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The Trump Files: An Account of the Trump Administration's Effect on American Democracy, Human Rights, Science and Public Health
Jack Hassard
Pained, outraged, yet ultimately hopeful that “those of us who care about free and fair elections will be out in droves” to vote, science educator Hassard’s sweeping indictment of Trumpism offers an exhaustive accounting of the former president’s impact on American life, politics, democracy, and the globe itself. Writing from hotly contested Georgia, Hassard (Minds on Science among other works) covers not just Trump’s presidency and the violent aftermath, but also the increasingly polarized politics that paved the way for it, touching on voter suppression bills introduced during the Obama years, the Tea Party movement, and what sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild has dubbed “The Great Paradox”: “Why is hatred of government most intense among people who need government services?”

Hassard’s accounting is wide-ranging, sharp-elbowed, and deeply committed to democracy and equality. With sharp, clear-eyed prose he takes on racial injustice, the Trumpist worldview (in a discussion inspired by the work of George Lakoff), how “the United States drifted toward authoritarian and autocratic rule,” and most thoroughly how “science in the Trump era was diminished at the peril of the health and well-being for not only people and other living things, but Earth itself.” Breaking up the wide-view perspective are of-their-moment blog posts reprinted throughout offer close-up looks at controversies concerning Russian election interference, lies about mail-in voting, and the rolling back of environmental regulations.

While some of this material will be familiar to people who keep up with the news, Hassard’s rundown offers clear reminders of the breadth of Trump’s challenges to our system and the passion with which those challenges have been opposed. The freshest, most persuasive material is Hassard’s examination of the movement and administration’s assault on science and expertise, culminating in the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s tempting to describe Hassard’s prose in his examination of climate issues as “scorched earth,” but as he makes clear that now seems like a probable future.

Takeaway: This outraged survey of the Trump years makes an impassioned case for science and democracy.

Great for fans of: Paul E. Rutledge and Chapman Rackaway’s The Unorthodox Presidency of Donald J. Trump, Carlos Lozada’s What Were We Thinking?

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

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Poseidon's Storm Blaster: The Legend of Pineapple Cove, Book 1
Marina J. Bowman
Launching her exciting Greek mythology inspired middle-grade series, Bowman focuses on unconventional heroes whose innate bravery slowly surfaces during a watery adventure. Ten-year-old Kai, the son of a Pineapple Cove fisherman, takes the bucolic seaside for granted. Digging clams in the buttery yellow sand is “bor-ing,” and he wonders why everyone else is having more fun. Then Kai spies Delphi, the oddball outcast who “washed up onshore when she was little,” playing with her only friend Sammy, a raucous sea lion. Delphi is deathly afraid of the water, so when they hear a distress call from the ocean, both are eager to help, but it’s Kai who swims out to free a young dolphin from a net. In return for his good deed, Kai receives a gold trident necklace, which is key to unlocking the first secret realm in The Legend of Pineapple Cove series.

For all the book’s invention and adventure, its heart is in friendship, as Bowman makes cooperation the protagonists’ superpower: Delphi tempers Kai’s impetuousness with well-reasoned preparation; and he urges her to take action and put her knowledge to good use. Their reluctant, life-changing alliance encourages young readers to both recognize strengths (in themselves and others) and to build upon them.

Nathan Monção employs lightness and heft in his winsome illustrations. Pineapple Cove’s populace is densely muscular, as rounded and sturdy as the stones of their town’s buildings, while other images are airy and whimsical, like the massive wooden ship precariously perched on a small rock in the middle of a tiny island. Establishing Kai and Delphi as an interdependent team sets them up for future quests (there are three more books in the series), and it’s also a powerful force in helping Delphi confront her fears. The goal of these young adventurers may be exploring the deep mysteries of Pineapple Cove, but uncovering their own possibilities is their greatest reward.

Takeaway: Greek myth meets rollicking sea adventures in a series that encourages courage and cooperation.

Great for fans of: Lucy Coats’s Beast Keeper, Maz Evans’s Who Let the Gods Out, and Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams’s Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom.

