In this edition of our monthly thematic roundup of BookLife titles, we feature general fiction. Want to see your book featured? Check out the Indie Spotlight calendar at booklife.com/indiespotlight.
The Big If
Author statement: “Meet Penelope Caruso-Byrne. You may not have heard of her, but you’ve probably heard her voice. That scene from your favorite TV show that made you ugly cry? Yep, that was her on the soundtrack. She’s living the dream. Intelligent, gorgeous, and making a living doing what she loves in an indie folk duo with her rock of a hipster husband, Seth. So when she’s offered the most ridiculous sell-out opportunity of a lifetime by the world’s biggest pop star, Marc Justin, the answer is easy. Right? Set in the never-dull music industry, The Big If takes a deeper look at that gray space in love where compromise crosses the line. As a music photographer of 15 years who was married to a touring musician, I write about a world I love and know well. The Big If is my second novel, exploring the spaces of love, art, and how we define our sense of value and purpose.”
Author statement: “An invitation to a boozy pool party changes everything for Melissa when she meets Piper, Delilah, and Jess, who give her the friendships she was looking for and the hangovers she wasn’t. But her new friends’ lives aren’t as shiny as they seemed. Can Melissa help her friends face their harsh realities or will her swirling social world swallow
Girlfriends are the best. They make me laugh when I want to cry, encourage me to pursue my dreams, and polish off bottles of wine with me while discussing the merits of a good housecleaner. So, when life forced me to move 1,500 miles from the people who filled me up, I talked to them in my head and wrote a book about our friendship.”
Enfant Terrible: Showstopper
Author statement: “Damen Warner is ready for a fresh start. After spiraling into alcoholic depression as the result of his grandmother’s death, he plans to start the new year right. Thanks to his newfound notoriety as an internet sensation, Damen and his band, OBNXS, return to the studio to record their next album. But as his professional career takes off, Damen quickly discovers that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Forced to balance his professional aspirations against his deepening relationship with his girlfriend Melody and her five-year-old daughter, Damen quickly finds himself tangled in a web of controversy and chaos that threatens everything he loves. As he fights to keep his band, his relationship, and his sanity from unraveling, Damen struggles to confront his attitudes toward family and fatherhood, and to grow up—or die trying.”
How to Bury Your Dog
Author statement: “Lizzy has been leading an insulated life: she tends her adopted strays and goes to work at the blood lab, but she has forsaken lifelong pastimes and declines invitations from old friends. On the day she buries Happy, the abandoned basset hound she adopted years before, she learns a real estate developer is threatening the heart of her rural community—a tranquil pond and a relict stand of hemlocks. For Lizzy this is a magical place, hidden from the modern world. But as Lizzy is drawn into a group fighting the development and the dynamics among her remaining pets shift, she opens herself to two young neighbors who share her love of the natural environment—an awkward 16-year-old and an inquisitive 10-year-
old—and the three neighbors experience their own extraordinary transformations.
Since my youth I have been drawn to the natural environment and have had a passion for its protection, which has manifested itself in my formal education, hobbies, volunteer work, and where I live. There are ‘big’ stories about the environment, such as climate change, but I chose to tell a story that speaks to a common and local experience—that of losing precious habitat, a place with its own particular biota. In this novel, I speak to how one’s connection to the local landscape can be restorative and central to one’s well-being.”
The Key to Circus-Mom Highway
Author statement: “On a Tuesday afternoon, sisters Jesse Chasen and Jennifer McMahon receive a phone call notifying them that their birth mother has died, leaving behind a significant inheritance. But in order to obtain it, they must follow a detailed road trip she designed for them to get to know her—and that includes finding a brother they never knew existed. For the next week, this ill-assorted trio treks across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to meet their mother’s old friends, from circus performers to a juke joint owner, each of whom delivers a shocking vignette from the life of a young mother traumatized by loss and abuse. Along the way, these three siblings—Jesse, whose fiery exterior disguises a wounded, drifting musician stuck in a rut; Jennifer, whose carefully curated family life is threatened by her husband’s infidelity; and Jack, whose enigmatic Jackie, Oh! persona in the New Orleans drag queen scene helps him escape the nightmares of Afghanistan that haunt him at night—must confront their own demons (and at least one alligator). But in chasing the truth about their real mother, they may all just find their second chance.”
