Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Book Reviews

The Forgotten Roses: A Novel

The Forgotten Roses: A Novel

In 1940s Boston, Rose Gabrielli, a tough girl who “ran around with men” is sent to a women’s prison by her shamed father. She dies there, reportedly by her own hand. But her family suspects that she was murdered, because “she knew something” about the goings-on at the prison—“something terrible.”

In later years, Serena Deitzhoff, another tough young woman—and daughter of the prison’s one-time psychologist—mysteriously disappears after her mother’s suicide, generating rumors in her hometown.

And in the present day, in the same town, teenager Dana Griffin is immersed in her own set of troubles and heading quickly down a path of self destruction.

Bringing together these three stories is Dana’s mother, Rebecca Griffin, the protagonist of Deborah Docette’s briskly paced and thought-provoking début novel, The Forgotten Roses. A real estate agent, Rebecca is in charge of selling the home of Harold Deitzhoff, Serena’s father and the former prison psychologist. As she visits Deitzhoff, whose failing physical and mental state echoes the deteriorating condition of his house, Rebecca finds herself haunted by her family’s stories of Rose, a distant relative. And she begins to be troubled by questions: Did these stories have any basis in fact? What about the “respite therapy” that Deitzhoff was said to offer prison inmates, like Rose, at his home? Was it the beneficial intervention it was claimed to be or something far more sinister? Finally, why did Serena Deitzhoff disappear? And what was behind her mother’s suicide?

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The Fiery Alphabet

The Fiery Alphabet

“When I think of all I tried to create in this world, your mind is the one unqualified success.”

 For Daniela Messo, math prodigy and heroine of The Fiery Alphabet, Diane Lefer’s sweeping and illuminating new historical novel, these words are a fond memory of a father’s admiration. But they are also a kind of warning, for Daniela and her father live in eighteenth-century Rome, where female intellectuals confront suspicion and far worse threats from religious authorities and society at large.

 The novel movingly describes Daniela’s efforts to persist and occasionally thrive in the face of such threats, and to shrewdly rebel against the limits they impose on her. It also allows readers to share Daniela’s journey, both intellectual and literal, toward a greater understanding of herself and of the larger world. Along the way she discovers that while her active mind puts her in danger, it can also be a saving grace.

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Interview with J.J. Hensley, author of Resolve

Interview with J.J. Hensley, author of Resolve

In J. J. Hensley’s captivating new thriller Resolve, Dr. Cyprus Keller, a criminology professor at a fictional Pittsburgh university, finds that he has to put his expertise in criminal behavior into practice. The reason: a former student is murdered, and Keller comes to suspect that some people very close to him are involved. As Keller uncovers possible motives and clues, and as the death toll rises, he becomes a potential victim himself—and a suspect.

All the while, Keller never stops training for the Pittsburgh Marathon, determined that a fellow racer—and the person he has identified as the mastermind behind the killings—will not live to cross the finish line

Like Keller, J. J. Hensley is a runner, and he spoke about the connection between his running background and the novel in interviews with TheRUNiverse.com and with Trium Marketing.

In this interview with Small Press Picks, Hensley discusses, among other things, Resolve’s exploration of justice and the moral ambiguity that sometimes accompanies it. (As the interview went to press, Resolve was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine.)

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A Bug Collection

A Bug Collection

A mayfly, newly aware that her lifespan is but a day, quotes Dylan Thomas to her also-dying love: “Do not go gently into that good night.”

A firefly, with something “a little off in his bioluminescence,” is all but sidelined during his companions’ spectacular nighttime light shows.

A ladybug, despite his powers to charm, is justifiably suspected of serial-killing fellow beetles.

Love and mortality, aspiration and disappointment, evil and the sometimes-futile attempts to overcome it: In her dazzling new book A Bug Collection, Melody Mansfield takes universal concerns like these and boils them down into concentrated, microcosmic packages—several stories, two poems, and one play. Though written from bugs’ points of view, all of the works offer insightful glimpses into the lights and darks of living in this world.

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Interview with Ron MacLean, author of Headlong

Interview with Ron MacLean, author of Headlong

Ron MacLean’s Headlong (published earlier this month by Last Light Studio) did for me what the best novels do: It pulled me wholly into its world while I was reading it and burned like a steady flame in the back of my mind whenever I wasn’t.

Headlong tells the story of Nick Young, who returns to his hometown, Boston, after his difficult and distant father suffers a stroke. The life Nick has left behind, in LA, is nothing he seems eager to return to. Though still in love with his ex-wife, an actress whose career he helped manage, Nick sees that she is well on her way to a new and happy life without him. He is at loose ends not only in his personal life but in his work life; having walked away from a promising career as a reporter, Nick has no idea what he’ll do next.

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The Butterfly Lady: A Novel

The Butterfly Lady: A Novel

Like some of the best music, The Butterfly Lady, Danny M. Hoey, Jr.’s début novel, is a study in unfulfilled desires, which have the power to haunt us as nothing else can. And like a musician who plays from his heart, Hoey brings to life the pull of such desires, and the hazards that lie on the paths to their fulfillment.

The novel opens with the murder of its central character, Gabriel Smith—a cross-dresser self-named the Butterfly Lady–in Cleveland in July 1983. As spectators watch morgue workers remove Gabriel’s body from the murder scene, “[t]hey were comforted with the understanding that there would be no investigation, no questions asked. No. It was a black man in a dress. Dead. Long ago dead to a world that turned off its light to him years before they stood, with slight satisfaction, and watched his body rolled out.”

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