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Café de Sophia
M. A. Alsadah
A celebration of the power of ideas, this thought-provoking novella begins with Nate River, a 16-year-old who describes himself as a “lost soul with no passion in life,” getting caught up in a surprising, clarifying colloquy that puts him on a new path. While waiting for his mother in Café de Sophia, Nate meets a retired educator nicknamed Plato, who invites him into an intellectually stimulating conversation that leaves a lasting impression in his mind. "At that moment, I felt that I needed the company of someone like Plato in my life," Nate says, aware of his need for guidance. This pivotal encounter propels Nate into a series of rendezvous with Plato and his circle of like-minded thinkers who he deems could set him in the right direction in life.

Rather than adhering to traditional story structures with peaks, twists, and suspense, Alsadah's thoughtfully compelling narrative follows Nate's apprenticeship in philosophical thought and living, revealing the young man’s growth through discourse with Plato and his cohort. This philosophical and conversational approach persuades readers through examinations of justice, equality, morality, perfection, love, and many others. "I see the mind as the most valuable thing a human has," Plato declares, “and only through speech, along with writing, is it ever translated and known.” That captures the essence of both his character and the story itself.

The dialogues are similar to each other, with formulaic structures and a lack of distinction among characters. But they serve as the driving force that Alsadah uses to explore compelling arguments, hypothetical scenarios, and intriguing conclusions that illuminate the significance of self-awareness, the diverse spectrum of human perceptions, and the challenges inherent in upholding one's ethical compass amidst the complexities of humanity. Through the lenses of knowledge, reason, and logic, readers are compelled to form their own hypotheses and conclusions, thereby actively participating in the intellectual and thought-provoking journey.

Takeaway: Richly philosophical dialogues in an exquisite Parisian cafe.

Comparable Titles: Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

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

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Preacher Stalls the Second Coming: (Evan Wycliff #4) (Evan Wycliff Mysteries)
Gerald Everett Jones
The standout fourth entry in Jones’ Evan Wycliff mystery series sparkles, despite its protagonist, the one-time pastor of Missouri’s Evangel Baptist, finding himself at his lowest ebb. “I’m unchurched, defrocked, and if it weren’t for the boundless generosity of one Zip Zed letting me housesit a broken-down little trailer rent-free, I’d be homeless,” Wycliff declares—and that’s not even touching on his separation from his wife, Loretta, and the loss of his beloved dog, Murphy. Even the new friend he just met, an aged German who drags him out of that borrowed manufactured home for pancakes and heady conversation at the C’Mon Inn, is quickly ripped from Wycliff—and this mortal coil—by a passing F-150. But as Wycliff looks into the accident, plus a missing girl and the arrival in his patch of southwestern Missouri of a cultish end-times commune, he can’t stop thinking about the German’s warning: that someone out there could be planning to fake the Second Coming of Christ, this time through advanced digital technology.

Like its predecessors, Preacher Stalls the Second Coming blends unusually humane and thoughtful procedural sleuthing with a brisk pace, winning local color, and ace scenecraft and surprises, all powered by a strong undercurrent of moral and spiritual inquiry. It won’t surprise readers of mysteries (or of newspapers) that Pastor Obadiah of the End-Times Retreat Center has secrets in his past and monetary and political entanglements with the politicians up in “Jeff City.” But Jones’s depiction of this milieu—of believers and belief, of trailer parks and superstores, of the tensions faced by the woman pastor who has replaced Wycliff—is always revealing and surprising, both warm and incisive.

Highlights abound, with a tense discussion of the Book of Revelation between Wyclif and Pastor Obadiah proving more gripping than many mysteries’ shootouts. The same goes for a scene of faith healing. Both author and detective are touchingly open to people’s better angels but not all that shocked by corruption, charlatans, and killers.

Takeaway: Standout mystery of faith, corruption, and a minister at his lowest ebb.