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

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The Control Center (Book 1): THE CHINA AFFAIRS
Brad Good
The kickoff to Good’s China Affairs series introduces Jack Gold, a young American businessman in Shanghai who gets caught up in convincingly detailed international intrigue. Jack’s unlucky in dating, frustrated at office politics limiting his advancement at his job at a Chinese bank, and increasingly alarmed by comments from his friend Ari—an Israeli who claims contacts high up in the Israeli Defense Force—about China’s business dealings with Iran, subjugation of its own people, and stealing of U.S. military secrets. “Wait a second—Are you suggesting we should do something?” Jack eventually asks. Ari’s response is yes, of course—all he asks of Jack is secrecy, a lot of trust, and a commitment, eventually, to change the world.

With a wealth of persuasive local, cultural, and financial world detail, Good captures Jack’s feelings of excitement and disorientation, of facing sudden business and romantic opportunities—and even surprise threats of violence—all while possibly being in over his head. The plan itself, when at last revealed, is a shocker, a scheme much more elaborate and public than anything Jack expected, involving a neurotoxin and an address to all of China, revealing to the populace shocking truths about the government and a Communist Party committed to keeping the populace poor and uneducated.

Good has planned a quartet of books, so Control Center ends with much story left to tell. Good doesn’t skimp on major developments and twists upending the international order as Jack and co. take bold, dangerous steps to “open” China. At times, these major events happen too quickly to stir traditional tension, but readers who prefer their international thrillers humane and thoughtful will find much to enjoy. Jack has been crafted as less of a two-fisted espionage hero than a persuasive truth teller who will make the most of his chance to address over a billion residents of a nation not his own.

Takeaway: An American businessman finds himself tasked with speaking truth to all of China.

Great for fans of: Alex Berenson’s The Ghost War, David Ignatius’s The Quantum Spy.

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

Comedy Techniques for Variety Artists: Creativity for Entertainers Volume 4
Bruce A Johnson
Johnson, a.k.a. Charlie the Juggling Clown, offers this delightful, exhaustive, and charmingly illustrated guide to delighting an audience, vaudeville-clown style, offering a rich array of gags, set-ups, exercises, skit and scene models, and much practical advice crafted to give readers a serious leg up all over the other clowns in the car. Aimed at emcees, magicians, variety artists, as well as the seltzer-squirting set, and cheekily subtitled “Vol. 4” despite being Johnson’s first book, Comedy Techniques for Variety Artists bursts with crowd-tested ideas and approaches for cooking up (or perfecting) an act to entertain a family audience. While the opening pages offer illuminating thoughts on how jokes work, what jokes are appropriate for individual acts, and the niceties of timing and running gags, the emphasis throughout is on highly specific techniques and routines any performer can make their own.

Making it your own is crucial for any performer. Johnson encourages this with a host of exercises for readers (inventing new words; writing malapropisms appropriate for your comedy character; crafting specific styles of scene or improvisation prompts). These follow inviting, incisive chapters on classic comedy techniques and routines like spoonerisms or “Deflation of Authority/Pomposity” that briefly examine the history of these bits reaching back to the circus, the funny pages, Burns & Allen, and Fibber McGee and Molly—and persuasive consideration of why they work: “Part of the appeal of a character flaunting authority is the audience vicariously enjoying the character getting away with something they wish they could, but didn’t dare do.”

The advice throughout is flexible and pragmatic. Creating a comedy character demands establishing sets of rules and disciplines that can’t be violated and finding clear justification for the character’s actions. The joy of the book is in how explicable Johnson makes this, and how he lays bare the structure and logic of the many amusing routines he shares, inviting readers to understand—and to create.

Takeaway: This guide to crafting variety-show comedy for family audiences illuminates and inspires.

Great for fans of: Eli Simon’s The Art of Clowning, John Vorhaus’s The Comic Toolbox.

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

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Seven Beyond
Stella Atrium
“And now we should have a story,” Lady Elizabeth Tasgneganz declares just pages into this heady, idea-rich science fiction novel from Atrium (author of the Dolvia Saga among other works.) Requesting a diversion to make a slog of a journey easier, she calls for “A fanciful tale that will transport us to another time. Full of simile and metaphor, a broad-shouldered allegory elastic enough to convey some great truth in our lives.” That finely wrought description both heralds and undersells the novel that follows, a consideration of a culture and its rituals and beliefs, touched with allegory and satire, in the vein of Ursula K. Le Guin, but also a vivid travelogue that anticipates (the first edition was published in 2002) the work of Sofia Samatar.

That’s not to say that this defiantly unclassifiable novel doesn’t abound with arresting stories. One turns on the murder of an imperial guardsman and such men’s conviction that young women’s bodies constitute “A precious resource … that begs to be mined before it deteriorates.” Another reveals a blood feud among the Longists, an alien specie, that only births 20 or so per decade. And there’s the beauty about the “pitiful, empty poverty” of life in a zoo on the planet Markturum-5.

