will ultimately be left with a sense of curious anticipation, mirroring the optimistic sentiment of the ‘60s that winds through the book.

Takeaway: A free-spirited 1960s adventure of young love and new beginnings.

Great for fans of: Julian Winters’s The Summer of Everything, Paulo Coelho’s Hippie.

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

Click here for more about River of the Red Earth People

Loading...