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Conscious Change: How to Navigate Differences and Foster Inclusion in Everyday Relationships
Jean Kantambu Latting and V. Jean Ramsey with Stephanie Foy and Amy Foy Hageman
Inspiring but highly practical, this follow-up to Reframing Change demonstrates, through real-world stories of navigating differences and fostering inclusive change in the workplace, the utility of the authors’ Conscious Change toolkit, a set of six principles (such as Test Negative Assumptions and Build Effective Relationships) and 36 affiliated skills (“Check to See If You Are Making Cultural Assumptions”; “Distinguish Intent from Impact.”) The framework, laid out with persuasive clarity, encourages readers toward deeper understanding of themselves and others, with a welcome emphasis on controlling emotions, recognizing cultural differences, and navigating the often complex dynamics between members of dominant and nondominant groups. The advice takes much of the edge off hard but necessary conversations.

Personal stories, gathered from Conscious Change workshops, bring the guidance to life, as real people describe thorny interpersonal and institutional challenges—and how the framework either did or could have helped. The stories get at the human messiness of making change, like how to handle aggressions, micro- and otherwise, from a co-worker of a different background who also happens to be close friends with one’s supervisor. A diverse roster of storytellers illuminates situations like that, showcasing how the Conscious Change principles and skills offer a healthy path. “I had to ask myself, Is hers a normal yell, or just not normal to me?” one storyteller asks, describing confronting a Nigerian co-worker over perceived rudeness but then learning about, in an inspiring conversation, unexpected cultural differences.

A social worker shares the story of a new supervisor who, despite not having the credentials, insists she could do the storyteller’s job—the chapter compellingly illustrates the principles “Clear Emotions,” “Conscious Use of Self,” and “Initiate Change.” The stories read briskly but feel authentically thorny, with the framework offering clear, actionable steps toward greater understanding, collaboration, and effectiveness. Conscious Change never promises it will be easy, but the authors demonstrate that change can be achieved—and that doing so is rewarding.

Takeaway: Well-honed tools, lessons, and case studies for fostering inclusive workplace change.

Comparable Titles: Mita Mallick’s Reimagine Inclusion, Ruchika Tulshyan Inclusion on Purpose.

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

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Brown Dog
Carrie Anne
This delightful picture book from librarian/author CarrieAnne (A Natural Alphabet) tells the story of a sweet brown dog who loves nothing more than a good nap on the picnic table, toasting his tummy in the sun. But summer fades, and Brown Dog must also tolerate those less desirable seasons where the wind is cold, the ground is hard (or squishy and wet), and his owners make him brave the elements for those all-important trips outside to potty. Brown Dog's only consolation during those months is a snooze in front of a cozy fire, curled up like a donut. And soon enough, the sun returns, the air is warm, the wind is gentle, and his beloved spot awaits.

As both author and illustrator, CarrieAnne has created a simple, stirring book for small children that charms with its wistful sense of simple pleasures and seasonal changes while inviting new readers with spare, crisp prose and art bursting with canine character. The illustrations, too, tend toward a warm minimalism, the black and white line drawings accented by wonderful bursts of color and capturing well-observed eccentricities of dog movement and behavior. Brown Dog is so lifelike that it’s no surprise that the book is dedicated to the memory of the author's own brown dog, Mr. Buttons, whose photo, like the illustrations, inspire that surge of companionable pleasure that comes with saying “good boy” to a favorite furry companion. The storytelling, meanwhile, encourages empathy for pets in the face of inclement weather, while gently demystifying the cycles of seasons.

Brown Dog is a lovely, gentle offering for young readers and the grown ups lucky enough to read to them, demonstrating that joy is infectious across species. It's a quiet book for quiet moments spent sharing a story and a cuddle, maybe with the family dog curled up close by.

Takeaway: Warm, wonderfully observed story of a dog experiencing the seasons.

Comparable Titles: Luca Tortolini’s My Dog and I, Paul Meisel’s My Happy Year by E. Bluebird.

