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Charleston's Germans: An Enduring Legacy
Robert Alston Jones
Jones’ study of the establishment and dilution of a community of German residents in Charleston, South Carolina, up through the mid-war period of the 20th century stands as a notable contribution to the history of Charleston and the “Lowcountry,” the history of Germans in America, and the complexities of American assimilation and acculturation. Noting that it’s possible to “grow to adulthood in a Charleston family of pure German heritage without being cognizant” of much of that heritage and lineage, or feeling a connection to that cultural identity, Jones digs into 19th century German immigration, breaking down the factors that led to “little Germanies” springing up in American cities, and examining the Charleston enclave’s experiences with the Civil War and a South in transition, and—in the 20th century—nativist anger following the sinking of the Lusitania in 1917.

In inviting prose of welcome clarity, Jones considers the economic and social challenges of German life in “a patriarchal planter society that ruled over an economy based to a unique degree on an enormous slave population,” offering compelling portraits of pioneering North German settlers, starting in the 1830s. He introduces boot- and shoe-makers, tobacco importers, the proprietor of the Teetotal Restaurant (established 1859), and reveals, through wrenching correspondence, the plight of a mother whose circumstances were so dire that she petitioned the Charleston Orphan House to admit—and then return— a pair of her sons.

The vivid storytelling, often drawing on contemporary press accounts, persists into the 20th century, with accounts of discord at the German-American Trust and Savings bank, as Charlestown’s regional power diminishes—and as Germany wages war in Europe. Anti-German sentiment, Jones argues, may not have been as fervent in Charleston as in other American cities, but in it Jones sees the start of an accelerated process of assimilation. This highly readable history makes the case with insight and persuasive power.

Takeaway: An engaging history of Germans in Charleston, South Carolina, and the fading of a cultural identity.

Great for fans of: Roots in the Rhineland, Alison Clark Efford’s German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era.

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

Dysfunctional Documents: A 12-Step Recovery Program for User Documentation
Kurt Ament
Technical communications expert Ament (Indexing: A Nuts-and-Bolts Guide for Technical Writers) offers a clear-eyed, practical, and adaptable guide for technical writers, editors, and publishers and their teams to “to define and use edit types and levels to systematically ratchet up the quality of their user documentation.” That means establishing a process, defining roles and terms, and developing and approving the guidelines that can ensure that the team responsible for the development of technical documents remains focused, connected, and achieves consistent quality. Chief among Ament’s insights: That a team that formally establishes (and updates) its own guidelines is more likely to implement them consistently, taking the documents it produces “to the next level.”

His 12 steps call for clarity on the many different types and levels of edits that user documentation requires, the assigning and scheduling of those different edits, and what editors should offer the team in their reports. Implementing changes, in Ament’s process, doesn’t just come down to an editor’s fiat. Instead, he lays out a process in which writers evaluate and prioritize editors’ suggestions, noting that “If suggestions simply reflect the personal preferences of a particular editor, writers can—and should—ignore them.” Throughout, Ament emphasizes clear communication and evaluation of the process itself. The goal isn’t just the creation of quality documentation; it’s the creation and maintenance of a system that, with care and leadership, can make quality “automatic.”

Ament leads by example by presenting his material in the clearest, most approachable manner, a step-by-step approach laid out with an organizational clarity too often lacking in technical guides, and written in crisp, illuminating prose that on every page exemplifies the results of the process. While targeted to technical writers, Ament’s concise, inviting guide will prove helpful to anyone who leads an editorial team, especially in its scrupulous advice on establishing types of edits and team-specific guidelines.

Takeaway: An illuminating, highly practical guide to establishing an editing process for user documentation.

Great for fans of: Edmond H. Weiss, Marc Achtelig’s Technical Documentation Best Practices.

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

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The Monad Manifesto: Merging Science and Spirituality
Dennis William Hauck
Linking the realm of the mind to the concept of a universal soul and the ancient yet still provocative notion that consciousness itself is something of the Prime Move of existence, Hauck’s impassioned treatise draws deeply on the histories of philosophy, religion, and physics to argue “The focused awareness you feel right now reading this page—that spark of consciousness you take for granted—is more mysterious and powerful than anything you will ever read in any book.” That’s the first chapter’s grabber of a first line, an arresting introduction to concepts that are quite literally heady—Hauck links, with passion and some persuasive power, the elusive truth of what happens in our minds to the Pythagorean concept of the “monad,” the “single, indivisible source” that creates reality—or, as Ibn Sina posited a millenium ago, “the infinite mind” that creates “intellect and self-awareness in individuals.”

