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TESTING KINDLE IGNORE: A Brief History of Time
Hawking, Stephen
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TEST IGNORE: A Brief History of Time (Anniversary)
Hawking, Stephen
But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?
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Dynamicist
Lee Hunt
Mathematics matter as much as magic in Hunt’s inventive adult fantasy, a modern take on the wizarding school. Robert Endicott, a bright 18-year-old, enrolls at the New School to train to become a dynamicist, a mathematician who calculates careful “empyreal manipulation” to change the world in a precise way for a precise cost. Robert and his cohort spend more time working equations and contemplating the commodities market than mastering the dark arts. After a visionary dream, he becomes convinced that he and his fellow students are being hunted. As the students stare down the imminent 24-hour test that will determine whether they’re qualified to continue at the school, protesters take to the streets outside, denouncing new technological innovations.

Hunt proves himself a detailed worldbuilder, lavishing pages on futures trading and farm technology. This makes for a slow opening, but the story picks up once Robert meets his fellow students, each vividly drawn and transcending type. The group’s dialogue is raucous and its camaraderie affecting. Robert also experiences love, spurred by a pair of female classmates who seem to be stalking him, and rage, which stirs powerfully in him when a woman named Syriol is assaulted on campus. Syriol is an all but voiceless victim who “probably doesn't understand how she feels” and is healed by Robert’s unexplained love for her, a depiction that undermines Hunt’s earnest efforts to critique rape culture and the objectification of women.

Concerned with economics, architecture, and its protagonist’s philosophical musings, the novel moves deliberately, caught up in mind and milieu rather than plot. Readers eager for a thoughtful challenge to genre conventions will appreciate Hunt’s rigorous reimagining of how a society with access to magic might endeavor to train and regulate its users. The abrupt conclusion wraps up too few mysteries, setting the stage for the second book in the series. In Hunt’s immersive and intricate world, the big picture occasionally gets lost beneath the fine details, but this is a compelling story for readers who crave complex worldbuilding.

Takeaway: This intricate, philosophical update to the wizard school story will appeal to fans of cerebral fantasy.

Great for fans of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet.

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

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Mindfulness at the Park
Teresa Anne Power
Power’s delightful second Little Mouse Adventures picture book (after Yoga at the Zoo) brings Little Mouse and his best friend, Mr. Opus the cat, to the park with Tammy and her mom, the humans whom Mr. Opus lives with. Little Mouse and Mr. Opus have just learned some new yoga stretches with Tammy, the little girl Mr. Opus lives with, and her mom. They also learned about mindfulness, a way of staying calm and focused no matter what is going on around them. When they get to the park, they all practice together again. Little Mouse meditates so deeply that he doesn’t realize Mr. Opus and the family have left until he opens his eyes. But instead of panicking, he uses what he’s learned about mindfulness to stay calm and find them.

The witty writing and Allen's colorful, fun illustrations will entertain young readers as they teach the steps of calm breathing. Allen creates pretty, serene settings in the park and the family looks peaceful and happy. Young readers will giggle at the idea of Mr. Opus getting so relaxed he falls asleep on his face, and be relieved when Little Mouse and his new canine friend are reunited with their people. The pictures of Little Mouse and Mr. Opus practicing their breathing are charming and will keep children engaged.

Power’s simple steps for focusing on breathing and calming the mind are easy for young readers and their parents to practice together. As she leads readers through taking deep breaths in and out and counting to five, lovingly describing the family’s relaxation, both children and adults will find it easier to reach a more peaceful state of mind. This is an ideal read-aloud that will help readers of all ages find a few moments of calm in a stressful world.

Takeaway: At bedtime or anytime, this entertaining and calming lesson in mindfulness will help readers of all ages find a little peace of mind.

Great for fans of Gabi Garcia’s Find Your Calm, Michael Gordon’s I Am Mindful.

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

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Too Good to Be True: Scottsdale and Privatization in the 1980s
Paul Redvers Brown
Brown (coeditor of Water Centric Sustainable Communities) meticulously recounts the privatization of the Central Arizona Project Water Treatment Plant in Scottsdale, Ariz., exposing the triumphs and pitfalls of the complex Reagan-era project. Taking advantage of a variable-rate, tax-exempt municipal bond to save costs, Scottsdale hired Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM), a Boston-based environmental engineering firm, to design, build, and operate the plant. Brown was on the front lines as CDM’s corporate planner: young, ambitious, often idealistic, and “in so far over [his] head.” Brown narrates an educational play-by-play of how CDM, hesitant to enter a market it knew little about, hired numerous experts and came away from this first privatization of its kind with greater knowledge of the mechanics of project development, financing, problem-solving, and managing risk.