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

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The Poems and The Poet
VIKAS PARIHAR
Concerned with “the grand symphony of time,” honoring “the departed with a heavy heart,” and the “eternal, unwavering glow” of hope, Parihar’s lyric poetry collection debut moves between considerations of existential and cosmic phenomena. Parihar explores themes like grief, time, relativity, displacement, and strength rising from disappointment. While the verses themselves hold to a set form of AABB quatrains, the structure of The Poems and the Poet generally leaves it to readers to discover throughlines between the 38 selections, though at times the poems overlap and reflect each other, like companion verses “The Poem” and “The Poet,” “The Wilted Dew Drops,” and “The Wilted Flowers.” The latter speaks to the poetic balance in nature’s ephemeral cycles: “Each bloom, a poem penned in hues, // A vibrant anthem, a life to infuse. // Yet, petals now droop, in a silent plea, // Wilted flowers, a whispering elegy.”

Parihar’s collection is abundant with such poignant lines, often on the subjects of life and death, as the poet urges readers to “honor the body in decay” and “listen to the eternal song.” Another unifying theme is perseverance amid hardship, with special regard for displaced people, as noted in a dedication “to the disappointments of the displacement” and a trio of displacement poems illuminating lives on “a journey of longing” with “Their spirits unbroken / their hope not withdrawn” despite being umoored “In a world that offers no serenity.” Parihar’s “The Displaced Souls” digs into the immigrant and refugee experience, celebrating resilience born of adversity.

Like the collection as a whole, this poem, urgent in empathy, speaks to the poet’s conception of a universal balance operating within the phenomenon of suffering and beyond; disappointment is countered by wonder, “for in the balance of light and dark, // We find the beauty of the cosmic spark,” and poetry is a means of putting this duality to practice.

Takeaway: Thoughtful, richly human collection exploring death, displacement, and more.

Comparable Titles: Claude McKay’s “After the Winter,” Sun Yung Shin’s “Immigrant Song”

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

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The Canticle of Ibiza
Justin Kurian
Blending comedy and moral weight, this sun-kissed picaresque from Kurian (author of The Sunlight Lies Beyond) charts the journey of John Balkus into the Ibiz of the late 1980, where John, the rare American to visit the bohemian island, embarks on a quest to find his long lost friend Gunther. Along the way, John also bumps into eccentric characters who become friends, foes, and possibly guides toward something greater—he’s “entrapped in rigid Western thought” and “patterns that have ruined your life,” a tiny German swami tells him, and among hippies and seekers, gurus and frauds, he encounters a Beverly Hills widow, a homeless sculptor, an international DJ and, most crucially, an American named Angela, escaping “the doldrums of widowhood” with parties, dinners, seances, and more.

A New York hedge funder for the last 15 years, John discovered that “hell occupies one of the upper floors.” He knows that finding Gunther—whom he had abandoned mid-way in his youth in order to pursue his career—and likewise rediscovering his own past promise means comprehending this elusive, surprising island. Still, he makes an uneasy fit among the compounds, vineyards, harvest celebrations, kayak voyages, and nude beaches packed with baking bodies. He hopes to reconcile with Gunther, whom he had abandoned years before to pursue a career, but even though Gunther is fondly known throughout the island it’s been a while since anyone’s actually seen him. Meanwhile, the many spirited colloquies push John to face questions about the state of his soul.

Each meeting and situation, described with sumptuous prose and brisk, searching dialogue, also reveals something about Ibiza that either unsettles or awes John. Kurian conjures wonders, like the beautiful beach of Cala Salada and the mysterious mountain Es Vedrá, the novel edging at times toward a travelogue, albeit with an interest in romance, transcendence, and mysteries of the heart. The love story is sweet, but it's the male friendships—both between John and Gunther, and then John and Andre—that prove the richest.

Takeaway: Sumptuous novel of Ibiza, friendship, and recovering one’s soul.

