Foreword Reviews

Welcome to the Big Time

Highly Touted Authors Make the Most of Their Debuts


There’s a peculiar alchemy involved in converting ordinary circumstances into great or transcendent ones in any life: a touch of bravery, a dash of an unexpected foe, often a leap into the unknown, and the very substance of the world might change. Commanding such magic in literature is a rare gift, but in the dazzling first novels featured here, evidence of such skill abounds. Joseph Campbell spoke of those who encounter the mystery beyond the known world in terms of the “hero with a thousand faces.” In these debut novels, readers get glimpses of a few such faces. A young boy confronts hoodoo in a quest to save his father; a mother holds her family together against the background of the Holocaust; a young girl defies religious convention. Collectively, these ferocious, unexpected adventurers prove to be a panacea for what is common and mundane.

How to Talk to Rockstars

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Alli Marshall
Logosophia Books
Unknown $16.00 (204pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Winsome and wistful, Alli Marshall’s novel centers on a timid music journalist named Bryn. Guided by the notes she hears and the stories she pries out from behind them, she captures the unheralded artistry on the observer’s side of the music industry.

Bryn is haunted by “images [that] are fragments of songs that will never be sung,” most of which came alive to her via vinyl and live shows. She yearns to let the artists who move her know that they’ve been seen, understood, and empathized with.

Not all of the artists she works with are truly fellow seekers, but there are those who give her hope. Amongst them stands enigmatic, unobtainable Jude, who speaks of the methodology behind leaves and the loneliness of Siberian winters.

Marshall’s How to Talk to Rockstars pays melodic homage to all those who have ever tried to find themselves in the artists who move them. Bryn, while she’s composed, even a little dry, in her working life, proves to be symphonically layered, asking and answering questions of those who inspire her even as she crescendos toward her own opus of answers—less a collection of notes than an authentic path forward. This novel captures the magic of the perfect song that we hear at the perfect time, and it imparts a sense of the known even as it opens windows to worlds unimagined.



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James E. McTeer II
Hub City Press
Hardcover $24.95 (230pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Among his adventuresome friends, Minnow is perhaps the only boy who does not need to ask “Is it true?” of magical tales. He’s seen enough in his young life to be able to separate out the literary chaff from the truly wondrous. When the witch doctor Crow sends him on a quest into the barrier islands for some dirt from an old hoodoo specter’s grave, he knows to go forth quickly, leaving his questions behind him. If he succeeds, he’ll be bequeathed an elixir for hi dying father. If he fails, his world will continue to leak hope, and all that is magical with it.

Along the way, Minnow must face down a series of mysterious elements and dark figures, all of which put his fortitude to the test. A dog becomes his occasional guide, and his wits a necessary tool in his arsenal. Though the buried hoodoo man seems to turn the elements against Minnow to keep his resting place undisturbed, Minnow presses on, willing to stare down any horror out of the conviction that what awaits on the other side might save his family.

James McTeer’s work revives Southern gothic themes to create a milieu both elegant and disturbing. Minnow is a character well worth walking alongside; although the end of his quest finds him in undesired territory, the circumstances that test him forge a hero both capable and kind. McTeer’s bayou magic will stay long after the storm clouds part.


A Theory of Expanded Love

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Caitlin Hicks
Light Messages
Softcover $20.95 (362pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Caitlin Hicks begins this story of tradition and redemption in the months leading up to Kennedy’s assassination, when all manner of possibilities seemed open to good little Catholic girls. Ensconced in the middle of a noisy Irish family of fifteen and perched at the edge of her teen years, Annie Shea knows that she’s on the cusp of spiritual greatness. She weaves tales of her heavenward ascension for awed classmates, trading on the potential papacy of a family friend and her maybe-vocation as a selfless bride of Christ.

Yet Annie discovers that even very blessed Catholics are sometimes faced with tribulations. Hers begin with an uncovered and faded photograph of her mother in a wedding gown, standing next to a soldier who is most definitely not her father. Propelled by a thirst for the truth (and maybe even an older, less nettlesome sibling), Annie makes her way through the forbidden channels of family history. When her eldest sister finds herself facing a scandal, Annie alone will be equipped to discern the righteous choice from amongst the many, mostly straight-laced options available.

Hicks adopts Annie’s precocious voice skillfully and draws from it self-effacing humor, spiritual bargaining, and enough charm to fill the corridors of Vatican City twice over. This is an involving tale of religious evolution that reminds us that good faith is what sometimes grows out of defying convention and braving the unknown.


Up the Hill to Home

A Novel

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Jennifer Bort Yacovissi
Apprentice House Press
Softcover $19.99 (473pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Lillie Voith is the sun around which her family revolves. She lives with her ever expanding family at the edges of Washington, DC, in a home her father built for her mother while spilling over with the enthusiasm of first love. Her stores of happiness are threatened, though, when she takes a tumble down the basement stairs and finds herself suffering from a life-threatening condition.

Being bedridden gives her an opportunity to pore over old memories—always a favorite habit and now her sole refuge from growing concerns. Family letters and diaries offer inroads to the thoughts and controversies of four generations, from her grandmother Mary Miller’s foreboding father, who forces the family onto a ship headed to America, to the Civil War doctor whose malfeasances remain a stain on the family name. Lillie pays homage to her parents, whose whirlwind courtship joined an ambitious young man to a self-sufficient woman who’d thought that her chance to start a family had passed, and who, instead, regained her youth through love of her daughter. And always, there’s Ferd, the husband who’d do anything for Lillie, even sacrifice his own dreams.