Comparable Titles: Ann Cleeves, Julia Spencer-Fleming.

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

Killing Johnny Miracle
J.K. Franko
Franko follows up the Roy Cruise Series with a pleasurably mean Texas thriller of love, revenge, and the law. Johnny and Mary Miracle are a young couple of means who have fallen out of love. Well, that’s not completely true—Johnny is actually in love, just not with Mary, his wife. Once he learns Mary’s darkest secrets, he plans to divorce her right away, and he has the leverage to make it hurt her–and profitable for himself. With nothing less than a vineyard and a Monet to lose, Mary must take action. Raising a glass to toast “motivated women,” she hatches a plot of her own. She knows plenty of Johnny’s secrets, too, and she’s willing to kill to keep her lifestyle. From the grabber of a first page, she’s committed to just what the title promises: she will see Johnny die.

No thriller worth its salt is that simple, of course, and it turns out that Mary isn’t the only one who has beef with Johnny. Franko wrings suspense from the questions of who will get to him first and who might get hurt in search of revenge, employing non-chronological storytelling from a variety of viewpoints to build to twists, turns, and revelations that will sweep up readers of dark suspense and leave them eager to guess at how the pieces could possibly tie together in the end. Getting into the minds of these witty characters throughout is a poison-laced pleasure.

Love, lust, betrayal, and the complexities of securing a fortune keep the pot boiling. Fans can expect the brisk, purposeful pace that Franko has demonstrated in previous books, a plot whose surprises can’t be gamed out, incisive attention to the legalities of it all, and a host of vibrant characters whose schemes, secrets, and chatter (“Gotta die of somethun’,” the sheriff declares after being warned that his glazed donuts aren’t good for his health) keep the pages turning.

Takeaway: Captivating marital thriller of love, lust, revenge, and murder.

Comparable Titles: James Chandler’s Sam Johnstone series; Alice Feeney’s Rock Paper Scissors.

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

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The Mole People
Kevin Landt
Landt (author of Myface) chronicles one woman’s journey into an unhoused life when her schizophrenia leads her to distrust those closest to her. Despite fears of becoming zombie-like or losing “the good thoughts,” Suzie Franks, a college student in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, agrees to take the medications prescribed for her when she's threatened with expulsion after throwing a chair at a fellow student. But Suzie stops her meds, believing that they are causing weight gain, and becomes convinced that her boyfriend, Robbie, and her mother, Dana, want to institutionalize her unfairly. Suzie runs away, winding up in in Las Vegas, where she meets Wonderman, the leader of “Mole People” who live in Vegas’s underground tunnels. A community of compelling characters like Jazz and Judy make this dark refuge inviting, but Suzie soon faces assault and other terrors.

Suzie’s sense of isolation and certainty that Robbie has broken her trust drive this pained story, which makes literal, in its subterranean escape, the figurative “deep, dark hole” that Suzie feels she has been “crawling into” ever since she chucked her meds. “Here one minute, and then, gone,” she thinks, of the people in her life; Landt’s intimate third-person account of her journey plunges readers into a mind that is convincingly “grateful,” in the darkness of the tunnels, that “she couldn’t see the condition of the mattress, or the walls, or floors.” Moments like that offer brief respite as Suzie faces escalating dangers, like flooding and discord among a vividly characterized group of mole people.

Landt provides a convincing, upsetting, but ultimately humane look at schizophrenia and how it complicates the lives of those who have the disorder as well as those trying to help them. And this view of Las Vegas highlights the great contrast between those living in the glittering world of the casinos and those who find refuge in the “dark underworld” below it.

Takeaway: A student with schizophrenia faces danger in the tunnels below Las Vegas.

Comparable Titles: Ishmael Beah’s Little Family, Matthew O’Brien’s Beneath the Neon.