The stories and storytellers of Seven Beyond draw from a host of Earthly traditions and cultures—the biblical, the mythic, the historic—while Atrium teases out, in prose of sparkling precision and wit, the curious overarching tale of 800 year-old Dr. David Christopher Meenins, on a tour that takes him and his retinue from an ancient monastery to a sheik’s yacht to New York City to the mysteries of “kka” and the Longist resting place of the dead. If that sounds mysterious, well, that’s how Atrium’s “fanciful tale” goes, charting the journeys, relationships, beliefs, and discoveries of these travelers through tales that reflect and challenge our own world and culture.

Takeaway: This bold S.F. travelogue offers stories within stories and mysteries within wonders.

Great for fans of: Sofia Samatar, Ursula K. Le Guin.

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

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Gridiron Gypsies: The Complete History of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
Tom Benjey
Benjey reveals a fascinating, little-known slice of American history with this exhaustive examination of the football team at the Carlisle Indian School, a federally funded Pennsylvania boarding school for Native Americans that opened in 1879—and, before its closure in 1918, shocked the nation with its sports teams’ athleticism and competitive spirit. Those qualities are exemplified by the football program’s most famous alumnus, Jim Thorpe, a three-time All-American at Carlisle. Benjey tells the story of Carlisle’s football team, the “Indians,” season by season, drawing from press accounts and painting it all with a sportswriter’s sense of drama and color, while also explicating controversies and challenges the program faced, the intentions of its founders, and the stories of its participants.

As the title suggests, this work is written in the spirit of the times it surveys. Benjey’s use of “Indians'' throughout (not just as a team name) reflects the tenor of the century-old press accounts that he draws on, which tend to sound like this: “Hoodwinked and hypnotized by the native trickery and masterful strategy of the aborigines … St. Louis University went down to an ignominious defeat.” The accounts of games and seasons are engaging and exciting, bursting with fascinating revelations, like Carlisle losing to Harvard 12 to 11 in the last-ever game at the original Soldiers Field, as Benjey charts the team’s growth from underdogs to powerhouse.

Benjey’s focus is on the games themselves, two decades’ worth recounted with vigor and attention to the history of college football and Carlisle itself. Especially interesting is America’s response to Carlisle’s success and the question of what a Carlisle education offered its students—and whether and how they benefited afterwards. Abundant photos, newspaper cartoons, and other well-selected visual documentation fill out the story, both celebrating these athletes and offering an illuminating (and sometimes upsetting) glimpse of bygone attitudes.

Takeaway: The fascinating history of a Native American college football program founded in 1879.

Great for fans of: Wade Davies’s Native Hoops, Steve Sheinkin’s Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team.

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

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Stumble & Fall
Amy Rivers
This polished, character-driven thriller, the sequel to Complicit, finds psychologist Kate now in private practice in New Mexico, after her shattering experiences uncovering a powerful sex-trafficking ring while working at her hometown high school. Her goal is noble: not just “to create a safe haven for victims of abuse,” though that’s essential. She’ll also use her new connections as a business owner to begin to “infiltrate” (that term comes from her romantic partner, an ex-cop) the shadowy network they know involves Chamber of Commerce members and the chief of police. The arrival in New Mexico of Kate’s sister Tilly, a nurse practitioner, complicates her life, especially after Tilly’s unmoored by a family tragedy—and the harrowing experiences of women whom the sisters each strive to help in their jobs.

Some of those wrenching accounts of rape and abuse, of course, might connect to Kate’s larger mission. Stumble & Fall builds to the kind of tense scenes—investigations, attacks, escapes—that readers expect in a good series thriller, all described with crisp clarity and power. But Rivers digs deeper than that, investing readers in the sisters’ relationships with each other, their father, and their romantic partners—intimate, convincingly drawn relationships that prove as gripping as the more conventional suspense material.

Kate helping Tilly face trauma in her own past is especially touching, and Rivers deftly mines the genre of psychological thriller for more than just thrills. She makes healing and connection as engrossing as Kate’s efforts to stop these crimes. The men, too, are sharply written, and Rivers’s attention to socioeconomic reality (and what it feels like to languish between jobs) is refreshing. The story surges toward a jolting-yet-in-hindsight-inevitable revelation and a touching scene of solidarity among women, moments that less humane thrillers might sensationalize. Rivers, though, is too attuned to how people actually live, feel, and process trauma to reduce their lives to mere plot twists.