Comparable Titles: Matt Haig’s The Life Impossible, Gayl Jones’s The Birdcatcher.

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

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The Poison Dart: A Debbie Bradley Mystery
Geri L. Dreiling
Dreiling plunges readers into the heartland fentanyl epidemic in the gripping second installment of the Debbie Bradley Mysteries, as St. Louis is shaken by Caleb Webb's death by overdose after a 60-day rehab. Signs point to the presence of fentanyl in the drug, and Caleb’s childhood friend Macie Holloway—a chemist major with a history of heroin use—stands as the prime suspect, as she was present at the scene. Enter Debbie, a journalist-podcaster known as the Crime Beat Girl, daring to investigate the lethal drug's source and uncovering Dardos Venenosos, a sprawling paramilitary drug cartel that has infiltrated the Midwest—and more dangerous, Debra knows, “than black ice” or the deadly frog that gives the novel its title.

While Debbie remains the centrifugal force and a bold and engaging lead, the lives of a host of characters are given emphasis and empathy in perspective chapters, resulting in a novel more rich than in many protagonist-focused procedurals: young adults Macie, Connor, and Caleb and their world of narcotics and self-destructive secrets; lawyers and detectives; cartel worker José Rodrigo, missing a finger and desperate to save his family. Dreiling dismantles simple views of drug crimes and addiction, revealing human frailty and brokenness. "The truly courageous man was the one who clung to kindness in the face of savagery," Dreiling writes of how José retains his morality despite his association with cartel operations in Mexico and Missouri.

This taut, chilling novel captures, with sharp edges and spirit of humanity, the inner workings of cops, reporters, lawyers, and detectives in the fight against trafficking, while remaining attentive to the everyday reality of drugs destroying lives and family relationships. “Rich. Poor. It doesn’t matter,” pone character notes. “Addiction doesn’t care about income levels.” Dreiling has crafted a potent blend of suspense, drama, strong local color, and emotional exploration of grief and blame, not flinching or sensationalizing her subject while still offering hope for a slice of justice.

Takeaway: High-stakes Midwestern drug-crime thriller, with humane emphasis.

Comparable Titles: Tricia Fields’s The Territory, Amy Pease’s Northwoods.

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

Draw A Hard Line: An E.J. Kane Mystery
Micheal E. Jimerson
Set in a Texas where “the bland, khaki shades of drought punished the landscape,” Jimerson’s second cowboy-inflected detective thriller finds Ranger-turned-independent-sleuth E.J. Kane facing off with a terrifying former adversary seeking an exit from prison: white supremacist gang leader and murderer, G..H. Burton, who is attempting to gin up evidence of his innocence—and punish those who convicted him. Kane must work with his ex wife, the hard nosed lawyer Rebecca Johnson, and law enforcement officials skeptical of their disgraced former colleague, to prove that Burton is guilty not only of the crimes with which he was charged but others ongoing right into the present. Burton seems to have inside help, possibly including a DA and a powerful politico.

Jimerson's protagonist is a multi-faceted, decorated hero with a complicated past and his own personal and professional demons as he works to outsmart a cunning enemy. Dealing with the trauma of his son's death and his daughter's drug addiction, Kane is movingly divided between his professional obligations and the impossible hope of righting the wrongs in his personal life. Jimerson seamlessly incorporates gritty violence, bursts of action, and an unsettling feeling of not being sure who to trust with compelling glimpses of Kane’s home life and personal relationships. “Grown men building their lives on the simplistic moral codes of Don Quixote-style heroes,” Kane muses, at one point, contemplating the popularity of a Walker, Texas Hero. Jimerson, in contrast, digs deeper into the hard choices and human costs of heroism without slowing the pace or skimping on explosive twists.

The prose is crisp, sometimes biting, with sharp dialogue, strong local color, and a vivid feel for scrub, mud, trucks, and cottonmouths. But it’s Kane’s wit, intellect, and no-nonsense attitude that make him a cowboy detective readers will root for until the satisfying ending, that, for all the bullets and corruption, pulses with a hopeful spirit.

