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BLIND PONY
Samantha P Hart
Hart’s powerful debut, a gritty memoir rife with graphic details of abuse and triumph over it, will break hearts. Hart, born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, was sexually abused by her maternal grandfather. Finally no longer able to tolerate the abuse, 14-year-old Hart ran away to Phoenix to live with her father, Wild Bill. Far from a safe harbor, Hart soon learned that Bill was as deeply flawed as other members of her family. Showing an impressive amount of moxie, she landed a series of jobs and pulled up stakes to move to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. Times remained tough—an abusive lover caused her to have a miscarriage, and two marriages ended—but there were joyful moments too, especially the birth of her daughter, Vignette.

Readers will be flabbergasted by Hart’s tenacious survival instincts. From the cradle, the cards were against her; disturbingly and spitefully, her mother named her Pam after her father’s mistress, and her vindictive father put sugar in her gas tank to foil her move to Los Angeles. But despite being dealt a losing hand in the parental game, she quickly sized up what she needed to do to survive, including selling softcore porn to European magazines and pretending to be old enough to waitress in restaurants serving alcoholic beverages. A lesser spirit would have given up early on, but Hart admirably soldiered forward.

Hart’s incredible resilience and courage will captivate anyone who reads her words. Her rise to top roles in the advertising game and in Hollywood is nothing short of an amazing reinvention, and her perseverance eventually led to a life-changing friendship and new love. Unforgettable and raw, Hart’s deeply honest musings will ring true to all abuse survivors and those who want to understand what it’s like to walk through fire.

Takeaway: Hart’s frank narrative of surviving domestic abuse may be rough going for her fellow survivors, but it will awe anyone seeking a memoir of determined self-invention.

Great for fans of Mackenzie Phillips’s High on Arrival, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina.

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

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I hate my brother
Branislav Bojcic
Bojčić’s dramatic war novel is rooted in the gut-wrenching events of the Bosnian War. Serb Gvozden Mišić lives in Yugoslavia with his wife, Yadranka, and daughter, Anna. He naively believes Yugoslavia will continue to prosper as a unified country after President Josip Broz Tito’s death. Soon, war breaks out, and Gvozden serves in the military with a mission to secure villages against traitors. Before Gvozden leaves to fulfill his commitment to his country, he asks his Muslim neighbor Senad to look after his family. The Serbs in charge seek to kill Muslims and Croats in order to create a pure Serbian Yugoslavia, but Gvozden simply wants to return home and protect his wife and daughter.

Gvozden’s intense experiences as a soldier transform him from a level-headed farmer and devoted family man to a primal brute. The story depicts shocking acts, including the rape of Muslim women by rogue soldiers in Gvozden’s unit. The graphic violence captures the horrifying nature of war, and beneath the bloodshed lie philosophical questions: Are monsters born or created? If God exists, why does He allow evil? Bojčić doesn’t try to provide answers, instead leaving readers to grapple with the repercussions of violence on those who commit it as well as those it victimizes.

Bojčić’s experience as a Yugoslavian and a political refugee in the United States lends authority to the setting and subject. The characters and themes transcend the occasional translation and editing errors to create an intense, fast-paced journey guaranteed to haunt readers. This arresting drama draws back the curtain of war and focuses on the metamorphosis of men under the extreme stress of combat. Bojčić’s emotional and gripping portrayal of war will stick with history enthusiasts long after the final sentence.

Takeaway: Fans of war, military, and historical fiction will be enthralled by Bojčić’s heart-twisting depiction of the Bosnian War.

Great for fans of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, Zlatko Dizdarević’s Sarajevo: A War Journal, Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father.

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

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The Science of Defying Gravity
LINDA A REED
Reed’s second middle grade novel, an upbeat tale meant to encourage girls in STEM, explores the joys of scientific discovery. Fifth grader Cassie Williams dreams of going to Space Camp, her initial step toward becoming the first movie director in space. Unfortunately, her ticket to Space Camp relies on getting a good grade in science—her worst subject! With her father recently laid off, Cassie needs to make the best science fair project ever if she wants to win a scholarship and keep any hope of getting to space.