Takeaway: Brianna Labuskes, Lisa Regan.

Great for fans of: This superior thriller finds as much suspense in sisters’ relationships as in their efforts to stop sex traffickers.

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

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VOYAGE TO THE WALL
Manning Rubin
Based on his experiences as a young soldier immediately after WWII in Europe, the rousing debut novel from Rubin (author of Keep Your Brain Alive) is an exploration of the questions of identity, faith and justice. Nineteen year old Joey Goldman, an American stationed in supply at Nuremberg Ordnance Depot, finds himself attending the trials of the notorious Nazi officers. It is then that he becomes intensely aware of his Jewish identity. Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, he had never felt any different from others. The grisly films of torture and killing of the Jews, shown during the trials, and his visit to the Dachau concentration camp start him off on a journey of discovery of what it is to be a Jew. At a displaced persons camp he befriends two survivors of concentration camps whom he helps relocate. Meanwhile his growing affinity for the Underground Jewish Brigade and for the Zionist movement threatens to put his military career in jeopardy.

Rubin’s portrayal of Joey’s increasing awareness of his heritage, and his shame at not knowing much about his heritage, is nuanced and engaging, and the characters come alive on the page. Whether it is Joey’s mates Skip Say or “Red” Blake, or his boss Lieutenant Forner, or his love Leah Chalowitz, they are all whole, rounded and real. A character who remains with the reader is Joey’s father, forever changed by his illness, and the short chapters help maintain a steady pace.

Eventually, Joey is discharged from the army and joins the Underground Jewish Brigade, and the novel edges into thoughtful suspense (and even a touch of romance). Battle scenes and accounts of exacting justice from Nazis in hiding have power, though Rubin’s language is invitingly simple and casual, an effective vehicle in immersing readers in the landscape, characters, and emotions.

Takeaway: A novel that explores identity, faith and justice through the eyes of a Jewish American soldier after WWII.

Great for fans of: Steven Hartov’s Last of the Seven, Neal Bascomb’s Hunting Eichmann.

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

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ONLY THE DEAD (Know the End of War)
Jan Notzon
Notzon writes a gripping and heartfelt 19th century tale revolving around the lives of three families from Mexico and Texas, struggling to survive through wars, famines, the ever-changing political and social atmosphere, and the contested ownership of the land itself. Notzon twines the historical record of the Mexican War of Independence and the Texas Revolution with his characters’ experience of love, lust, grief, and loss as the novel spans some three decades of hotly contested land claims, skirmishes, and clashes between competing Republics. Clear throughout is how the intertwined fates of his people, many attempting to “carve out a life for themselves in this seeming wasteland,” so often are determined by forces beyond themselves, forces hungry for power.

Notzon’s take on the futility and inevitability of war is refreshing, as he gives readers a hard-hitting perspective of what it means to put one’s life on the line. “To acknowledge the humanity of those you must kill paralyzes the will,” he writes. Only the Dead proves as engaging at capturing the everyday and the drift of mind of its cast as it is when depicting monumental—sometimes harrowing—historical events involving the likes of Sam Houston and Santa Anna. Use of terms like “savage” and “barbaric” to describe indigenous people may give some readers pause, though Notzon’s project is to capture how his 19th-century cast perceives their world.

Only The Dead will inspire in readers a productive reckoning with the devastating effects of western expansion on the people and the land. Notzon poignantly writes, “This land is littered with the grave of those it conquered”—a striking reminder about the peril and hardship faced by those who, insearch of better futures, dared to migrate to unknown lands that would swallow them. This is a thoughtful, persuasively detailed story of people longing for a place they can call home, both colonizers and colonized, Spaniards, Creoles, and Indians, and Mexicans and Texans.

Takeaway: A gripping novel about 19th century Mexican and Texan families, caught up in relentless war.

Great for fans of: Jeff Long’s Empire of Bones, Stephen Harrigan’s The Gates of the Alamo.