Call it God, the Big Bang, the universal soul, or whatever else. The Monad Manifesto argues not that it’s any one thing that we can comprehend, but that it’s something we can sense, and feel an intimate connection with, especially as we come to understand “the fundamental role consciousness plays in the creation of cosmic reality”—that consciousness is more fundamental even “than matter, energy, space, or time.”

Hauck grounds these searching, complex arguments in the cogent examinations of the Monad-related thought from Ancient Greece and Egypt, in Gnostic teachings, the Tao Te Ching, Jainist spiritualism, Buddhism, and the work of philosophers and scientists up to the age of relativity and beyond. But his message, for all that, is practical, a call for humanity to shine “with inner light.” He pleads, “Stop ignoring the subtleties of existence because they are beyond your comprehension!” Chapters on mediation and Monadic experiences are richly detailed and inviting.

Takeaway: A call to embrace the cosmic consciousness, steeped in philosophy, science, and literature.

Great for fans of: Mark Solms’s The Hidden Spring, Charles Webster Leadbeater’s The Monad.

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

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Dandelion Child
Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco and Jennifer Lowery-Keith
According to the dandelion child theory, there are three types of children–orchid children, who are highly sensitive and need a particular environment to survive; tulip children, who fall in the middle and require only the basics to grow; and then dandelion children, who grow anywhere, even if uncared for. In Dandelion Child, Mehlman-Orozco (Big Bad and the Bored Canary) and Lowery-Keith aim their focus on those young people who are ignored, abused, or generally mistreated, offering a book to lift them up and remind them of their resilience and strength as well as the beauty life offers amidst the darkness, as evidenced by Ana Rodic’s evocative watercolor illustrations.

The intended audience is both the dandelion children themselves, and any young people interested in learning about the theory, a hybrid approach that means less than half of the book is actually dedicated to lifting up those children. Instead, the theory and the lived reality of these neglected children is painstakingly laid out in details that illustrate the concept to kids who aren’t living that life, but could remind dandelion readers of all the troubles and trauma they have and may still currently be living through, such as “no one tucked you in at night,” “no one was there” to celebrate a winning goal, and “no one seemed to care” about a toothache.

Even so, the care that’s put into Dandelion Child by both the authors and illustrator clearly demonstrates–and makes the case for–their belief in the strength and value of these overlooked children. Regardless of the reader’s life circumstances, this exploration has the potential to uplift those children and teach others on the complexities of life as well as the lesson that not everyone is raised in an environment that’s supportive and loving. Mehlman-Orozco and Lowery-Keith ultimately tackle a tough topic while respecting the children they’re advocating for.

Takeaway: Children of all kinds will take heart from the uplifting message about the resilience of dandelion children.

Great for fans of: W. Thomas Boyce’s The Orchid and the Dandelion, Lisa Lanners Lewis’s Jayne's Story.

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

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Charm Wars
Dan Lutts
In Caldon, the world of this accomplished and inventive fantasy epic, women rule, peasants suffer, and the “noblesse” enforce the class order with every power available to them, including magic. The story focuses on a pair of young people whose lives reflect—and entwine—with each other’s. Rill Larkin, the commoner apprentice to archmage Deuth Estati dreams of establishing himself as a mage, vowing “I can become someone important … I can become noblesse.” Secrets surround him, though, both involving his lineage and the intentions of his master. Meanwhile, 15 year-old Alyse Dejun faces the dire fate so many young women have, throughout history and literature: seeing her own gifts languish ignored as she’s impressed into a marriage she doesn’t want, for political benefit.

“You’ll learn to love me,” the young archmage Troy warns Alyse, “because your family’s survival depends on it.” Lutts invigorates these somewhat familiar premises with much heart, invention, and attention to lived-in character detail, demonstrating an awareness of reader expectations and a welcome willingness to upend them. The novel is hefty, even by fantasy standards, but the cast (especially the strong-willed Alyse) is appealing, the magic lively, and the conflicts—cutting across lines of class, gender, politics, and magical aptitude—compelling, especially as alliances get upended, and Rill and Alyse’s stories thread together.