Though the science of Cassie’s paper airplane project is solid, the narrative often gets dragged down by details, such as an entire chapter of Cassie writing a lab report. The illustrations range from whimsically charming to bland. Cassie’s personal journey is full of false starts; problems with friends and her moviemaking ambitions are never really fleshed out, and though Cassie is an effective vehicle for conveying academic information, she’s not always a compelling protagonist. Her classroom setting also feels a bit dated, and at times the plot stretches credulity. However, even when the story falters, the detail is interesting enough to keep the attention of science-minded young readers.

Cassie’s journey is full of empowering female role models, including a woman engineer, and bonus material includes links to the Society of Women Engineers. Children who have a hard time grasping scientific principles may find this book more understandable than a textbook, while children who love science will be pleased with the amount of factual information and the experiments that can be done at home. The novel would work well as a classroom tool, pairing narrative with ideas for hands-on experiences, and will encourage young scientists—especially girls—to believe that their dreams are within their reach.

Takeaway: Tweens who enjoy making, building, and learning will get the most from this book about what it takes to become a scientist.

Great for fans of Asia Citro’s Zoey and Sassafras series, Linda Sue Park’s Project Mulberry.

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

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Yesterday Is Not Yet Gone
Gabriel Veiga
Veiga’s fast-paced debut whodunit combines murder and intrigue while introducing a not-so-ragtag team of strong female leads who must navigate an intricate web of lies and small-town secrets to catch a serial killer. Judy Hunter, a newly retired NYPD detective, and Charlotte Gibbins, the daughter of Judy’s former partner, form an unlikely crime-solving duo. When Hollywood star Ethan Gregory is murdered the day of Judy’s retirement, Judy is resigned to leaving the investigation to her trusted partner, Fred Gibbins, but then Fred dies suddenly. Judy teams up with Charlotte, who is determined to be a detective like her father, to find out the truth about Fred’s death as well as Ethan’s.

Veiga keeps the story flowing with short chapters that quickly alternate between the perspectives of Judy and Charlotte. The characters’ attitudes and viewpoints are expressed vividly through colorful, sometimes choppy dialogue. The cast of characters is large and diverse with interconnecting story lines, adding additional layers of conflict and suspense. Tensions often flare when Hunter’s replacement, Eddie White, a good ol’ boy from Louisiana, makes an appearance. Albeit a tad clichéd, Eddie’s arrogance and personal beliefs exemplify prejudices and racist views that create inequalities within the legal system.

Elements of mystery and suspense are combined with the complexities of navigating a career that’s less friendly to some races, genders, and sexual orientations. The chapters are packed with action and usually end on cliffhangers that hold the reader’s attention. The rural setting and the warm relationship between Judy and Charlotte give the story an almost cozy feel and set the backdrop for a true mystery thriller that keeps readers guessing until the end.

Takeaway: Fans of cozy murder mysteries will find delight in this story’s fast-paced plot and quirky, diverse cast of characters.

Great for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Tana French, Agatha Christie.

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

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Corrupted Humours, a Novel
Donald Friedman
Friedman’s layered novel combines humor and two distinct narratives into a single convoluted mystery. In the first story line, struggling novelist and journalist Owen Berk investigates the untimely death of esteemed psychiatrist Dr. Snaedeker, who had a gastrointestinal condition causing him to produce excessive amounts of gas. Snaedeker exploded on the operating table during routine surgery performed by renowned surgeon Bill Spencer. In the second, which seems to be both real life and a novel Owen is writing, Charlotte Spencer, Bill’s wife and Snaedeker’s patient, grapples with the realization that her husband has been cheating. The stories begin to intertwine as Owen tries to figure out whether Snaedeker was murdered and the Spencers veer toward divorce.

Snaedeker’s medical condition and death are mined somewhat for comedy, but they take a back seat to the drama in Owen’s life and the turmoil within the Spencers’ rocky relationship, particularly the physical abuse and mental manipulation that both Snaedeker and Bill inflict on Charlotte. Unfortunately, the stylistic choice to leave quotation marks out of dialogue (“She said, they’re chocolate, your favorite. I said no thanks”) makes it very hard to follow the events; Owen’s first-person narration blurs into his conversations with others, and scenes with multiple characters are especially difficult to untangle, greatly diminishing the tension.