Jennifer Bort Yacovissi’s command of language and history make for fluid and tactile reading. Lillie’s family stories enrapture, from letters revealing character foibles and vulnerabilities to historical records hedging on embarrassing details. Up the Hill to Home is an emotionally powerful, gorgeously imparted family saga.


Even in Darkness

A Novel

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Barbara Stark-Nemon
She Writes Press
Softcover $16.95 (317pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

“Love and devotion [bloom] as redemption for pain and suffering,” writes Barbara Stark-Nemon at the conclusion of her emotionally challenging and meticulously researched new novel. The story centers on Klare, a resourceful, intelligent woman with a real-life counterpart in the author’s family history, who at eighteen is faced with lethal threats related to her Jewish identity.

Despite the growing presence of Nazism, Klare elects to marry Jakob Kohler, the reserved older lawyer who’s captured her imagination. With Klare’s brother, Jakob enlists to fight in the First World War, and comes home to find his world no safer for it. Their family grows in time with increased restrictions on Jews, and perceptive Klare must find ways to protect the people they love before a brutal, merciless enemy.

The daring choices of the Kohlers, and those in their immediate circle, involve notorious avenues for escaping Nazism: use of the kindertransport, immigration to Palestine, and crypto-Judaism all find well-drawn places on these pages. With all they lose, the Kohlers still find ways to gain: in redoubled affection, in the certainty of a line that will continue if on foreign soil, and in the knowledge that never, under any pressure, did they lose their integrity for the sake of survival. This is a Holocaust story certain to move readers not only because of the quiet heroism of its characters, but because it rings with truth. Even in Darkness is a stunning historical endeavor.


The Lie of You

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Jane Lythell
Head of Zeus
Softcover $12.95 (314pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Capable Kathy finds herself at the helm of London’s most prestigious architectural magazine, holding down the job she’s worked toward all her life and living higher than she’s ever dreamed of. It seems you can have it all, because at home there waits Markus, her handsome, if sometimes mysterious new husband, and their beloved baby, Billy.

Yet Kathy will soon discover that there are cracks in the foundation of her perfect happiness, most of them tying into the Finnish past of which Markus is reluctant to speak. Heja, the instrument of her undoing, lurks in the shadows of her bedroom as she sleeps, sabotages her career, and plants evidence for Markus of loves not entirely lost. At the office, Heja presents a foreboding, but placid, front. Kathy suspects what she cannot articulate, and the creeping madness around her may prove too intrepid for her defenses.

Jane Lythell trades between the women’s voices—Kathy’s yearning and hopeful, Heja’s jealous and plotting—to present a harrowing thriller set in the spaces where derangement meets desire. Obsession and calculation drive the women toward a tragic clash, where happiness proves unable to bear them both. The Lie of You is a powerful psychological adventure certain to intrigue those curious about the modern limitations of happily ever after.


The Book of Colors

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Raymond Barfield
Unbridled Books
Softcover $16.00 (224pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In the traditions of Toni Morrison and Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Barfield presents a gorgeous and dismaying human tapestry from the edges of Southern society. Yslea is still reeling from the death of her mother when she wanders into a local clapboard community, presided over by an aging, generous woman named Rose and charming young Jimmy, for whom ethics are often an impediment to worldly advancement.

Yslea finds herself pregnant and unwilling to return to her boarding house. At Rose’s initially reluctant invitation, she stays on as the matriarch’s guest and confidant. She builds a new family around her ragtag neighbors, including Layla, the sensuous woman next door whose “lovemaking is like shade” to those in need, and Layla’s silent daughter, Ambrosia.

With an eye toward building a haven for her daughter, Yslea charges herself with setting down hardy roots and wringing beauty from her surroundings. She glues together fragments of a Parisian scene, rebuilds a lonely animal from the bones up, keeps an eye out for the deadly snake who hides just out of sight, and loses herself in the questions surrounding Ambrosia’s Book of Colors.

When the outside world elects to concern itself with the community and its choices, only Yslea will prove able to draw new life out of the wreckage. An ethereal story of poverty and redemption that ends with a phoenix-like flourish and abounds with grace.


The Swap

A Mystery

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Nancy Boyarsky
Light Messages Publishing
Softcover $16.99 (342pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

Mary Higgins Clark meets London in the first novel from Nancy Boyarsky, a fast-paced mystery in which a hopeful wife travels abroad to rekindle her relationship and finds, instead, that she’s stumbled into the tensions of an international drug ring.

As a heroine, Nicole is instantly likable. Disturbed by the growing distance in her marriage, she rearranges her work schedule to accompany her husband, Brad, on a summer-long stay in the UK. They arrange a house trade with someone Brad once met in his London office, but soon find that their cozy cottage is at the center of a showdown between dealers seeking payment. Nicole finds herself not only battling Brad’s infidelities, but fighting for her life.

The pace of Boyarsky’s story and the thrill of surprising new developments lead to a nail-biting adventure whose thralls are difficult to escape. Nicole’s evolution—from a possibly cuckolded wife to a capable detective who evades investigators and murderous fiends alike—places her amongst the most intriguing leads in the genre. The Swap contributes to the women-driven mystery field with panache.


Michelle Schingler

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