The broader plot centers on the decline of magic in the land and the hunt for powerful mage’s “charms,” but what will grab readers of YA fantasy is the sharply delineated characters, who face tough choices and exhibit rich inner lives. The matriarchal society and the general worldbuilding prove engaging, revealed through action and dialogue without Lutts bogging down the storytelling for explanations. It all builds to a promise of more adventure, and while the late turns and revelations satisfy, readers not accustomed to brick-thick fantasy may wonder why more hasn’t been wrapped up after so many pages.

Takeaway: A memorable character-driven fantasy of shifting alliances, surprising magic, and two bold young mages.

Great for fans of: Garth Nix, Claire LeGrand’s Furyborn.

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

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Haven's Indigo
Sarah Byrd
Byrd’s accomplished debut novel fuses fantasy and mystery into a zany but heartfelt adventure. Abandoned at the town dump by her parents, fourteen-year-old Haven bands together with the other homeless children she meets among the garbage. They find a beautiful indigo ring and soon discover that it brings both magic and danger into their lives. When three strange men attempt to take the ring, the children escape to the world of the Time Servers, beings who stop time to help people by averting accidents and returning lost things). Haven must balance the growing power of the ring and the opportunities it presents with her need to keep her found family together.

The Time Servers’ realm is fantastically innovative and richly detailed. Byrd creates a colorful, alluring setting brimming with magical places and objects. Time Server City is populated by familiar fantasy creatures distinguished with inventive twists: unicorns are beautiful but snobby, fairies wear pin-striped suits and are known for their fairness rather than their magic, and giants, far from being threatening or slow-witted, are brilliant inventors who create ingenious tools. But despite its welcoming whimsy, the Time Servers’ society is surprisingly nuanced, with problems and prejudices that add to its realism.

The book is brimming with characters, enough that readers may find it challenging to keep track of them through the story’s complex twists and turns. However, each is carefully crafted with unique characteristics, like Time Server Eutychus’s kindness and silly sense of humor and Haven’s deep desire to do the right thing–and her relatable fight to keep from giggling when awed by the Museum of Time. Her struggles to choose the correct path add moral complexity into this action-filled story. The vibrant world Byrd has created will no doubt appeal to fantasy readers of any age, and its thought-provoking conflicts add deeper dimensions to this imaginative tale.

Takeaway: Fun and full of heart, this offbeat fantasy finds action, mystery, and a hidden realm–in the junkyard.

Great for fans of: Tara Sims’s Timekeeper, Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time.

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

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One for the Ageless: How to Stay Young and Immature Even If You're Really Old
Jerry Zezima
Syndicated humor columnist Zezima (Every Day Is Saturday) pokes fun at life as a senior in this playful offering. Styled with self-deprecating humor—Zezima refers to himself as “an out-of-shape geezer who drinks red wine to avoid heart trouble and believes that exercise and health food will kill you”—and highlighting the easy banter between the author and his wife, Sue, this lighthearted read covers (and lobs jokes at) topics from aging health concerns to quality time with grandkids. Zezima shares the unique way he navigated the coronavirus pandemic, including the painful absence of family visits and vaccination challenges in his home state of New York, all through a comedic lens that brings welcome levity to even the most difficult subjects.

Fans of humorous essays about real life will be thoroughly entertained by Zezima’s quips and insights. He states his ninety-seven year old mother is sharper than he is, announcing “this isn’t such a great accomplishment because the same could be said for cucumbers,” and he proudly declares to his personal gym trainer that his overall fitness goal is “to stay alive.” Zezima is a devoted family man, recounting his many outings with grandchildren who challenge him to dance contests and paint his fingernails, and his closeness with Sue is evident throughout as he describes their lively antics, including a police stakeout for Sue’s stolen phone and learning how to handle couples grocery shopping.

Although rich with laughs, Zezima’s writing addresses weightier material along the way: he touches on Sue’s heart attack and recovery as well as how they managed days without electricity during Tropical Storm Isaias. Some of his stories elicit fond memories of the past, particularly his success at creating a prized pasta dish for Paul Newman’s Own and Good Housekeeping Recipe Contest. Readers keen on fun-loving stories sprinkled with substance will enjoy this selection.

Takeaway: A lighthearted take on the ups and downs of growing old, rich with humor and entertaining stories.

Great for fans of: Lawrence G. Doyle’s Adventures in Retirement, Steven Petrow’s Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old.