While sometimes oversharing extraneous details such as lunch meeting menus and flight schedules, Brown expertly evokes the 1980s era of greed-is-good corporate efforts. Illustrating the Scottsdale project’s backstory, Brown conjures the context and flavor of every step of the CDM’s operation, including negotiating a construction agreement, examining Colorado River water quality issues, and recovering after the liquidation of its construction partner. All these proceedings are overseen by a cadre of colorful characters. Comfortable revealing personal details, Brown shares his own doubts peppered with bursts of determination.

Readers interested in large-scale construction and resource management projects will absorb Brown’s thorough overview of the Scottsdale project, the wins and the setbacks, and the intricacies of tax rates and sales documents. Professionals in any field can apply Brown’s information to a general business context, the enormous number of steps involved in corporate negotiations, and all the ways things can go wrong. This is useful and often gripping reading for MBAs and executives as well as urban planners and officials.

Takeaway: Readers interested in large-scale construction and resource management projects will be fascinated by this intricate recounting of privatizing a water treatment plant in the 1980s.

Great for fans of David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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

Herald
Lee Hunt
The searching, surprising second volume of Hunt’s Dynamicist Trilogy (after Dynamicist) finds the stakes higher, the pacing more assured, and Hunt’s challenges to the orthodoxies of fantasy storytelling more provocative. Favoring mathematics and thermometers over magic wands, Hunt’s students of “dynamics,” his world’s highly regulated wizardry, confront the mysteries introduced in the first book: What is the meaning of protagonist Robert Endicott’s “heraldic” dream? How can he prevent the mysterious cloaked figure who kills students from murdering his friends? And, just as pressingly, how can gifted, science-minded magicians help a riot-prone population that has been taught to fear all innovation?

Hunt’s not stingy with answers as his story widens in scope to include political conspiracy, a cult, and the threat of war. He renders scenes of action with crisp power, albeit with an overreliance on onomatopoeia such as “BRRRRAAAAA” and “CRRRACKKKKKKKKKKKKK,” and the action sequences are winningly varied. Readers will enjoy a tavern brawl, a fracas at an underground cult meeting, a confrontation with a legendary magician, and a desperate battle against monstrous “skolves,” in which Robert and his classmates must cooperate with everyday soldiers who are understandably skeptical of magic schoolboys.

The most memorable elements of the series remain Hunt’s philosophical provocations and his vividly detailed magical system. It’s a joy to see the characters dig into the study and theory of magic as well as the cultural consequences of its use. Engaging deeply with how heroes’ actions affect the lives of everyone else, this sequel finds Robert discovering the complex truths about why his world fears change. Even the cultists, he realizes, have their reasons. That richness occasionally comes at the cost of narrative momentum, especially in the first half, but the story picks up speed again for a climactic conclusion. This is an exciting, expansive, and ultimately satisfying exploration of the meaning of heroism, the economics of magic, and the role of innovation in society.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a thoughtful take on the wizard-school story will enjoy this mix of philosophy, mathematics, and action.

Great for fans of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts.

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

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Root and Branch
Preston Fleming
A security contractor risks his life to uncover a government conspiracy in this exciting near-future political thriller. Following an EMP attack launched by Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea that wrecks cities on both coasts of the United States, Congress and the president (whose name and political party are never given) roll out draconian measures to suppress an ostensible uprising by American Muslims. Roger Zorn, a retired 60-something CIA agent, contracts to provide the government with his Triage technology, which evaluates the likelihood that a person being interrogated will commit violence in the future. When Triage is used to justify an enormous volume of forced repatriations, Roger grows uneasy and launches a secret investigation, aided by bold White House lawyer Margaret Slattery. He quickly learns that a horrifying fate awaits the supposed deportees. As his knowledge grows, he is forced to choose between his moral obligations and his safety.

Roger is a likable protagonist whose conflicted feelings and the weight of his deceased father’s worldwide fame drive his choices. While he maintains some skills from his spy days, he never strains credulity with otherworldly physical feats. The perspectives of people caught in the anti-Muslim sweeps—including Amjad Ibrahim, a Bengali-American immigrant arrested following his son’s radicalization, and Carol Nagy, the daughter of Roger’s former colleague and an active left-wing protester—provide nuance and emotional weight. The focus, however, remains squarely on Roger, his business, and his investigation.