Takeaway: Fast-paced, character-rich thriller of Texas justice.

Comparable Titles: Jon Land’s Strong to the Bone, Craig Johnson’s Longmire series.

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

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The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking
Greg Munck
Munck’s inspiring memoir reveals his tumultuous childhood, military service in the U.S. Marines, and later work in ministry—starting in youth ministry and later planting a church. In turns vulgar and moving, Munck shares how his difficult relationship with his father, who was an addict, shaped his childhood, and how his competitive drive was fed in both high school football and the marines. Munck came to a true faith in Jesus through the intervention of his then girlfriend, now wife, Kymbry, and others and then grew in his faith and leadership, eventually moving from a part-time pastoral role to a full-time one. The Guide shares stories from Munck’s life, including some jolting ones of enduring abuse, and lessons that he derives from it for the reader from his life and scripture.

Munck shares his story with sincerity, though unprepared readers may be surprised by his frankness, from early experimentation with masturbation, adolescent drug use, and teenage sexual exploits. His transparency is deeply affecting when he addresses his military service in the Gulf War, the difficult things he saw and the impact of consequential PTSD. The photos that Munck periodically includes offer clarifying context, and the “Guiding Thought” lessons he offers at the end of each chapter manage to connect stories of, say, drunken “surfing” in the back of a pickup on L.A.’s 405 highway, with Biblical precepts and thoughts about living with purpose.

Munck led a difficult childhood and young adulthood and through great determination made it through poverty, a parent struggling with addiction and personal anger issues.This memoir is a powerful collection of stories of how he did that with the help of his community and God, and his attempt to share a guide for readers (and his children) to not make the same mistakes that he did. Now he is a pastor, father who clearly loves and respects his children, and a leader within his community. Readers looking for a moving story of perseverance and growth from a marine-turned-pastor will appreciate this memoir.

Takeaway: A former Marine’s revealing journey to faith.

Comparable Titles: Owen R. Chandler’s A Bridge in Babylon, and Joey Svendsen’s Fundamentalist.

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

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The Gold Mystery Adventure
Randy Kaufman
There’s a clear-cut villain in Kaufman’s coming-of-age fantasy, a figure so loathsome to reluctant warrior Zhen that even when she doubts her abilities, her resolve proves unflagging in their eleventh-hour battle strengthens her resolve—as does her belief in the future. Despite the generic title, The Gold Mystery Adventure takes a distinctive approach to dystopian fiction by focusing on the last-ditch efforts to avoid environmental calamity on Odyssey, a planet with surprising connections to Earth. The bucolic forest community of Brix was transformed into a forced labor camp when Razor arrived three years ago, and her brutal regime is maintained by mechanical enforcers called drokes.

Her massive factories spew toxic sludge into the waterways, threatening the underwater city of Genus, where Zhen’s father, Kosni, is chief engineer. The black plumes of runoff distress Zhen, but she’s driven to action by the disappearance of her mother Cyna and uncle (the inventive Professor Mars) during their investigation of Razor’s origins. Zhen has no superpowers, but she’s athletic, observant, determined, and resourceful, and the way she comes to appreciate her value will resonate with young readers who are at the same point of self-discovery. She also learns about Cyna’s history with brothers Kosni and Mars, seeing how youthful decisions affect adult lives.

Kaufman creates an impressive series of action set pieces to test Zhen’s mettle, but some stylistic choices, like formal language and an abundance of modifiers, at times slow down the narrative momentum. But the inspired elements, like an amused narrative voice (“Another planet, another riot”), surprises like dolphin rides, and the scheming of the gloriously Machiavellian tech messiah Razor, demonstrate a fertile creativity and a real love of the genre. Especially engaging is Kaufman’s sense of hope and friendship. With so much young adult fantasy geared to post-apocalyptic survival, the quest to reverse a catastrophic course in The Gold Mystery Adventure offers a welcome dose of hope.