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

Click here for more about One for the Ageless
Mickie McKinney: Boy Detective, The Case of the Absent Answers
R.L. Fink
Mickie McKinney isn’t your average middle schooler. Along with the usual classes, homework, and school lunches, Mickie has a lucrative side hustle as a detective, and his chosen currency for payment just so happens to be candy bars. When a new girl arrives and immediately starts stirring things up, Mickie takes on his most difficult case yet, defending her against accusations of cheating–and discovering why test answers turned up in her backpack. Saturated in noir references, even down to Mickie’s narration style, and accompanied by Antony Wooten’s simple yet expressive black and white illustrations throughout the chapters, Mickie McKinney: Boy Detective offers a strong start to this appealing mystery series for the middle grade set.

In the kid-detective tradition, Fink sets out the clues that invite readers to solve the case alongside Mickie. That choice, along with the short length, ensures that the plot moves along quickly but also somewhat predictably. But young mystery lovers or aspiring detectives will appreciate the chance to game it out as well as the thoroughness of Mickie’s investigation: even when he immediately has a hunch as to who stole the test answers, he makes sure to find evidence to fully prove he’s right, which he explains is the hallmark of a true detective.

Though he sometimes seems mature for a middle schooler, Mickie is a likable and funny character who we learn more about as the story progresses, and the importance of his father—whom Mickie often quotes—strengthens readers’ understanding of why Mickie is a boy detective to begin with. He’s surrounded by lively, singular friends, such as Burners, a kid science genius, and the new girl, who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. Fink manages to deliver a relatable mystery with plenty of humor and takes the time to develop depth of character in not only Mickie, but the accused as well.

Takeaway: Young mystery fans will delight in solving the case with Mickie in this fun and funny middle school whodunnit.

Great for fans of: Ron Roy’s A to Z Mysteries series, Mac Barnett’s Brixton Brothers series.

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

Dance Stance : Beginning Ballet for Young Dancers with Ballerina Konora
Once Upon a Dance
Mother-daughter writing duo Once Upon a Dance (Danika’s Dancing Day) is back with the first in a new series, Ballet Inspiration and Choreography Concepts for Young Dancers, offering a detailed introduction to posture for ballet dancers. Likening ballet to a “gorgeous muti-layered cake,” the authors dedicate this title to that cake’s first layer—the basic dance stance that underpins more elaborate ballet techniques—and teach readers the skills necessary to master posture fundamentals. Inspired to demonstrate that ballet is equal parts challenging and rewarding, the authors combine step-by-step guidance with playful metaphors to deliver a beautifully crafted handbook for beginning and more advanced dancers.

Readers will gain serious know-how in this energetic guide. From the steps required to execute a perfect relevé to getting the hang of proper leg rotation during turnout, ballet posture is analyzed from every angle. To help speed up the learning process, and to give readers a slice of entertainment while presenting what the authors acknowledge are challenging skills, the authors present each move with engaging metaphor. Rising to toes from flat feet is compared to “leaning forward to smell a gigantic pot of your favorite food,” and the secret to widening shoulders when practicing posture is to imagine “a cobra snake stretching [its] hood sideways.” Whimsical watercolor illustrations by Stella Maris Mongodi bring the mechanics to life.

The icing on the cake is Ballerina Konora’s personal dance notes, such as how to capture the attention of an audience through minimal movement and the positive physical effects of learning good posture through structured dance. Also significant is her down-to-earth treatment of the pressures that accompany ballet. She encourages beginners that “hardly anyone likes ballet during their first year” and urges breaks, when needed, to explore other interests. This story is an aesthetic reminder of ballet’s technical skills that will motivate dancers to “find joy in [their] learning.”

Takeaway: A step-by-step guide to ballet posture that offers inspiring commentary and professional tricks of the trade.

Great for fans of: Rachel Isadora’s Lili at Ballet, Darcey Bussell’s The Ballet Book.

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

Click here for more about Dance Stance
All the Gold in Abbotsford
E.L. Daniel
Set in the English midlands in the 14th century, the first in Daniel’s Days of Ore historical fiction series finds Abbotsford local Stephen Warde attempting to save his town from petty local corruption and the wider currents of war. It all begins with the Battle of Bannockburn in the year 1314, where Stephen fights in the army of King Edward II with disastrous consequences: he loses both his father and his faith in king and country. Years later, Stephen returns home, only to find it riven with the same crime and moral degeneracy, prompting him to hatch a plan to rid the town, and the country at large, of evil–even as it puts him in conflict with members of his own family.