Nuances of character elevate the story. Owen, a man in his “stream-dribbling sixties,” is somewhat obsessed with aging and death, a trait developed through his relationship with his 20-something girlfriend, Kjirsti, and his role as unofficial caregiver to his 92-year-old neighbor, Basha-Rose. Charlotte experiences a masochistic sexual awakening that helps her both make sense of and defy being mistreated. These complex protagonists and their interwoven narratives create a distinctive literary mystery with a bent toward the philosophical.

Takeaway: This mystery will appeal to readers who enjoy literary fiction and stories that examine the human condition.

Great for fans of Alexis Schaitkin’s Saint X, Suzanne Rindell.

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

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The Write to Happiness: How to Write Stories to Change Your Brain and Your Life
Samantha Shad
This cogent guide to storytelling also advocates the use of writing as a tool to improve one’s life through the written word. Shad identifies the “rules of writing to happiness” in straightforward steps, with an emphasis on using creative writing to view life’s problems through the lens of narrative. The first section is an excellent resource for aspiring and novice writers, with chapters that explore storytelling, developing characters, and plotting. Shad effortlessly expands and builds upon each element of writing as the book progresses. Having addressed the “how” of writing, the second section explores the “why.” Shad delves deeper into explaining her belief that one can rewire the brain through expressive writing, thus writing oneself to happiness.

The detailed chapters on the basics of writing will appeal to novice writers just beginning to explore the craft. Shad begins at the very beginning, discussing where ideas come from, how to develop a protagonist and antagonist, and how to structure a plot. Her style is engaging and entertaining while staying highly informative and providing firm guidance: “There are no awards for having the most characters, subplots, and storylines. Aim to go deep, not wide.” Shad encourages the reader to jump ahead in certain areas of the book to try their hand at a particular exercise. This will go over well with readers who are hands-on learners and with writers already well-versed in the basics.

This guide caters to writers in the broad sense of the word, providing useful analysis for professionals, as well as for people who journal and write recreationally. Novices can rely on the wealth of information presented as a learning tool, and seasoned authors can peruse the work as a refresher course or learn more about writing and the brain. The writing exercises and worksheets are relevant to all skill levels. Readers with interest in creative writing or journaling will find this tool well worth investigating.

Takeaway: This resource for aspiring writers is also a self-help book for anyone seeking self-discovery through the art of writing.

Great for fans of Chris Fox, Ryder Carroll.

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

Daniel Scratch
Don Jones
Jones’s languorous, meditative epic fantasy follows its titular character, Daniel Scratch, an orphaned teenager descended from powerful witches. At age 13, Daniel is sent to pursue his magical education in a fantastical tower, alone but for his friend and mentor, Kirmin. Daniel is studying to be the adherent of the Axis of Endings, one of the world’s great magics. This affords him control over endings big and small, from lifestyles to lives. The rest of witchkind binds Daniel to the tower, hoping that doing so will bind death. Once Daniel becomes an adherent and is able to send his spirit beyond the tower, he uncovers a horrible crime that shines a light on his complicated family history and tests his new abilities.

The gothic setting is rich in detail: magical bureaucracy and legality, Lithuanian spell words, peculiar artifacts, taciturn ghosts. It creates a compelling backdrop for Daniel’s development, in the process emphasizing his loneliness and isolation. His parents didn’t teach him many things they should have, his undead grandmother is cryptic, and he struggles to catch up with what the rest of witchkind already knows, all while developing control of immense magics. Romance, friendship, and family are absent from his life; even among his fellow adherents, Daniel stands alone.

Jones does an admirable job of describing the perils and pitfalls of power in this captivating story. At one point, Daniel considers using his abilities to end an argument, only to reflect that conflict can have a purpose and should be resolved naturally. The true meaning of ending is explored and expounded, stressing the importance of free thinking through viewing the challenges and experiences of the main characters. These ruminations, and the sections detailing Daniel’s education, are at times exposition-heavy, but this work is generally best suited to readers who enjoy slow immersion in rich prose. Adult and teenage fans of thoughtful fantasy will love exploring this beautifully described world of arcane powers.

Takeaway: This meditative look at power will engage readers who like their fantasy with a side of philosophy.