The plot is brisk without feeling rushed. Readers might wish for more detail of life in America following the attacks, but the action and unfolding schemes are gripping, and the characters are richly developed. This well-constructed thriller will keep readers hooked while painting a terrifying portrait of unethical politicians using a time of crisis to undermine the rule of law.

Takeaway: Thriller fans with a taste for politics will devour this exciting investigation into dangerous government overreach and the mangling of civil liberties in a time of crisis.

Great for fans of Tom Clancy, Cory Doctorow, Dave Buschi.

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

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20/20
B SHAWN CLARK
Debut author Clark introduces young readers to survivalism in this warm-hearted tale of a boy’s adventures during a time of climate upheaval. In a future world under constant threat from storms and floods, an elderly white man known as Captain begins to record memories of his childhood in 2020s Miami. As a boy, Captain meets two survivalists, a white man named Harrison and a Native American woman named Calusa, who show him the basics of off-the-grid living. When a massive storm ravages their neighborhood, the unlikely trio bring their community together to build self-sufficient homes across Florida.

Clark’s handling of racial matters, while well-intentioned, is somewhat flawed. The explicit use of racial slurs and hateful language, clearly intended to demonstrate their hurtfulness, feels gratuitous. Clichés abound as a Native American medicine man takes Captain’s sister on a vision quest (after which she changes her name to White Feather) and pronounces Captain “one of us” even as Captain continues thinking of Calusa as an “Amazon Warrior Princess.” The apparently surprising sight of a mixed-race group working harmoniously together feels more 1920s than 2020s, as do a reference to Captain’s mother being a “candy striper” at a hospital and the boy’s use of phrases such as “hauled off to the hoosegow.”

In the first half of the book, Harrison introduces his ardent student (and thereby the reader) to practical concepts of self-reliance: filtering water naturally, growing vegetables, generating electricity, and so on. The action picks up as the big storm approaches. The framing device for each chapter, in which the elderly Captain encounters something that triggers a childhood memory, eventually becomes wearing. However, the childhood scenes themselves are educational and often uplifting, grounding optimism in realistic ways for individuals to help one another. This tale about the importance of living at one with the planet will strike a chord with readers eager for pointers to a more sustainable present and future.

Takeaway: This roadmap to living harmoniously with the planet educates young readers through an uplifting story of communities coming together.

Great for fans of Johann Rudolf Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson, Darren Simpson’s Scavengers.

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

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Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone
J. W. Freiberg
Attorney and former social psychology professor Freiberg (Growing Up Lonely: Disconnection and Misconnection in the Lives of Our Children) assembles a sparkling collection of exceedingly erudite essays on human nature as seen through the lens of some of his most memorable legal cases. For over three decades in Boston, Freiberg worked for child protective social service organizations, adoption agencies, and many psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers. The majority of his stories center on children and the social and psychological stresses that litigants experience and inflict on one another in legal proceedings.

One of the most heartstring-tugging pieces is “The Girl Who Inherited France,” the story of a bright six-year-old whose mother dies suddenly from a stroke. In a protracted custody battle, her stepfather fights to keep custody of the little girl he considers his daughter. Another story likely to elicit tears is “Three Souls Caught in a Spider’s Web,” the tale of a bakery owner and battered wife who helps her isolated stepson to find a forever home. The author’s passion for his subjects will readily be shared by the reader. The theme of solitude and loneliness connects the essays, but each one takes a different approach, and each child is a sympathetically depicted individual.

Though billed primarily as an analysis of loneliness, this is far from a dry textbook. Freiberg has a master storyteller’s skillful voice, easily drawing readers into his narratives and keeping them enthralled. He teaches through relevant examples rather than dry pronouncements and expertly gets to the emotional heart of each case, immediately garnering empathy for each person he profiles. The closing section has a more academic tone but is still very accessible and reader-friendly. Expertly written and perfectly paced, Freiberg’s work puts a human face on the law and will have considerable appeal for anyone interested in human nature both at its best and at its worst.

Takeaway: Anyone with an interest in loneliness, solitude, or the sorrows of children caught in litigation will be enthralled by these erudite and sympathetic essays.

Great for fans of Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, E.O. Wilson’s On Human Behavior.