True to its genre,All the Gold in Abbotsford is rich with references to English history. Whether invoking battles, and the impacts of both victories and defeats, or using historical figures as characters within the story, Daniel adeptly blends fact with fiction, offering readers striking insight into the historical circumstances of 14th century England while maintaining a consistently gripping plot. Her prose invokes the cadences of speech of the time, and a significant stretch of the narrative is devoted to period romance, exploring the intimacies of Stephen’s relationship with his wife–and the mores and expectations of the era. Blending the social and the personal, the climax hurtles toward a resolution of the town’s political problems, but also the duo’s marital problems.

Some readers may be intimidated by the novel’s length, while others will be distracted by some convoluted plot points. But overall, Daniel is an accomplished and convincing writer, who will eventually draw any reader of political and domestic historical fiction into the enchantingly different world. This series debut proves as engrossing as it is informative.

Takeaway: Lovers of historical fiction will be captivated by this foray into 14th century England village politics and romance.

Great for fans of: Sarah E. Ladd’s The Letter from Briarton Park, Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind.

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

Click here for more about All the Gold in Abbotsford
The Sloughs of Ungleauw: Book Three of the Elderwood Chronicles
Matthew Claybrook
Claybrook weaves a layered, fanciful epic set in the animal world, the third of his Elderwood Chronicles series (after The Voyage of Gethsarade). Squirrels Gy Ballo, his wife Cyrilline, and their daughter, Deria, embark on a dangerous journey, complete with biting foxes, loyal bird friends, majestic owls, and cunning rabbits. As they leave their native land, they search for a new home where they can live safely and be free. The difficult journey, told in three parts, will test them dearly, as they confront indentured servitude and loss with courage and love.

Both tragedy and triumph ensue, and when the worst happens, readers will be moved to tears–but cheered by the stirring sense of companionship. The Tolkien-like epic journey is detailed with beauty and power, tracing victories and calamities alike while starkly illustrating the futilities of war. Claybrook confronts the harsh realities of survival in the animal world as well, mirroring the importance of hope in the midst of great trial, seeding the idea of freedom as an innate need across the narrative. The lyrical prose—“But the ground was bloodless, only glazed by the foul after-aroma of scurvy-rotten rat tongues and cannibal stink”— paints arresting word pictures and will leave fans of animal-oriented fantasy eagerly anticipating the next complication right up until the story’s end.

Claybrook embeds valuable life lessons in this quest for freedom, including learning how to endure hardship and coming to terms with the ugliness that colors the natural world, and these axioms make traveling with Gy, Cyrilline, and Deria as they try to navigate the dangers especially rewarding. While Elderwood Chronicles is an ongoing series, with a projected fourth volume, this entry can be read as a standalone novel. Fantasy readers will fall in love with Claybrook’s expertly wrought, lovingly crafted tale and world, and likely find themselves longing for the next installment.

Takeaway: This enjoyable animal fantasy epic overflows with courage, heart, and adventure.

Great for fans of: Kathryn Lasky’s The Guardians of Ga'Hoole, Robert C. O’Brien’s The Secret of NIMH.

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

Click here for more about The Sloughs of Ungleauw
Raaz Mahal - The Palace of Secrets
Neal Nathan
Nathan uses the existing controversies surrounding the Taj Mahal's purpose and construction and turns them into a surprising, exciting conspiracy thriller. Reluctant hero Vijay Kumar is asked by the Bureau of Archaeology to fulfill a bureaucratic request to provide specific data regarding the Taj Mahal, as the government of India has never conducted a full-scale official survey. The directive: separate fact from legend. Working in Agra, Kumar has to navigate the request with his team, which includes a UNESCO intern translator Soniya, tech wizard Samir, and grumpy local expert Chand Malik. Vijay is established as a brilliant and out-of-the-box thinker regarding ancient sites, making him crucial when the job grows more complex, involving a break-in at the Taj Mahal, a spare of mysterious murders, and a chase for a key research report that cost its original author his life decades earlier.

The tale offers hints of the supernatural and a handful of action sequences, yet this is a science-minded procedural through and through. The climax is essentially a long lecture in a committee meeting, yet the revelations it provides and the tense politics surrounding the investigation provide a satisfying capstone to the mysteries Nathan has established. The denouement, though, is more explosive, boasting some shocking betrayals, though that proves less gripping than Kumar's dazzling use of scientific inquiry to guide a thorough, government-sponsored investigation of the Taj Mahal's true origins.