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

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Pepperoni, Jalapenos & LSD: The World is My Ashtray, Vol I
P.H. Mountain
Mountain’s vivid memoir of a Dionysian coming-of-age opens with Paul, an IT entrepreneur, waking up to the aftermath of a bender of hedonistic proportions. Promising yet again that this will be the last weekend of unnecessary debauchery, Paul contemplates whether it’s finally time to sit down and write “THE BIG ONE,” the writing project that preoccupied him back when he was young—and before “the tech revolution distracted me and provided a viable path to financial freedom.” With his tech firm comfortably able to manage most of his tasks, he begins retelling his story, flashing back to 1989 and a Beat-adjacent, LSD-fueled I-70 road trip in his hard-chugging Sunbird that brought him to Boulder.

Mountain writes from an honest place where no offense is spared and no shocking detail is left to the imagination, the material leavened by flashes of adult insight. Filled with the off-color banter you can expect from young men trying find their place in the world, Paul finds solace in a relationship with Lonnie, a slightly older woman, amongst other companions and lots of drugs and sex, some explicitly described. Mountain does not glorify these experiences or present himself and his friends as any more enlightened than they were—expect a lot of chatter about Lonnie’s breasts—nor does he shy away from the euphoria his younger self felt.

Rude, crude and occasionally philosophical, Mountain’s memoir offers an unflinching look at being a young American man out of control in a now by-gone era, testing limits and surprising with extremes, such as the scene of Paul snorting cocaine and making love with an older woman in a dingy bar restroom… but only after she tells him to roleplay as a fourteen-year-old. His shock after coming down saves him from being a total lost cause doomed to “steadily worsening addictions.” If you can stomach that, dear reader, then you’ll do just fine with the first of Paul’s memoirs.

Takeaway: An entrepreneur reflects on escaping a proudly debauched American coming of age, circa 1989.

Great for fans of: Jim Carroll, Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight.

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

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The Syren's Mutiny
Jessica S. Taylor
In her polished debut, Taylor spins a well-imagined and compelling new adult fantasy about a sea siren with powers who falls for an honorable—and human—man. After syren Brigid defies an ultimatum from her queen, Cliodhna, that all seafaring men must die (because she deems all men dishonorable), Brigid rebels by saving dashing sea captain Caelum, who tried to save her a decade earlier from his sadistic father, Kellan. As a result, she is banished from the deep-sea compound she’s called home for many years and separated from the friends who have supported her. Desolate at losing her family but not regretting repaying her favor to Caelum, Brigid bands together with Caelum and other shipwreck survivors to save the children that Kellan is planning to sell.

Taylor’s stellar and imaginative yarn pulls readers in from the very first page, with feisty siren Brigid and valiant Caelum capturing readers’ interest and affections, and Caelum’s tenderness with Brigid as she explores her new life will capture readers’ hearts. Outstanding supporting characters bolster the snappy narrative, with Caelum’s surviving crew members—Cameron, Duncan, and Maddock—positively swoon-worthy, and new siren Sorcha plays an unexpected role, proving definitively which camp has earned her loyalty.

Readers will root for Taylor’s deeply honorable heroes, especially against the backdrop of Caelum’s heartless father (who has inflicted many scars, both physical and emotional, on his sensitive son) and Brigid’s unexpectedly ruthless queen, who delivers a whopper of a secret near the end of the story. The author’s plotting is pitch-perfect, her world-building top-notch, and her prose engaging—and an author-selected playlist adds an aural note to the story. Though ending on a cliffhanger will elicit a cry of dismay from readers who want to know the outcome immediately, fantasy-loving romance fans will eagerly devour Taylor’s irresistible tale and wait for the next installment.

Takeaway: Taylor’s deftly told fantasy romance will draw readers in from the first page to the last.

Great for fans of: Rivers Solomon’s The Deep, Jennifer L. Armentrout’s The Crown of Gilded Bones.

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

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Mask of the Vampire: Chronicles of Damage, Inc., Book 2
Jason & Stormy McDonald
The McDonalds follow up the gritty, party-based, pulp-fantasy fun and thrills of Phantoms of Ruthaer with an even bigger adventure, this time finding Damage Inc., the death-haunted (and pleasingly diverse) band of heroes led by the bounty hunter Hector de los Santos, lighting out for distant Ozera on another urgent mission. This time, Hector, the archer Dave Blood, and Tealaucan “Teal” Rathaera—a ghost and “fightmaster” whose tangled backstory finds the authors taking full advantage of fantasy’s openness to bold, inventive characters—must stash a dangerous artifact in the secret vault of the Aerarium, and attend to some complex business involving a dearly departed companion, a soulbound dragon hatchling, and the dreaming lands between life and death.