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

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Deep Time Is in the Garden
William Felker
This wonderful collection of thoughtful, lyrical essays entwines Felker (Home Is the Prime Meridian) and his readers with the patterns of nature. Each of the nearly 40 essays, including many first published in the Yellow Springs News of Yellow Springs, Ohio, connects daily observations to “a kind of radial time,” blurring the line between singular moments and longer movements, one garden and all gardens. For Felker, the natural world helps dispel the lingering anxieties of a sleepless night and offers the sort of comfort that Roman Catholic rituals used to provide for him and no longer do. He explores memory at length, and just as memories mix together to form a narrative, so too does observing nature for familiar patterns.

Felker balances the concrete details of the things he sees—the different species of birds, flowers, and trees he comes across, daily temperatures, astronomical events—with the meanings he ascribes to them. He’s aware that existential musings about why a finch appears at a particular time have little to do with the finch and everything to do with his own thoughts. Felker tries to follow what he calls “the easiest law,” which states that “when one thing is happening, something else is happening too.” He asserts that by recording data, such as the number of leaves that fall, he can also record his feelings without focusing too much on his interior world.

Within these pages, the world of nature is one of simultaneity where “nothing is ever out of place. Everything fits.” Felker’s concluding essay, “Repetition Is the Way Home,” meditates on the comfort and wonder of cycles and routine, how walking the same paths every day and through every season is a walk back in time that alleviates some of his anxiety about the future. That insight is just one of many poignant observations scattered through this marvelous book. Felker’s brevity, beautiful detail, and philosophical punch make this fluid collection a true pleasure to read.

Takeaway: Readers moved by the intersection of natural history and philosophy will love these meditative, poetic essays by a suburban naturalist.

Great for fans of John Harvey’s The Stillness of the Listening Forest.

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

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When Kingdom Come
D.H. Blake
Touched with elements of horror and utopianism, Blake’s sprawling, thoughtful debut science fiction novel turns on a tricky question: would humans listen to an urgent plea to accept alien refugees with amazing technological advances if those aliens occasionally fed on human blood? A New York City bartender, Juan, is abducted by Alizerin aliens on a hunting weekend in the Adirondacks. After finding out that he’s an Alizerin left behind on a previous mission, Juan learns new ways of living in harmony with nature and accesses a part of his mind that humans never touch. Still, he’s reluctant to imbibe the Alizerins’ miracle elixir, Azika, once he learns it’s derived from human blood, including that of his hunting buddies. As his fiancée, his family, and officials try to track down Juan and his missing friends, the Alizerins are pursued by the U.S. government.

Blake’s prose and dialogue are occasionally stiff or stilted: “After watching his extraordinarily athletic leader leap from the chopper, Sahan promptly detached his harness from the landing gear, and deftly flew out of the way.” These wordy passages can slow down otherwise well-written scenes. The pacing is also stymied by the investigation tracking Juan in the book’s first half, as the team is far behind what readers already know and never faced with challenging decisions, so suspense is diminished.

Despite these disruptions, Blake balances moral quandaries with mysteries and exciting action sequences, including memorable scenes involving helicopters, fighter jets, and flying Alizerins. This debut recalls classic sci-fi with a blockbuster plot and a strong moral center, and is updated for modern readers with earnest multiethnicity (including among the Alizerins, whose culture “is predicated on diversity and open, multiracial and gender interaction”). This story will find a home with readers of space fantasies full of beautiful aliens and dramatic action.

Takeaway: This character-driven tale of aliens landing on Earth will please readers of classic space fantasies.

Great for fans of Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, Whitley Strieber’s The Greys

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

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The Sikh Heritage
Dalvir S Pannu
In this painstaking heritage guide, Pannu displays the fruits of long research about Sikh history and religion. In 1947, two days after India’s independence was declared from Britain, a decree ordered the creation of Pakistan as a country separate from India. All non-Muslim people living in what was now a Muslim country, including the author’s great-grandparents, had to immediately vacate their home region, while all Muslims in India likewise had to march to the other side of the border. Due to partition, Sikhs were suddenly denied access to dozens of holy and historic sites related to their religion and its founder, Guru Nanak. This book is the culmination of a decade’s worth of research into those sites; it includes pages of beautiful photographs along with studies of religious texts put in historical context.

Pannu details 84 gurdwaras (sacred sites) in six different regions of Pakistan. Some of the shrines are well maintained, which he notes with approval, while others have been left to decay; one is now used as a cricket field. Telling the story of the shrines also means telling the story of Guru Nanak, connecting his miracles told in hagiographies to historical events and actual locations. While this is an admirable goal, it results in a choppy and somewhat disorganized structure.