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

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Reimagining Success: Manifesting Happiness and Fulfillment
Maureen Fallon-Cyr, LCSW
Passionate about cultivating true success, which she defines as the ability to “manifest the life we have always wanted to live,” psychotherapist Fallon-Cyr offers readers her tried-and-true methods of achieving self-satisfaction in this well-structured debut. “Success in one area of life doesn’t guarantee success across our life,” she writes, as, drawing fresh insight from her professional experience, she breaks down seven domains—physical, psychological, cognitive, emotional, relational, spiritual, and integrative—that impact individual well-being and functioning. Each domain is essential for true success, according to Fallon-Cyr, a stepping stone to leading “satisfying, meaningful lives.”

Fallon-Cyr’s writing is clear, objective, and overflowing with self-reflection prompts and exercises that drive home her prescribed path to success. She reiterates throughout that defining success according to conventional measures—money, fame, and power—doesn’t serve as a true measure of contentment, advising readers instead to increase their health in each of her specified domain areas, with the end result of “integrative functioning”—a superpower, of sorts, that embraces achieving one’s full potential. All seven domains are broken down and explained in easy-to-understand terms with tailored advice: the mind/body connection, as part of Fallon-Cyr’s Physical Domain, is a powerful key to “healing our wounds and releasing our limiting beliefs,” while the Psychological Domain comes with specific steps to nurturing a strong mind (recognizing and releasing limiting beliefs is critical).

The ultimate goal is to master Fallon-Cyr’s Integrative Domain, an area that entails competence across all other domains, to “[open] a new sense of who we are and what it means to live successfully.” In the process of working towards integration, readers will discover deep insights on spirituality, emotional balance, and more. Fallon-Cyr closes with a nod to community, identifying “true success for all” as “Living our True Nature, as best we can, right here in this moment, and helping others do the same.”

Takeaway: Clear steps to achieving personal contentment and mastering meaningful living.

Comparable Titles: Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, Tessa Cason’s Awaken, Emerge, Become.

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

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The Modern Man : Short Stories
VIKAS PARIHAR
Parihar’s debut short story collection, following last year’s Poems of Everyday, offers a series of pointed, at times outraged narratives that seek to address the various ways in which humanity inflicts violence upon itself both in the interpersonal realm and the sociopolitical. From a partial retelling of Narcissus to a fingerless Holocaust survivor’s death bed retrospections to a contemporary man’s existential struggle, Parihar’s stories explore humanity’s worst crimes against itself, and question how global acts of violence have affected individuals and humanity as a whole.

Parihar’s love of poetic form shows in one-sentence paragraphs, lines that purposefully repeat structures, with small alterations, building for effect, and an often detached, observational narrative voice: “Stink of their vomit persisted in the house like memories of the lost glories and the glorious past,” the narrator reports, of the bacchanal at the center of “The Host.” Uncertain editing and punctuation makes it hard for Parihar’s occasionally striking insights to shine, and many sentences prove difficult to parse, sometimes because of Parihar’s inclination toward concision and surprise, and at times because of editing errors. The longest story, “The Daughter of Comradeji,” which follows the marriage of Nepalese couple Seema and Mukesh, includes the most developed insights about colonialism, specifically in India and Nepal. Towards its end, Seema visits a supermarket for the first time with her neighbors. The characters do not realize that “the god of profit, the prophet of grid, two saints named colonization and globalization danced inside out, outside in of the supermarket.”

Though these stories prove challenging, on various levels, to read, credit must be given to Parihar for the power and insight of that sentence, plus others throughout. His insights into the genocide, colonialism, and humanity’s zeal to abuse are urgent, presented in often vivid language, though sensitive readers should be aware that the stories plumb deeply into these horrors.

Takeaway: Pained, unpolished post-colonial stories exploring trauma, abuse, and violence .