Author statement: “Olivia Montag is a professor who doesn’t have all the answers. The devastating loss of a child ended her marriage, and she’s been overlooked for a job promotion one time too many. She leaves it all behind and volunteers to teach English to schoolchildren in India. Ten thousand miles away, she connects with fellow volunteers and finds purpose in teaching—until one by one, the girls in her classes stop showing up. Then she meets Mukesh, an Indian man with a heart for invention, who may be the only one who can help her students. This is her chance to make real change, even if that means trusting new friendships and her own instincts. It turns out there might be strength in asking for help, and embracing a painful past may clear the way for a brighter future. Sometimes in the darkest storms, you can choose to dance in the rain. I am passionate about global women’s issues. Red Rain was inspired by both personal experiences and the Pad Project, which supports women’s health around the world.”
Sushi and Sea Lions
Author statement: “When a career-ending injury and a messy breakup send prima ballerina Daniela Verdi back to Queens, New York, she fills her days with countless distractions: meaningless sex, pinot grigio, and video games. It takes a chance meeting with her brother’s best friend, Vincent LaBate, for her to remember who she was before the stage lights and distractions of the Upper West Side. She’s convinced that Vincent could never love a girl like her: broken, insecure, and stumbling her way through life. What Daniela didn’t count on is that Vincent is as scarred as she is, after divorcing his cheating wife and going through an equally messy child custody fight. Soon enough, old vulnerabilities rear their ugly heads, opening a crack in Daniela’s perfectly imperfect romance.
I was crying on my couch after drinking too much wine on Christmas Day when my aunt asked me, ‘Why don’t you write?’ My life felt like it had imploded. I was devastated by the ‘breakup’ of a situationship that I knew better than to even enter, but did anyway. In order to heal my heart, and the copious amounts of other things I’d ignored over the years, I wrote. That’s how Sushi and Sea Lions came to be. Daniela’s healing was my healing. The hardest part about writing this book was being honest with myself and pouring that honesty into Daniela.”
Those Who Would Be King: The People’s King
Brent J. Ludwig
Author statement: “In this fast-paced action adventure novel, an orphaned baby is switched at the hospital with the heir to the fictional African kingdom of Maleziland by his desperate 11-year-old brother, who swore upon the soul of his dying mother that he would look after the baby. When the switch is discovered 14 years later, and the now-teenage boy is thrust unexpectedly into the spotlight as the uber-wealthy king of an impoverished nation, he has to decide which path he must take—will he help his people, with whom he was raised, or follow the path of so many others before him? All the while, others campaign to seize the throne and the riches that go with it. It was important to me to deliver a high-level story that helped people in the Western world understand Africa and some of the challenges she faces.”
Author statement: “Jen is overwhelmed as she’s sandwiched between the daily needs of her family, her work, and expectations of her parents. Her daughter Kylie is trapped at home, missing her friends and her lacrosse season. Her mother Patti feels irrelevant and vulnerable to how life is so quickly changing. The three women’s perspectives and distinct voices are shared against the backdrop of the pandemic. We follow their struggle to overcome past hurts and family secrets as they look toward changing their legacies. UnMasked chronicles the love and family drama of three remarkable women as they grapple with what really matters.”
An Upper West Side Story
Author statement: “It’s 2004 in Manhattan, and real estate is the driving factor behind most relationship decisions. Only here can strangers go from roommates to friends to lovers, in less time than it takes a co-op board to approve a purchase. Robin Cromwell is in desperate need of a roommate. She’s lucked into a rent-controlled classic six on the Upper West Side, but her best friend is moving, and she can’t afford to live there on her own. Jessica Barlowe is counting the days until she moves in with her boyfriend in his renovated one-bedroom co-op—that is, until she walks in on him with another woman and all her plans disappear into thin air. Tory Wallace is determined to move out from under her abhorrent parents’ roof, even if that roof is covering a $50 million brownstone on the Upper East Side. Although Tory hasn’t spent much time thinking about being self-sufficient, the tension at home has reached a boiling point, and she’s got to get out. And Zach Sullivan is a successful technology executive, living in a modernized pre-war two-bedroom on West 78th Street. He’d never planned on renting out his spare bedroom, but a chance encounter results in an impulsive offer that will change his life forever.
Before I started writing, I worked in brand strategy consulting and marketing for over 10 years, moving between San Francisco, London, and Manhattan. I currently live in Westchester, N.Y., with my husband, three children, and two dogs. An Upper West Side Story is my seventh independently published book.”