This book is a labor of love, and Pannu’s passion shines through. It’s dedicated to a future time when peace between India and Pakistan will allow all Sikhs free access to their holy places. Though well-written and informative, this work is definitely targeted to audiences doing research about Sikh religion and cultural heritage rather than casual readers. This reference guide is well crafted, beautifully laid out, educational, and rewarding.

Takeaway: Scholars researching Sikh history and traditions will cherish this lavishly illustrated tour of dozens of sacred sites in Pakistan.

Great for fans of Amardeep Singh’s Lost Heritage: The Sikh Heritage in Pakistan, Ranjodh Singh’s Nankana Sahib and Sikh Shrines in Pakistan.

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

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A View From the Borderline
Charles Souby
This eclectic short story collection by Souby (A Shot of Malaria) mixes the macabre and the sweetly romantic while considering the push and pull of relationships in flux. A man's attraction to a woman at the track leads him to drunkenly lose his money in “Silver Slumdog,” and a young woman revels in her burgeoning adulthood in “Godot Meets Guffman.” A couple navigate intellectual and sexual attraction during their second date in “Geese & Ganders.” A woman's desire to have children proves a breaking point for her boyfriend in “Thornchild.” Situations spin out of control and into absurd conflict in “Silencium,” in which a camp director forces two boys to resolve a dispute about nonviolence by fighting, and in “The Plaid Golf Pants,” in which a hostage negotiator is called in to parley with a woman holding a drycleaner’s clothes hostage. Souby’s narratives take a darker turn in several stories: in “Monkey Business,” monkeys in India bludgeon young baseball players to death, and in “Eloi Reduction,” young people are lured to a rave where they are brutally butchered and processed for cannibalistic consumption.

Souby’s characters are expertly drawn. All are driven by clear emotions and desires, motivating them to act out in ways that range from tender to violent. The storylines that focus on how people navigate relationships with one another are believable and intimate, especially in stories such as “Nymphs, Woods & Cottages,” in which a man meets his future wife while she’s camping out in the woods after leaving her abusive home.

The contrast between the study of relationships and the darkness in some of the stories adds depth to the collection. While the violence of “Monkey Business” examines the retribution of the monkeys against the minister who harmed them, the cannibalism of “Eloi Reduction” as perpetrated by Hollywood moguls is more darkly disturbing than anything else in the book. While some elements may shock some readers, literary audiences with wide-ranging tastes will be drawn to the collection’s variety and depth.

Takeaway: Fans of eclectic short stories will appreciate these intimate, tender, sometimes disturbing narratives.

Great for fans of Alice Munro’s Dear Life, Richard Russo’s Trajectory.

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

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NAKED TRUTH or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit
Carrie M Hayes
Hayes fleshes out the scandalous lives of sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee “Tennie” Claflin in this debut dramatization of Gilded Age history. Victoria and Tennie, born into a family of con artists, work as mediums and spiritualists to ingratiate themselves with wealthy clients, using those connections to become publishers and stockbrokers. Jealous family members threaten them with blackmail, and their activism for women’s suffrage and muckraking earns them the ire of powerful people, leading to their arrests for criminal libel and sending pornography through the mail.

Hayes’s fertile imagination transforms the historical truths at the heart of this story, enlivening the clash of emerging feminism against the oppressive moral politics of the late-19th-century United States. As the first female presidential candidate, Woodhull is the more recognizable name, but Hayes focuses on Tennie’s doomed romances with business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt and newspaperman James Gordon Bennett. Vanderbilt’s son William alternately lusts after and despises Tennie, while moralist Anthony Comstock practically twirls his mustache as he plans to arrest the siblings for publishing a story about the adulterous behavior of revered preacher Henry Ward Beecher. They also clash with Beecher’s sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was diagnosed with hysteria and takes umbrage when Woodhull questions her decision to have her daughter’s clitoris removed to prevent the condition.

As the sisters gain and lose their fortunes, Hayes illuminates the casual corruption and cronyism that marked the early Gilded Age. She has found a fascinating chapter in history to explore, and Victoria and Tennie are compelling protagonists: fiercely determined, morally ambiguous, and deeply complicated. Readers with an interest in first-wave feminism, New York history, and detailed storytelling will enjoy mining this debut, which nicely sets up a sequel.

Takeaway: Fans of historical fiction featuring morally ambiguous women will eat up this tale of sisters determined to make their own way in Victorian New York.

Great for fans of Marge Piercy’s Sex Wars, Barbara Goldsmith’s Other Powers, Lois Beachy Underhill’s The Woman Who Ran for President.

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

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