Great for fans of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

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

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Limerick Comics
Robert Hoyman
Hoyman’s playful but informative debut collection introduces children to the joy of limerick poetry while delivering fun facts about an array of subjects from everyday life and history. Every page contains a fully illustrated limerick mini-comic and additional information about the poem’s meaning, inviting readers to soak up knowledge. The varied topics include the jewelry-packed tombs of ancient Egypt, the origin of roller coasters in Russia, the biological importance of a pesky fruit fly, and Joseph Aspdin’s creation of Portland cement in his own kitchen.

Each illustration employs traditional cartooning, eye-catching colors, and outlandishly hyperbolic imagery that brings some humor to an otherwise ordinary lesson. A glossary is also included to help those who are hungry for learning but may stumble over terms such as bioluminescence and shtick. Alongside pages on science and history, such as one discussing how the first mail systems worked via stagecoach, steamships, and the Pony Express, Hoyman includes limericks about food safety (with vivid illustrations of moldy cheese), the dangers of smoking and benefits of getting adequate sleep, and the role of local government in the community.

Even when discussing complex subjects, Hoyman keeps the language simple (“A caveman all covered with dust/ Could briskly make flint stones combust”). Young readers will have no trouble enjoying and absorbing the entire collection, whether by picking a poem at random or reading from cover to cover. With the subject matter changing from page to page, the book excels at keeping readers’ attention while planting the seeds for an early appreciation of poetry, art, history, science, and civics. This witty and fun little book, displayed on a Kindle or Nook or read by flashlight, is sure to delight any reader who gives it a look.

Takeaway: For young readers and parents alike, this collection of factoid limericks will be a great introduction to poetry while delivering interesting knowledge and good laughs.

Great for fans of Mick Twister’s There Was an Old Geezer Called Caesar: A History of the World in 100 Limericks, Garrison Keillor’s Living with Limericks, the Oxford English Dictionary in Limerick Form project.

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

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Wander New York
Reese Traves
It’s a busy day in the Big Apple for Fitz the fox and his mother in Traves and Traves’s whimsically illustrated, engaging, and information-packed debut book. A yellow cab whisks Fitz and his mother into Manhattan, where they take a ferry to their first destination, the towering Lady Liberty. From there, the foxes travel by foot and subway to other iconic New York City tourist attractions that include the Brooklyn Bridge (depicted as blissfully car-free), dinosaur fossils at the American Museum of Natural History, and a bustling Grand Central Station. Fitz even learns how to use his map and find a route to the Bronx Zoo after he and his mother miss the Central Park Zoo subway stop.

This charming picture book allows readers to experience New York City vicariously as they join Fitz on a trip that is both fun and educational. Reese Traves’s friendly narrative and Jon Traves’s detailed, colorful illustrations capture Fitz’s sense of adventure as well as the quintessential character and energy of New York City. The young fox’s realistic experience in the city encompasses a range of emotions, such as the delight of climbing a “ginormous” rock and curiosity about Grand Central Station’s leaf and acorn motifs.

The visual emphasis of certain words in the sometimes stilted rhyming text adds a dynamic element: “It said CLOSED?! The train did not STOP?!/ This is not opportune./ We are LATE and the Central Park/ penguin feeding is soon!” The use of various modes of transportation will intrigue children who live outside cities and feel warmly familiar to urbanites, and trivia notes in tiny type will appeal to factoid fans. The friendly anthropomorphic characters will captivate children’s attention and spark conversation. This is a perfect story for children looking forward to, or anxious about, a proposed trip to New York.

Takeaway: This enticing child’s-eye-view of New York City is perfect for young tourists getting ready to explore the city.

Great for fans of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?, Salvatore Rubbino’s A Walk in New York.

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

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South Korea: The Price of Efficiency and Success
John Gonzalez and Young Lee
Gonzalez, an American educator with extensive experience teaching in South Korea, conceives of this thoughtful study of contemporary South Korean culture and behavior as something like a gift, an opportunity to show his “appreciation” to a country that had “opened its doors” to him. That spirit of thankfulness does not preclude this self-described “outsider” from offering his host country warnings about what Gonzalez fears South Korea may be losing in its drive toward efficiency and success. Gonzalez (whose research into Korean primary sources was aided by translator Lee) offers spirited praise for South Korea’s traditions and its recent rise to global dominance as an innovator and exporter of technology and pop culture, but he also sounds an alarm about the possible harms of a cultural emphasis on materialism.