The action sequences are icing for a meaty narrative that, for all the conspiratorial twists and turns, stands as a tribute to the power and appeal of science and the pursuit of truth in the face of superstition and politics. Nathan’s extensive research into the origins of this palace of secrets, as well as fascinating Indian politics and history, distinguish this thoughtful page turner, lending welcome verisimilitude to the story’s mysteries and inventions.

Takeaway: Fans of procedural thrillers and archeological mysteries will be delighted by this tale of the Taj Mahal.

Great for fans of: John Shors's Beneath a Marble Sky, DJ Niko’s Sarah Weston series, Devika Cariapa’s India Through Archaeology: Excavating History.

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

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How To Become The Neighborhood Millionaire: The Simplest Book Ever Written For Saving Quickly, Retiring Early and Living Your Dream Life
David Madow
Madow debuts with a simple but extremely relatable approach to investing and personal finance. Writing to readers who prefer being comfortable rather than rich, he presents his personal roadmap to financial freedom that he asserts “will work for you no matter what stage of life you are in right now.” Part manifestation journal and part personal finance guide, How to Become the Neighborhood Millionaire encourages readers to dream about their futures and solidify what wealth means to them in concrete, achievable terms. He details the ins-and-outs to becoming a “neighborhood millionaire,” including budgeting, the importance of emergency fund savings, eliminating credit card debt, investing, and more.

This straightforward guide is progressively organized, starting with understanding methods of setting realistic financial goals, how to determine net worth, and dynamic budgeting–Madow even offers recommendations for helpful planning apps to streamline organization.Unlike many personal finance guides, math formulas and statistics take a backseat to down-to-earth advice in this refreshing work: Madow cautions readers to avoid multi-level marketing companies (MLMs) and timeshares at all costs, and he recommends never co-signing on a loan. His advice is unflinching and straightforward: “Debt is a demon that will cripple your overall financial plan to fail,” he argues.

Deeper in the book, building on the basics from earlier chapters, he offers advice on choosing the right life partner, pursuing higher education without student loans, and making lifestyle sacrifices, all before moving, in the conclusion, to investing fundamentals, retirement accounts, and a breakdown of the best way to make your money work for you through compound interest. Madow isn’t shy about offering opinions that run contrary to much mainstream financial advice, such as his belief that good debt doesn’t exist and his preference for renting versus home ownership. Novice investors and readers wanting to eliminate debt or simply improve their finances will appreciate Madow’s uncomplicated and candid suggestions.

Takeaway: This guide is perfect for readers seeking a practical way to improve their finances and plan for their future.

Great for fans of: Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman.

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

EMDR Inspired Art and Poetry: A Meditation on Hope and Pain for Troubled Times
Mark Odland - MA, LMFT, MDIV
Odland, an artist, author (Taming the Tiger: How to Heal Your Past with EMDR Therapy) and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapist offers this original collection, a “meditation” in verse on “the trauma therapy taking the world by storm.” A nontraditional psychotheraputic method of treating PTSD and other trauma, EMDR has boomed in popularity in recent years, winning adherents (as Odland’s introduction points out) like Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey. Odland dubs the treatment “Emotional Surgery” in the collection’s first poem, and considers, over some 200 pages of verse and illustrations, the similarities between trauma and gravity, the responsibility of the EMDR therapist (“What if I rush/ To heal their pain/ And send them out raw”), the objections some express when first learning about the treatment (“There’s nothing I’m over sensitive about/ My emotional responses are/ Perfectly proportional in every situation”), and other concerns of the EMDR therapist, all in addition to paeans to the treatment’s efficacy.

Some of those are witty: “EMDR Would Wreck Movies” imagines Anakin Skywalker’s darkness “lightened” by treatment. Other celebrations of EMDR are more straightforward (“Eyes move rapidly left to right/As the walking wounded and wounded dreamers/ Stumble towards healing.”) Elsewhere, Odland faces the stress and tension of contemporary life, including some pandemic-themed poems, making the case that the urge to seek relief from stress and trauma is deeply normal.