Comparable Titles: Dean Baldwin and Patrick J. Quinn’s An Anthology of Colonial and Postcolonial Short Fiction

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

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Little Ships: A Novel
Sandra Scofield
This incisive, richly emotional novel finds Scofield (author of Gringa) surveying, with scrupulous prose, the aftermath of a family tragedy—and the grandmother, aged 59 and ready to start thinking about retirement, called upon to hold it all together for three generations’ worth of her people. After a vivid prologue of first love sparking, the story opens with an ending: the sudden death of Karin, the wife of Nick and mother of adolescents Tilde and Juni. In the aftermath, stoned Nick is even more of a wreck than usual, and his mother, Eleanor, steps in to manage everything that must be seen to, including taking in Tilde and Juni, homeschooled kids who, among other upheavals, will now be facing their first days at an Oregon public school. Eleanor hasn’t spent significant time with these kids, who feel closer to Karin’s parents.

Scofield deftly pins down the complexities of contemporary family life, demonstrating a keen understanding of the ways kids and adults alike shut down or distance themselves as a protection from pain, uncertainty, and loneliness, even when surrounded by those who love them. Eleanor, of course, doesn’t have the luxury of doing that, as even before Karin’s death she is already enduring other travails at home: the continual presence of her daughter, Alison, living there with her own daughter, and the painful absence of Walter, Eleanor’s husband, who after an argument, has at least temporarily moved out.

Scofield renders each interaction and relationship with rare precision, power, and empathy, even as Eleanor herself must bull ahead through, in the face of Juni’s resistance to her love and Nick’s eagerness to put his responsibilities on her. Like life itself, the story continually surprises even as developments feel in hindsight inevitable. Scofield moves and illuminates as she lays bare these characters’ hearts—and as Eleanor strives to organize these wounded souls who can’t always articulate their needs into a nourishing, non-traditional family.

Takeaway: Stellar novel of a grandmother holding a complex family together after tragedy.

Comparable Titles: Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport, Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth.

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

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Sailing with the Wind of Freedom: Lascarina Bouboulis and the War for Greek Independence
Katherine Kaye
Kaye’s often thrilling historical novel, her debut, brings to vivid life 19th century Greek folk heroine Lascarina “Bouboulina” Bouboulis and her role in the Greek Revolution of 1821 against the Ottoman Empire. The road to freedom was long, complicated and dangerous, as Kaye makes clear in a richly told story that engages with themes of love, families, war, and oppression. Bouboulina’s life in crucial ways mirrors that of Greece itself. At fifteen, she lives in the small seaside village of Spetses where she’s shunned by others for defying society’s oppressive expectations of women with her love of sailing and thirst for knowledge and independence. She’s encouraged by her loving and open-minded stepfather Lazarou and cautious mother Paraskevi. Bouboulina also stands up to the cruel taunts from the villagers about her unknown biological father, whose identity is closely guarded by her parents.

Blending fiction with fact, Kaye emphasizes her subject’s boldness. Entering a boys-only sailboat race, Bouboulina loses after stopping to rescue a drowning sailor, an exciting demonstration of her compassionate nature. Bouboulina wins the love of kindhearted merchant Captain Dimitri Bouboulis, but oppression weighs upon her life, as the Ottomans forbid any form of independence, including education, punishing the Greeks with heavy taxes, imprisonment, and executions. Young readers may find it challenging to keep up with the many historical figures in the tale (a dramatis personae helps), and accounts of atrocities, from both sides of the war, are frank and potentially upsetting, especially during the siege of the Monemvasia Island fortress.

Pacing is inconsistent, sometimes rushed and sometimes slow, with more than half the book surveying Bouboulina’s life before the revolution officially starts, including lengthy descriptions of war preparations. The personal material is the strongest. Especially uplifting are Kaye’s depictions of Bouboulina’s family’s closeness and her kindness while rescuing a Turkish harem. Dmitri Andreyev’s line illustrations, emphasizing clothes and culture, are eye-catching, suggesting the richness of the milieu.

Takeaway: A Greek revolutionary’s bold life, told for young readers.