Why, Gonzalez asks, would a nation enjoying robust economic growth and international prestige be losing ground in studies of national happiness? He points to a generation of young people who are unconvinced that the rewards of the Korean economy are equitably shared and see success as reserved for those who are already wealthy. Other factors, he suggests, might be the nation’s low fertility rate and aging population. He argues that a cultural emphasis on efficiency and speed is the cause of several deadly industrial disasters in recent years. Meanwhile, globalization introduces new ways of life that are “diametrically opposed to existing traditional values” such as respect for the elderly and collaboration.

Gonzalez takes a first-person approach to a wide-ranging work that would be more persuasive if it foregrounded Korean voices and avoided sweeping statements such as “Koreans have an innate desire to reach consensus.” However, readers will appreciate his celebration of South Korea’s adoption of new technologies, spirit of collective sacrifice, and enduring traditions. Those who agree with Gonzalez’s beliefs about the cost of material success will appreciate this compilation of statistics, personal observations, and food for thought.

Takeaway: This study will interest Westerners looking for a sympathetic and self-aware outsider’s take on 21st-century South Korean cultural shifts.

Great for fans of Geoffrey Cain’s Samsung Rising, Boye Lafayette De Mente’s The Korean Way in Business.

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

The Rose Vol. 1 A Dystopian Science Fiction Thriller
P.D. Alleva
This dystopian horror novel goes all in on its blockbuster premise: alien vampires called the Drac have infiltrated Earth, inciting global war and subjecting humans to genetic experiments. Human soldiers, thinking they’re following legitimate orders, capture pregnant women and children for Drac use. Sandy Cox, six months pregnant, flees a refugee camp but is caught and taken to a vast underground facility near Atlanta, where her baby is prematurely extracted and transformed into a bloodthirsty human-Drac hybrid. Now Sandy must rely on enigmatic freedom fighter Phil and other unlikely allies to escape the Drac city before it’s destroyed by a saboteur, even as a dispute between alien factions erupts into open fighting.

Staccato prose, a choppy narrative, and visceral descriptions grant this dystopian thriller both urgency and a sense of chaos, which contribute to the story’s air of intrigue and confusion. With multiple plotlines weaving throughout the increasingly frenetic tale, which is told from frequently shifting perspectives, it can be hard to keep track of the numerous characters and threats. Alleva rarely dwells on backstory or worldbuilding, leaving much to be explained late in the story, if at all.

Sandy’s maternal instincts serve her well in her efforts to protect her newborn child, and she has a fair amount of internal complexity, but many other characters are opaque or underexplored. For instance, Phil is distilled down to his unique weapons and impressive combat skills, with very little said about his background or purpose. This series opener clearly has ambitious plans to set up a conflict among the Drac with Earth caught in the middle, touching upon tantalizing ideas such as vast underground cities, a manufactured world war, and weapons on the moon, but the focus is always on the immediate action at hand. The mix of violence, horror, and melodrama has a certain gonzo appeal.

Takeaway: This action-packed struggle for survival on a devastated Earth invaded by alien vampires will pull in readers looking for no-holds-barred adventure and cinematic flair.

Great for fans of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annhilation, L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth, John Ringo’s A Hymn Before Battle.

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

Rebirth of the Gangster Act 1
Chris Stensrud
The first comic by writer and blogger Standal, drawn by veteran illustrator Romera, deals with six characters escaping dark pasts and striving for the light as they interact with the criminal justice system. Marcus Thompson, lawyer and son of upstanding philanthropists Curtis and Andrea, is pistol-whipped during a robbery by a masked man later revealed to be Hunter Anderson. Hunter’s ex-junkie mother, Linda, and absent father, John, were betrayed in some way by Curtis, and now Hunter vows to get revenge. To do so, Hunter ingratiates himself with Marcus. Meanwhile, Det. Lorena Sanchez, who attended high school with Hunter, is hot on his trail.