Takeaway: A young heroine fights for a healthy planet in this inventive eco-adventure.

Comparable Titles: Paul Dixon’s Starfall, Maris Noelle’s The Unadjusteds.

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

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So Who is God, Anyway?: An (Un)orthodox Theory for Doubters, Skeptics, and Recovering Fundamentalists
G.S. Payne
This clever exploration from Payne takes on one of the biggest questions facing philosophers: the question of if God exists and, if so, what God is like. Payne, a self-described “philosopher-hobbyist and researcher,” lays out philosophical arguments for and against God before making an impassioned case for panentheism, a theology which argues that all creation is, in a way, a part of God. After considering several various perspectives, predominantly that of the British philosopher and mathematician A.N. Whitehead, Payne turns to seeing how it relates to several religious traditions, from Buddhism, to Christianity. He closes by making a 90 day wager with the reader, asking us to live for a month as if there were a God and then evaluate if doing so adds anything to life.

With wit, humanity, and inviting prose, So Who is God Anyway? explains complex philosophical concepts clearly and accurately, with a helpful glossary and extensive notes for further research. Payne insists he does not boast an extensive philosophical background, but he still demystifies these big concepts, showing his research but not overloading references on the reader. His of the humor will prove a matter of taste— “fundamentalists believe that we’re all headed to the lake of fire,” he notes, adding “You, me, Heinrich Himmler, Pol Pot, Osama Bin laden, and Joan who works down the street at the flower shop”—though it keeps the tone light, and the best wisecracks prove illuminating

Payne targets an audience of skeptics, but open-minded people of any religious tradition can find value in his musings. He doesn’t weigh the evidence to make God sound more appealing, but argues cogently that there is a preponderance of evidence that God exists, in spite of the “Big Ugly Six” arguments against God. Readers exploring the idea of God and wanting a survey of arguments for and against God through the ages, as well as a creative description of one perspective on God, will enjoy this clever guide.

Takeaway: Incisive, witty survey of philosophical arguments for God’s existence.

Comparable Titles: Philip Clayton and Arthur Peacocke’s In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being, John W. Cooper’s Panentheism.

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

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Fractured Oak
Dannie Boyd
Boyd, a pseudonym for author Carrie Rubin (Fatal Rounds), crafts an artful dual perspective mystery that begins in 1853, when Catherine Miller, one of the first formally trained female doctors in the United States, graduates medical school in Cleveland, Ohio. Shortly after commencement, Catherine is murdered, simply because she was bold enough to study medicine as a woman. When her body is never discovered, her murderer goes free, leaving Constable Whitaker—in charge of solving her disappearance—stymied. Following her death, Catherine is reincarnated as an oak tree, cognizant of her murder but unable to communicate with the world around her. For 170 years, she stands as a passive observer to the world’s changes, all while desperate to solve the mystery of her own death.

A contemporary dual storyline follows homicide detective Lani Whitaker—who in many ways mirrors Catherine’s achievements, as she was one of the first female officers in Cleveland—while she combs through field notes left by her great-grandfather, Constable Whitaker, recounting Catherine’s unsolved disappearance. Boyd subtly connects the two women over time, hitting on the struggles they’ve both faced while fighting to be accepted in male-dominated professions against larger societal attitudes toward women, both in Catherine’s 19th century dealings and Lani’s contemporary crime solving efforts.

Boyd’s emotional language ably captures both relatable female leads, and the suspense builds as the women’s stories intertwine into a multiple mystery fallout, merging both historical and contemporary crimes alongside Catherine’s fears that her tree form is slowly dying, prompting her desperation for justice before it’s too late. Added to that mix is Mark Carver—present day owner of the land next to Catherine’s tree—and his growing cruelty, combined with dangerous secrets he’s determined to hide, with Lani hot on his trail. Amid the capers, Boyd touches on the humanity and understated power of the natural world, before delivering Catherine a respectful and satisfying ending.