And their adversaries—vampires, demons, ghosts, clockwork automatons, and the scheming Count Dodz—are coming for them. No matter how complex it all might sound, though, the bottom line of the Chronicles of Damage Inc. is a spirit of continual ongoing adventure and headlong momentum, the heroes facing one scrape after another and surviving by their wits, their arrows, and most crucially their trust and love for one another. Even surly Dave, a hard-swearing man who’s “only happy when he was shooting something,” evinces flashes of tenderness. The McDonalds conjure up a tabletop RPG campaign’s worth of weird magics, exciting encounters, seemingly insurmountable challenges in a narrative that ranges from ships to alchemy labs to dragon caverns to the hunting grounds of a lioness who readers will wish stalked across more pages.

The fast pace, earthy dialogue, vivid detail, and confident storytelling will please fantasy fans whose tastes run to action and camaraderie. The McDonalds’ world is rich and complex, with some elements and characters first appearing in the predecessor to this series, the Cayn Trilogy. A glossary and smart on-the-fly recapping illuminate the accumulated worldbuilding, but even seasoned fantasy lovers are advised to start with the first book in this series.

Takeaway: Fast-paced, party-based fantasy with a spirit of adventure, camaraderie, and thrilling action.

Great for fans of: Sam Sykes, Nicholas Eames.

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

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Briarhill to Brooklyn: An Irish Family's Journey to Freedom and Opportunity
Jack Bodkin
Bodkin weaves readers through a tapestry of decades across the Atlantic and back, sharing his family’s history, struggles, and migration to America in this creative nonfiction tribute. The large Bodkin family, rooted in Briarhill, Ireland, endured many historic struggles in the mid-1800s. As The Great Famine raged on, millions starved in desolation. Heartbreaking tales pull the reader in during early chapters as Bodkin eloquently introduces family members. In one instance, loving father Séamus makes the difficult decision to take himself and toddler daughter Honora from Inis Mór to the mainland, with only the young child surviving the perilous journey. Honora, becoming Nora, proves a blessing to the Bodkin matriarch’s sister, and later joins the family on the voyage to America. As Bodkin writes, their expedition on the Cushlamachree ship was more than dangerous, punctuated with moments of hardship and love, but ultimately worth the risk for the Bodkin clan.

In a delicate yet deliberate manner, author Bodkin keeps the reader in check with the realities of the world around his family in the 19th century. War, famine, revolution, and the industrial age touch the lives of every sibling. Grounded in their Catholic faith, the Bodkin children persevered in the new world of Brooklyn, and America’s many opportunities. The figure of uncle Laurence, steadfast and dependable, proves a heartening presence in many chapters, as the bishop blesses potato patches, teaches the children botany and history, and guides the family’s transition into the New World. Bodkin brings together the family’s adult children in a solemn celebration decades later, as they recount their fond memories of the homeland.

Readers who enjoy family lineage stories will revel in this beautifully written account of the tight bonds of the Bodkins, complete with fictionalized but persuasive dialogue. Briarhill to Brooklyn keeps their traditions alive while forging ahead, extending geographies and building on their legacy.

Takeaway: The memorable account of an Irish family’s journey to America and a new life, lovingly told.

Great for fans of: James R. Barrett’s The Irish Way, Gerard R. D'Alessio’s Leaving: Three Generations of an Irish Immigrant Family.

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

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Endless Awakening: Time, Paradox, and the Path to Enlightenment
Patrick Paul Garlinger
This philosophical treatise with practical repercussions gently invites readers to release the attachment to linear logic and lean into the dualities and paradoxes inherent to spiritual growth, especially around the concept of time. Leaning into his personal experience with higher consciousness work and with plant medicine (ayahuasca), Garlinger addresses ideas like allowing ourselves to feel difficult emotion in order to release it, that we are simultaneously bound by time and able to fall out of it, that identity building allows us to be seen but cannot encompass the full truth of who we are, and that we need to simultaneously hold the notions of separation and oneness.

Garlinger’s commitment to a both-and mentality and a joyful approach to paradox threads clearly through each topic he considers, giving his ramble through big concepts a consistent path. His insight into the human condition encourages self-kindness and holding our ideas of self lightly, as it rejects the idea of enlightenment as linear progress. This offers the reader a sense of comfortable acceptance from which to let go into grander considerations.The prose style is conversational but not chatty, with accessible, straightforward language free of esoterica, and the material is clearly organized by topic. The net effect is one of listening to wise lectures quietly over tea. Though the author’s sharing of insights from ritual psychedelic use shifts the tone here and there, Garlinger never suggests that such experiences are mandatory on one’s journey.