Perhaps because of the tall task of covering six significant characters and their tangled history in six short issues, several aspects of each character are clarified either late or not at all. Andrea isn’t given a name until page 81, and Linda’s illness is known to Hunter—and the reader—only as “some super-serious cancer.” Flashbacks interrupt abruptly and often look indistinguishable from the current day, and the cause of the old enmity between Curtis and John is not revealed by the book’s end. This can make for a difficult reading experience at times, but it’s also clear that the book is intended as part of a larger series, and there’s plenty to whet the reader’s appetite for future installments.

Romera’s dynamic black-and-white art fits both the noir aesthetic and the recurring theme of being “born out of darkness into light.” The multiple entwining arcs combine to evoke an urban setting rife with violence and decay; almost all the characters come from broken homes, and they all have something to hide. The haunted pasts and struggles of characters such as Hunter and Marcus, and the police procedures and investigations of Detective Sanchez and her colleagues, will appeal to readers of both superhero comics and noir-flavored graphic novels.

Takeaway: This illustrated crime thriller will entice fans of family sagas and tangled revenge plots.

Great for fans of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s The Fade Out.

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

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EMERGENCE
Shira Shiloah
Shiloah’s debut medical romantic thriller weaves romance and suspense into a contemporary drama about new beginnings. Dr. Roxanne Roth, an anesthesiologist in Memphis, Tenn., buries herself in work to distract from her grief over the untimely death of her fiancé, Mark. Resident doctor Justin Kirkland is the sexy love interest who convinces Roxanne to give romance a second shot. Just when her life starts moving in the right direction, a patient of Roxanne’s dies on the operating table. All eyes turn to Dr. D.K. Webb, a narcissist neurosurgeon with a string of operating room mishaps. Roxanne makes it her mission to prove that Webb is murdering patients.

The book opens strongly with an over-the-top characterization of D.K. and his psychotic tendencies. Readers who like their romantic thrillers heavy on the thrills will love to hate this ruthless villain. Unfortunately, he vanishes from the story for several chapters as Roxanne’s dramatic love story with Justin takes center stage. While this slows the pace, romance fans will enjoy the spotlight on Roxanne, a compassionate protagonist who thrives under pressure. Her scenes drive the plot forward as she fights to expose D.K.’s murders.

Shiloah’s experience as a doctor shines in the meticulous details and resonant dialogue. The intense operating room scenes are written with authority. Southerners will recognize and appreciate the famous Memphis landmarks such as the Peabody Hotel, Harahan Bridge, and the giant Bass Pro shop in the Memphis pyramid. Some scenes feel extraneous to the plot and delay the action, but readers who enjoy cheering for strong female protagonists will quickly champion Roxanne. The brutal serial killer is a strong foil for the sweet romance, creating a tantalizing plot for fans who like their happily-ever-after with a dash of medical malice.

Takeaway: This romantic thriller with a medical theme will satisfy readers who like bold female leads and dramas about overcoming the odds.

Great for fans of Kelly Parsons’s Doing Harm, Tess Gerritsen.

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

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All those tears we can't see (2nd edition)
Gita Audhya
Audhya’s tearjerker second novel (after In Pursuit of Love, Spirituality, and Happiness) explores the relationship between a contemporary Bengali immigrant and her American-born daughter. Shimonti Bose, raised in a middle-class Bengali family in India, got married and started life over in America in pursuit of the American dream. But Shimonti—now going by Samantha—feels torn between cultures, a divide that only deepens when she raises a daughter, Monica, who feels purely American and eventually starts dating Brandon, a white American man. Then Monica shocks and surprises her mother by accepting a journalist assignment in India. As she and Samantha travel separately through India, Monica begins to understand where her mother came from, while Samantha experiences being a stranger in a changed India.

Monica and Samantha both undergo transformations throughout the novel, illuminating the familial challenges of bridging cultures. Audhya has a gift for description and insight. However, her long asides grow repetitive after a time, and some of the dialogue sounds stilted. Her portrayals of Indian cities are rich and vivid, but readers may be jarred by equally vivid scenes of violence. Some Bengali cultural elements are described in detail for outsiders, but others go unexplained, leaving the book’s intended audience unclear. Indian and American racial politics play significant, sometimes contrasting roles in Samantha’s life. While she is conscious of being treated as an outsider in the U.S., she shrugs off anti-Black racism among Indians. She agonizes over Monica getting engaged to Brandon, threatening to bar Monica from her house and concluding, “I can never think of him as my own son.” Monica and Brandon’s romance is less than compelling; the key relationship is between Samantha and Monica, and the conclusion of their story will have readers weeping.