Takeaway: Two barrier-breaking women fight for justice across generations.

Comparable Titles: Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time.

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

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FAMOUS SUMMER RESIDENTS AT THE NEW HAMPSHIRE OCEAN: THEIR STORIES NEED TELLING
Thomas C. Clarie
Clarie shines a light on the history of the coastal towns of New Hampshire with seventeen short biographies of summer residents of note at Rye Beach, the Farragut Hotel (the subjects of Clarie’s earlier study Oceanside History at Rye Beach and the Farragut), Little Boar's Head, and more, with an emphasis on the late 19th and early 20th century. That's when the wealthy—including major business people, artists, performers, and political figures like presidential son and secretary of war Robert Todd Lincoln—frequented and built stunning resorts, mansions, arts institutions, and clubs along this stretch of the Atlantic.

This survey starts out strong with an extended history of the Studebaker family and the automobile business they ran for decades, with Clarie’s telling intertwining local and national history with a compelling account of a burgeoning family dynasty. Contemporary press accounts, clarifying historical context, and Clarie’s love for period detail—“Paper lampshades of all colors lit up one corner of the hall like huge blossoms” lit up one corner of the Farragut Casino in 1899—bring life to the milieu, and Clarie throughout documents the construction and utility of Rye Beach landmarks, like the Lincoln-affiliated (and now long gone) Gates Ajar home, in North Hampton, and Norman Williams’ nearby colonial mansion, dubbed “one of the finest specimens of that school [of] architecture that can be seen anywhere” in the New Hampshire Agricultural Report 1907-08.

Clarie brings a strong local focus to the material—there’s much here about the Abenaqui Golf Club, organized in 1897, and its tournaments—but also follows his subjects into the world. A chapter on E. Lansing Ray, a St. Louis newspaper man who invested in Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and made a summer home out of the former Rye Beach Inn, boasts fascinating material about Ray’s trip England and France at the end of the first world war, and a surprising number of pages on Lindbergh’s flight. While at times discursive, Clarie’s brisk histories are rich with insight, surprises, and striking detail.

Takeaway: Historical survey of homes and lives of coastal New Hampshire’s “summer people.”

Comparable Titles: Lewis T. Karabatsos’s Rye and Rye Beach, Robert C. Gilmore’s Seacoast New Hampshire.

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

Immune Heroes
Namita Gandhi
Skinning a knee can be a scary and painful experience, but Gandhi’s enlightening picture book for young children reveals the protective science behind this ubiquitous right of passage. Mayu and his older sister Nimi are racing their bikes down the street, and Mayu loses his balance and tumbles to the ground. As Nimi rushes to his side, tears fill his eyes as he observes his bloodied knee. Nimi comforts him and reminds him what their mother always says: “The pain is just the start of the healing process. There’s an army of protectors under our skin. I bet they’ve already started keeping you safe!”

From there the story zooms in on the microscopic events happening beneath Mayu’s skin. The leader is Captain T, the helper cell, who explains the injury and initiates different immune responses designed to protect Mayu from infection. Like tiny, blob-like warriors, different cells such as neutrophils, platelets, and macrophages work together to seal off the wound and fight harmful bacteria, clearly demonstrating the body’s multifaceted response to different threats. Notably, the kids in this story are not wearing bicycle helmets, a missed opportunity to help normalize basic safety gear kids can use to protect themselves.

Tamika Bramwell’s colorful illustrations depict the immune heroes as grinning, wide-eyed, alien-like creatures with a variety of wacky characteristics like green, squiggly hair and long, spiky legs that mimic their true-to-life appearance. The single-minded cells talk to each other and work together to keep out the bacteria, which have between one and three eyes and tiny teeth and multiply rapidly. As Mayu’s body fights the intruders, his face relaxes, and soon he is again ready to play. Showing cells and bacteria in this way will keep kids engaged while also introducing them to the fascinating science of the human immune system.