A few of Garlinger’s ideas stick particularly hard, even for readers used to considering spiritual realities: the distinction between being in the present, which we cannot avoid, and being present, which is a choice and a practice; that identity is a shield against repression and that oneness does not mean eradicating difference; and that other people are simultaneously mirrors of ourselves and unknowable strangers.

Takeaway: Seekers ready to embrace the paradoxes of human living will find great ideas to chew on here.

Great for fans of: John Gray’s The Soul of the Marionette, Sean Enda Power, >em>the Philosophy of Time, A Contemporary Introduction.

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

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Entanglement - Quantum and Otherwise
John Danenbarger
Danenbarger’s ambitiously titled work of literary fiction revolves around an intricate web of characters whose connections and dissociations slowly become evident as the novel progresses. The story starts with Geena, a woman sitting in her Kansas City office, conflicted about whether she should open the letter in front of her or not. In the end, she does; and what pours out is an entire history, a family saga that begins with a mother’s youth, goes on to detail lives, loves, and inevitable ruptures, before culminating in a crescendo of death.

Right off the bat, it becomes evident that the narrative is rich and complex: Expect frequent jumps in timeline, a flood of new and seemingly strange characters in each chapter, and a deliberate withholding of key plot points, meant to create suspense and enhance the effect of the eventual revelations. The title, of course, refers to the concept in physics of two particles being directly connected even across vast distances, a phenomenon that could well be an analogy for almost all the characters’ relationships to each other. No matter the distance separating them, they keep recurring in, and influencing, each of their lives.

Readers who favor page-turners over literary puzzles will likely find the book a challenge: having each chapter narrated by a different character, in a different voice, with sudden shifts from third-person to first person perspective, is a bold choice and not everyone’s cup of tea. The language alternates between complex—even complicated—and the directly stated (“Vanity is a woman’s punishment for being born”) and piercingly heartfelt. For all the book’s headiness, Danenbarger offers dramatic events and developments, and an empathetic understanding of how we process traumatic events. On occasion he even dares sentimentality. The novel is insightful and has a sensitivity that shines through. Lovers of family sagas, and the relationships that undergird them, will enjoy this book, which is demanding but ultimately very human.

Takeaway: A heady, human family saga for lovers of literary fiction.

Great for fans of: Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread.

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

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Love in the Age of Dragons: A Novel
Fatima R. Henson
Henson’s (Courageous Cody’s Western Adventure) high-stakes adventure follows Ayanna Grace, a seventeen-year-old Black girl, as she deals with the fallout of a planet ravaged by dragons. Two years after her father opens up a wormhole to the Draconus Planetary System and inadvertently ushers dragons into the world, Ayanna—now orphaned—struggles to survive while serving as an assistant doctor in an underground community called Terra. Ayanna must face the worsening health of Terra’s doctor, the dwindling supply of life-saving medications, drought, and disease. Simultaneously, she wrestles with feelings for both Richard Daniels, her longtime-friend-turned-Captain, and Jackson Kyle, a mysterious stranger she meets on an unauthorized adventure to the surface.

Ayanna stands out as a multi-faceted and inspirational protagonist willing to place the needs of her community above her own as restitution for the mistake that her father made. Ayanna’s strong, selfless mindset is dealt with elegantly as her motivations—to help her community because of a sense of duty—are made just as clear as her reasons for hesitancy—her desire to avoid guilt if things go poorly. Ayanna’s powerful personality is the perfect vessel to explore the carefully crafted world created by Henson. Both the subway system community and the dragon-ridden surface are well developed settings and serve an important purpose in the overall story arc.

Despite feeling rushed at times, this story as a whole is very well thought out and engaging, and the dragons, so often overused in fantasy, here are truly scary and exciting, scarring the land and the flesh of people Ayanna meets. Whether following Ayanna as she navigates the trials and tribulations of living in an underground society with a questionable government or her exciting confrontations with beasts on the surface, Love in the Age of Dragons keeps the reader invested throughout. This fast-paced dystopian fantasy is intensely captivating until the very last page.

Takeaway: This story of life in the wake of a dragon invasion is perfect for fans of dystopian survival tales.

Great for fans of: Neal Shusterman, Amie Kaufman’s and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae.

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

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