Comparable Titles: Libby Carty McNamee ‘s Susanna's Midnight Ride, J. Kasper Kramer’s The Story That Cannot be Told.

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

The Cliffs of Schizophrenia: A Mother and Son Perspective
Jake and Laurette McCook
Mother-son duo Laurette McCook and Jake McCook offer readers a heartbreaking glimpse of Jake’s struggles with schizophrenia, penned as back-and-forth journal entries shared between the two. “There is no one who is treated with less dignity than the mentally ill,” Laurette writes, a declaration that becomes appallingly evident as she recounts the years of missed diagnoses, medication trials, and hospitalizations that Jake and his family toiled through before discovering clinicians and treatments that granted them painstaking progress. Both mother and son examine the early years before his diagnosis, into his young adulthood, through the lens of their hard-won, incremental victories against this devastating disease.

Throughout, Laurette emphasizes the crucial role that family plays for loved ones with chronic mental health concerns: “You will become the expert on your loved one’s well-being.” Her devotion to Jake’s care shines as a brilliant thread of their abiding connection, buoying him in moments of darkness while gently confronting his needs, all against the backdrop of his yearning to be an independent adult, unfettered from schizophrenia’s agonizing hold. Jake’s lifelong creativity affords him outlets for his emotions alongside several job opportunities, as he pours his energy into video editing and art, all while learning to cope with addiction, paranoia, and “a subterranean beast” that “haunts his days and nights.”

“Hope will be your driving force” Laurette voices, as she details the family’s exhaustive efforts to coordinate and master Jake’s treatment needs while still finding time to nurture their attachment. Jake’s writing is brutally raw, an unflinching rendering of his battles, as are Laurette’s reflections on the barriers to getting Jake the help he needs (insurance funding is a tremendous roadblock, alongside Laurette’s efforts to protect and guide Jake being labeled as “enabling”). This is as much a portrait of a loving family as it is a call to action for mental health treatment reform.

Takeaway: A mother and son’s touching, insightful story of a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Comparable Titles: Vince Granata’s Everything Is Fine, Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett’s The Quiet Room.

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

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Marry Lies: A Marriage of Convenience Romance
Amanda Richardson
With verve, wit, and randy confidence, the second standalone entry in Richardson’s Ravaged Castles series conjures a delicious marriage-of-convenience scenario, edged with shades of Beauty-and-the-Beast stories, and powered by Richardson’s commitment never to pen a dull scene. Instead, like a skilled lover, she dances with readers’ expectations, teasing and delaying, stirring anticipation for her couple’s slow-burning connection. The premise is pure froth, with a touch of darkness in the self-loathing hero, and a spark of defiance in the sharp-elbowed heroine. After a sexy but inconclusive encounter in Paris a year ago, the marvelously named Miles Ravage—a scion of the wealthy, castle-dwelling American Ravage family—encounters fashion-designer Estelle “Stella” Deveraux, daughter of the founder of one of Europe’s largest charities, in the most surprising circumstances: their fathers, not knowing that the two have previously met, propose that the pair marry, for one year.

The scheme is a PR stunt to rehab investment consultant Miles’s reputation as one of the worst bosses in Los Angeles. The prize for Stella: the money to start her own fashion line. Richardson grabs readers from the start with a sultry, unpredictable scene in Paris, which ends with Miles convinced that the “exasperating” but alluring Stella has rejected him for the scar that runs from chest to jaw. The story immediately leaps to the fathers’ proposal, then to Miles’s abashed realization that he needs to go along with it, and then right to what readers most want: these two crabbing over boundaries and logistics while both pretending they’re not turned on.

Dialogue is crisp and memorable (Miles: “We should probably discuss the wedding.” Stella: “That’s one hell of a proposal, Miles.”), and the novel, despite its length, surges along, hinting at Miles’s secrets—he’s a voyeur, for one, with a glassed-in bedroom and a penchant for NDAs—jealousies, and scars both physical and emotional. The escalating scenes of physical intimacy are precise, vivid, and potent, and the happy ending, while inevitable, satisfies.