Takeaway: Enlightening picture book reveals the science behind the human immune system.

Comparable Titles: Steve Haines’s Pain Is Really Strange, Judith Wolf Mandell’s Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It.

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

Click here for more about Immune Heroes
Journey of Awakening and Higher Consciousness
Jane Kim Yu
“You are on the path, the great journey within, to discover the truth of who you are” promises Kim Yu in this heartfelt debut of self-reflection and spiritual growth. She details her musings, from a young age, at the meaning of life, and shares the bonds of a childhood illness that, combined with a deeply touching spiritual experience in college, sparked her lifelong desire to understand “the truth of what is, of the bountiful love… the love that is, as we are.” That idea of love as the ultimate goal flows throughout Kim Yu’s writing, as she counsels readers on how to live in the present, pay respect to their emotions, and more.

Though more conceptual than experiential, Kim Yu’s thoughts whisper of the inherent goodness and benevolence that unite us with each other and the world around us, and she urges “unconditional acceptance” as the key to truly loving others, wisely observing “there is nothing that love does not touch.” Because change can be intimidating, she outlines three energies readers must master on their own path to awakening: a desire to understand life’s calling, an openness to learning new ways of being, and a willingness to put in the necessary work for change to occur.

There are practical pointers contained in the guide as well, including the importance of starting each day with meditation—a “breathing space to ground yourself”—and the need to find mentors who can serve as a sounding board along the way. Kim Yu also emphasizes the transformation that comes with journaling “to comprehend and navigate your mind,” and the power of music to “[capture] human emotion”—two simple practices that, when routinely implemented, can help foster a sense of peace. Perhaps most profound is Kim Yu’s advice that “you don’t need to try to be happy… It’s not about being happy always but reaching and releasing that inner joy.”

Takeaway: Gentle reflections on love as the catalyst for awakening.

Comparable Titles: Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, James Hollis’s A Life of Meaning.

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

Rock Music, Authority and Western Culture, 1964-1980
James A. Cosby
Cosby comes out swinging with the second entry in his de facto trilogy dissecting the “socio-/spiritual history” of rock and roll music in the West (after Devil’s Music, Holy Rollers, and Hillbillies). He opens with Alexis de Tocqueville’s “prediction” of rock and roll—as one of the “strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold“ outcomes of the burgeoning American democracy—and connects that prescient insight to the musical style’s emergence against the greater cultural backdrops of Western civilization, painting the sounds of rock as a barometer for the West’s cultural force.

Cosby also covers what he terms “Cultural Checkpoints” that define the political and social settings that have driven, and been influenced by, rock’s emergence as a story of “freedom but also a certain recklessness.” As expected, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, James Brown (“arguably the most dynamic performer of the rock era”) and the powerhouse Stax and Motown labels often take center stage, but Cosby also celebrates the Velvet Undergrounds “annihilation of any pretensions and preconceptions in rock and roll” and features the lesser knowns, like the “cult heroes of power pop” Big Star. Their more subtle influence, he demonstrates, helped the genre push the envelope with an intense edge that was “visceral and… as beautiful as it is bleak.” Cosby brings incisive insight to the interplay of rock and roll’s ethos with religion, counterculture movements, and the oppressed—including Black genre offshoots that Cosby describes as “distillations of the Black experience through centuries of repression and voiceless-ness.”

Perhaps most entertaining and revealing are celebrations of often-overlooked musical phenomena, such as Cosby’s tour of Tutwiler, Mississippi, where at the dawn of the 20th century W.C. Handy discovered and popularized the first strains of the blues. Those memorable portrayals override the book’s somewhat sentimental view of rock and roll as the “inspiration to create a new way of living,” highlighting instead its power to transform the world.

Takeaway: Sweeping analysis of rock and roll’s impact on Western culture.

Comparable Titles: reil Marcus’s The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs, Brad Schreiber’s Music Is Power.