Audhya connects the past and the present through highlighting both cultural comfort and dissonance in relatable terms. The strongest part of the story is the complexity of the relationship between a mother and daughter who love each other very deeply but struggle to understand each other. This endearing, sometimes tragic story will resonate with anyone who has ever had a difficult relationship with family, and particularly with members of immigrant families who are working to unite generations.

Takeaway: This powerful and insightful drama will appeal to members of immigrant families that are grappling with cultural divides across generations.

Great for fans of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.

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

Experiencing the Body and Blood of Christ
Andrew K Fox
Fox, a pastor and professor, delivers an outstanding and thorough analysis of the historical, contextual, and personal nature of Communion in relation to older Millennial and Generation Z students, investigating the sacrament and the retelling of the redemption story as a means of individual connection and community building. The work is aimed at ministry practitioners, who will find it an effective guide to learning about and connecting with young people who may feel alienated from or confused by this aspect of Christian practice. This exhaustive and sweeping assessment offers abundant resources relevant to Communion and current Christian generations.

Throughout the text, the reader moves through natural points of questions and answers, in an experience reminiscent of a classroom setting. Fox, acting as teacher and guide, includes many examples of the lived experiences of Communion as reported by students, faculty, and faith leaders. He provides a solid foundational understanding of Communion and its importance as a biblically and liturgically sourced celebration of the redemption narrative, through an extensive exploration of its origins in the early days of the Western Church to the present day. Clearly designed tables and figures reiterate the information provided in the text and will be useful for visual learners.

"Summary Thought” sections placed throughout each chapter help consolidate the analysis and discussion into bite-size paragraphs that can easily be revisited for further study. Covering topics as wide-ranging as church history, the importance of a biblically sourced theological lens, and the effects of a postmodern existence and culture on the sensibilities of current generations, Fox’s methodical outlines and meticulous examinations of history, theology, and lived experiences establish this comprehensive guide as a standout in its field. This informative and thoughtful exploration of scripture will greatly aid religious leaders reaching out to current and future generations of Christians.

Takeaway: This in-depth examination of Christian Communion is an indispensable guide for ministry practitioners and religious teachers.

Great for fans of Alexander Schmemann’s The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom; Rowan Williams’s Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer; Samuel Gregg’s Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization.

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

Re-Making the American Dream
David Vaught
Vaught’s earnest memoir of 11 pivotal years, starting with enrolling in West Point in 1965 and ending with working on Dan Walker’s campaign to be reelected governor of Illinois, focuses on his drive to hold corrupt American institutions to their stated ideals. When Vaught entered West Point, he was shocked that everyone was required to participate in religious events and “donate” to the chapel. Vaught was concerned that waging war went against Christ’s teachings, but the “mandatory state religion of the Army” required unquestioning obedience and never addressed his quandaries. He and a few friends decided to push for an end to compulsory chapel, but their requests were met with threats and retaliation. A legal battle ensued, motivating Vaught to attend law school and pursue a career in government.

This book is about advocating for change during a time when the country was divided culturally, politically, and generationally. The crisis in Vietnam was part of what drove Vaught’s efforts to extricate religion from the Army, as he believed that “compulsory chapel... was the fundamental flawed premise of West Point” and directly linked to a shift from civilian control of the military to the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, the writing sometimes obscures the story’s purpose, with tangled sentences distracting from Vaught’s strong morals and cogent points, and ruminations on the American dream interrupting the central narrative.

The story works both as autobiography and as a record of its era, with substantial research and factual material enhancing Vaught’s recollections. Though the later chapters are more personal and hold less of the legal-thriller tension of the West Point section, readers will admire Vaught’s willingness to devote his life to his causes. This narrative of idealism and “standing up to fallible men” will inspire readers to hold fast to their principles and speak up for what they believe.

Takeaway: This memoir of holding the American military and government to high standards will please readers looking for books with strong moral and civic ideals.

Great for fans of Nathaniel Fick, James Bradley.

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

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