Takeaway: Superior marriage-of-convenience romance with sharp elbows and vivid clinches.

Comparable Titles: Sara Cate, Shain Rose.

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

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A Kite for Melia
Samuel Narh and Freda Narh
In Narh and Narh’s inspiring picture book, a little girl named Melia learns the value of persistence and acceptance. Enjoying a sunny day at the park, Melia sees some older kids flying kites and wishes she had one of her own. She also finds herself missing her dog, Ginger, who used to join her to chase fireflies. When she asks the older kids if she can play with their kites, they tell her to make her own. Stung, Melia heads to the library, ultimately finding an old book on the kite making that “smells like success.” Following these instructions, she constructs a colorful kite with a bow on its tail.

When Melia proudly returns to the park, the older kids tease her once again, cruelly telling her that “a pig with a bow still won’t fly.” With tears in her eyes, Melia bravely keeps trying—and soon the older kids are left speechless as her kite “dances with a rainbow.” Seeing Melia’s tenacity pay off will prompt kids to keep working through difficulties to achieve their own goals. Her success also has another layer of meaning, as she has attached a note to her kite for her beloved Ginger. Kids and adults will find this a touching tribute, particularly if they have faced or are working through their own grief.

Valeria Suria’s detailed, colorful illustrations center on Melia, showing the curly-haired little girl as she visits the park and the library. Both settings feel fully realized, with the sun casting long shadows on the ground as children run along expansive green hills and a variety of people gathered to read, build, and draw at the cozy-looking library. Throughout the story, readers will be rooting for Melia, particularly at this tale’s touching and satisfying conclusion that will leave kids and adults feeling more connected and encouraged.

Takeaway: A little girl named Melia builds a kite and learns the value of persistence and acceptance.

Comparable Titles: Jacqueline Woodson’s The Year We Learned to Fly, Jay Miletsky’s Ricky, the Rock that Couldn’t Roll.

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

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DEAD DOG ROAD : A True Story Into The Dark World Of An Abused Child
Diane N. Black
In this startling account, Black, a professional children’s counselor in Texas, narrates her efforts to save three Russian children from an adoptive mother and father that she believes to be abusive. While running Roosevelt House, a home for children, Black receives a call in July 2008 to evaluate an abuse claim and goes on to meet three children: Alexey, Svetlana and Anastasia. The girls fearfully parrot good things about their adoptive mother, but Alexey tells Black that, in truth, they endure horrific abuse. Black believes her and is shocked to discover that, despite hospitalizations, attempts at running away, and reports to Child Protective Services, the kids are returned again and again to the home after the parents undergo Family-Based Safety Services sessions. Black continues to fight for the children, facing relentless obstacles which eventually include arrest and the possible loss of her license.

In her direct and unadorned prose, Black powerfully conveys the frustration she feels when she believes that the very agencies created to help children continue to fail them for inane and trivial reasons. She argues that the pain the children suffer doesn’t seem to register with the officials, whose choices, as presented here, tend toward the farcical at best. As the title suggests, Dead Dog Road plumbs dark acts and motivations, as Black offers unflinching details of accusations of abuse and laments a system that makes it easy to turn a blind eye to such pain.

The author’s persistence in pursuing the case shines through this tense and impassioned narrative, especially as she is herself a struggling single mother bringing up two daughters whom she is frequently forced to leave alone under several situations. Her determination to set up Roosevelt House and the surprising way the help that comes pouring in from unexpected quarters is heartening, a reminder of human decency. This sincere account of one woman’s determination to save three children from abuse is a gripping and edifying read.

Takeaway: A children’s counselor fought to protect three kids from abuse.

Comparable Titles: Freya Barrington’s Known to Social Services, Kathryn Anne Michaels’ Wednesday's Children.