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

Fanning Fireflies
LS Delorme
Delorme’s haunting third in the Limerent series (after Bright Midnights) introduces Veronica Crane, a strong woman who, in 1944, is determined to live her life the way she wants—even though doing so could threaten that life. Signing up soldiers for the war in her small town in North Carolina is her first time being around Black people. She feels an instant connection with a man named Lazlo, and even though they only have the chance to meet briefly, the two fall in love. The next day, Lazlo leaves for the war. Secrets are impossible to keep in a small town, and as rumors—and virulent racism—fester, Veronica struggles between fighting for the right to love, and protecting her family from losing everything.

While the hatred brewing in Harrisville is terrifying, Delorme adds a dash of the paranormal to the stress of Veronica’s life. A”Furiae,” a hereditary trait passed down among the women in the family, Veronica can see ghosts, even communicating with some. Some are scary, like a possessed nearly-dead raccoon; but most try to help her, like her beloved chicken, Betty, who died years before and now alerts her to danger. Both scary and a bit fun, a ghost named Dante helps lead her to the knowledge that her town is in danger and she and her family must get out.

Character development of all kinds—animals, humans, ghosts, and wisps—is strong in Delorme’s writing, leaving readers’ hearts racing right along with Veronica, and deeply feeling for the many in the town that are treated horribly, often fearing for their lives. Also painted clearly is the town itself, like bringing readers into the cigarette factory with Veronica where she works, smelling the smells, and feeling the heat and long hours. Never holding back from describing even the most difficult moments with candor and sensitivity, Delorme pulls readers into 1944 Harrisville in a way they won’t want to leave, needing to find what happens next.

Takeaway: Unflinching portrait of love, race, and 1940s America, with a paranormal twist.

Comparable Titles: Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Tananarive Due’s The Reformatory.

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

Click here for more about Fanning Fireflies
Tribal Logic : Book Four of The Tribal Wars
Stella Atrium
In the fourth installment of the ongoing Tribal Wars series, Atrium continues the multilayered, deeply humane epic set in an inequitable future where planets strive for self-rule against the malicious Consortium. After time in Paris on Earth, Jesse Hartley, daughter of retired General Hartley, is traveling to Dolvia, the planet at the heart of the series, to negotiate the release of Brianna Miller, imprisoned for her work exposing the Consortium’s corruption and abuse of conscripted slaves forced to work in silicide mines. Jesse’s first task is to risk treason by diverting the coffin of investigator turned miner John Milan off the space station Stargate Junction, which sits on the edge of a stable wormhole, to prove that conscripts are being worked to death.

Atrium populates these richly detailed worlds and societies with complex, relatable, and diverse characters determined to prevail in the face of greed, inhumanity, and relentless power struggles. The storylines tour readers through Atrium’s intricate vision: Jesse’s shuttle crashes in a suspected act of sabotage; someone is assassinating the sons of Khalif Ananke, who is holding Brianna Miller prisoner, as the reptilian gualarep dragons use their dream melding skills to help rescue Brianna.

As ever, Atrium is fascinated by the “machinations of diplomacy,” as one character puts it, and the contrast between the tribal cultures of Dolvia and the Consortium, milieus she invests with rewarding anthropological detail, striking prose, and a mastery of practicalities: the plotting here turns on economics, tribal ritual and spiritual practice, the challenges of journalism, issues of succession, the logistics of shipping and space travel, and the utility of beastmaster skills in blockading a port. Familiarity with the previous books is key to keeping up with the intricate world building and unique terminology, complex politics, multiple plot threads, and action from the points of view of numerous characters. Atrium offers an epic adventure with a humane edge in a singular world for enthusiasts of science fiction blended with social commentary.

Takeaway: Exciting culture, politics, and world building in Atrium's epic saga.

Comparable Titles: CJ Cherryh, Charlie Jane Anders.

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

Click here for more about Tribal Logic
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