What’s perhaps most surprising are the poems addressing the anxieties of an EMDR therapist, from the fear of not being taken seriously (“Twenty hours of wondering/ If they’ll see that I’m a fraud”), to pieces on burnout and conventions. Others concern Odland’s poetry and art: “Why the Art?” is self-explanatory, though its defense of Odland’s expressive, unpredictable sketches is persuasive, while “I Almost Stopped,” a poem about the temptation to abandon writing, links the act of creation to health and healing with incisive power.

Takeaway: A searching, self-examining collection of poetry from the perspective of an EMDR therapist.

Great for fans of: Tricia Williams’s The EMDR Years, Barb Maiberger’s EMDR Essentials.

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

Click here for more about EMDR Inspired Art and Poetry
The Great Self-Connect: Replace Hardship and Chaos with Purpose, Creativity, Fulfillment, and Prosperity
Sarah Johnson
Johnson debuts with an impassioned treatise on self-discovery and personal fulfillment. Contending that capitalism and organized religion have long instigated and reinforced the oppression of women, children, and minorities, she cautions readers not to assume that living “in a free country … automatically provides us with a free mind.” Instead, Johnson offers a path of enlightenment that calls for putting aside the judgment of others and reconnect with our creative “Self.” Drawing on her own life experiences as well as historical patterns, she explores the origins of chaotic contemporary living and asks the insightful question “what if we want to live and live well, rather than just exist?”

Readers will be intrigued by Johnson’s outraged analysis of past events that she claims have clouded our ability to perceive oppression: she covers the United States and Canada’s history of forcing indigenous children into residential schooling, witch hunts that were used as a tool to enforce patriarchal laws, and the Black Death’s decimation of the workforce, a catastrophe that she argues led to members of the ruling class targeting women and children by classifying them as the property of men. Some sweeping assertions may test readers, such as her contention that young male peasants were eager to be subservient to the upper class in exchange for the right to legally rape women, but overall she offers thoughtful reflections on the grim history of exploitation.

Johnson’s solution to escaping a life of “violence and hardship” is to forge our own path, casting aside fears of rejection and focusing on new habits that empower self-trust. She offers some concrete guidance in this process—including visualizing a “memory palace” to compartmentalize and store information from our achievements and personal resources to ineffective ways of thinking— that will give readers a starting point for taking ownership of their wellbeing. Readers feeling the weight of history and searching for against-the-grain answers to the afflictions of modern life will appreciate this read.

Takeaway: This eye-opening guide to alternative ways to lead a fulfilling life digs deep into the origins of oppression.

Great for fans of: Vicky Pryce’s Women Vs. Capitalism, James Davies’s Sedated.

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

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The Tempest In Glass: Join the supernatural quest for the impossible miracle
Dirk Eichhorst
An intelligence analyst squares off with the afterlife in Eichhorst’s ambitious debut. Marvin Fischer is bogged down in self-doubt and depression after the death of his religiously devoted wife. When an unfamiliar woman interrupts his morning routine to ask him to pray for her, Marvin assents, though he no longer believes in the power of prayer. He pledges to help Rubi Valdez and her son, Tony–but he’s shocked to witness Rubi’s death in a horrible accident just minutes after he intercedes for her. Both he and Tony notice a strange creature in the seconds before Rubi’s death, a baffling incident that sparks a deep connection between the two and sets them on a collision course with otherworldly danger and destruction–and, possibly, a rekindling of faith.

Eichhorst’s sprawling story bristles with an intriguing mix of Christianity and ancient mythology, alongside modern day adventure and a twist of romance. As Marvin and Tony set out on a crusade to bring Tony’s mother back to life, their paths cross a slew of legendary characters, including Gilgamesh the Wise and the ancient Toltec leader Topiltzin, also known as Quetzalcoatl, the god of wind, rain, and peace. Along the way, Marvin falls for renowned spiritual medium Doctor Amina Karimova, who gets swept into their quest as they fight to reach the afterlife and return home safely–all the while battling dark forces that threaten to overtake them at every turn.

Readers should come prepared for an abundance of religious and theological discussions. Narrative momentum diminishes in the finale as Marvin and his team face an ever-growing slew of supernatural characters to reach their happy ending, but for those who enjoy elaborate storylines and high-stakes mythology, this realm-spanning thriller will hit the spot, and the climax satisfyingly wraps up the story’s physical and spiritual themes.

Takeaway: A thriller mixing adventure, mythology, and theology that will please readers fascinated by questions of faith.

Great for fans of: Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Shirtaloon and Travis Deverell’s He Who Fights with Monsters series.

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

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