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

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Who's There?: A Collection of Stories (Where Nightmares Dwell)
Dimas Rio
Menace oozes off the pages of this collection of gripping short stories from Rio, a treat for readers who appreciate the surprising beauty of sheer horror. The tales delve into both the shadows of our world and “the hidden cavities of [the] soul” as Rio’s protagonists face both terrors rooted in Asian folk traditions as well as their own true selves: “drunk, paranoid and drenched, like someone just took a leak on him,” a man searches desperately for his fiancee on the eve of their wedding, only to discover nauseating death. Rio, who was born in Indonesian and uses that nation as a setting, keeps readers on their toes with ambitions not limited to a single genre. One story builds, bloodily, to a spike tearing flesh; the ghostly “The Voice Canal,” meanwhile, in which a student believes he hears the voice of his late father, pierces the heart instead.

Poetry and philosophy pepper and bookend the unsettling tales, without slowing down or undercutting narrative momentum, a testament to Rio’s artistry. Tension builds ominously as the nightmare realities of the scenarios dawn on characters and readers both—reading, it’s hard not to inch one’s nose closer to the page in shivering anticipation at “something old and mouldy” in the storeroom, or at a business man giving his “peasant” lover his mother’s necklace, a perverse sort of “coronation,” when the lover knows the mother would consider her “a dishonorable woman” who “fornicates” with the son. Afterwards, the couple “maul[s] each other as if they lusted for blood”—as in, they make love—and when the trap snaps, the entranced reader is as surprised as the prey.

This Indonesia is haunted by ghosts and devils and dispatches from the dead, but also guilt, class concerns, and more. Repeating figures like overbearing mothers and disloyal lovers feels universal, even if the myths and legends breathing life into these stories are fresh to readers.

Takeaway: Gripping, unsettling horror stories of a haunted Indonesia.

Comparable Titles: Intan Paramaditha’s Apple and Knife, Adam Nevill’s Some Will Not Sleep.

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

Thomas Fitzsimmons - The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man
Thomas Fitzsimmons
This dishy memoir finds Fitzsimmons (author of Confessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard) digging into his days as a police officer in a brutal Bronx neighborhood, then his transition into modeling and acting, and finally—and most prominently—his life on the edge of New York City's rich and famous. The prologue plops the reader right in the middle of the story, as Fitzsimmons details a screaming 1991 fight between his sometime friend Donald Trump and Fitzsimmons’ own for-appearances-only ex-fiancé, Marla Maples, who would later go on to marry the future president. The fight’s subject: the possibility that Maples was interested in Bill O’Reilly, then an Inside Edition host.

That sets the scene for Fitzsimmons’s survey of New York’s glitterati in the 1980s and ‘90s, a time of excess alongside urban grit. After a harrowing career as a cop, Fitzsimmons hosts a television show, appears in commercials and bit parts, and does a number of modeling photoshoots. Along the way, he meets and befriends the famous, occasionally living close to tragedy. Fitzsimmons reports that his friendship was treasured by many because he knew how to keep his mouth shut. Now, Fitzsimmons goes into some detail, including the many ways in which he reports serving as a middleman to the elite.

The memoir is more about places and people Fitzsimmons has met as a sort of Zelig-like figure than a deep reflection on his life. There are shady mob figures, Hollywood friends like Larry Hagman, and tense stories about stalkers and life on the edge. Above all, Fitzsimmons is a keen observer and listener whose exploits doing private security balance the book’s tabloid elements. The heart of the story, though, is his seemingly futile attempt at finding lasting love, until he married Wendy, the great love of his life. That ends in tragedy, and the memoir represents a way of honoring her memory while dishing out yarn after yarn.

Takeaway: Page-turning memoir of a cop-turned-model’s adventures among New York’s elite.

Comparable Titles: Nelson Aspen’s Dancing Between the Raindrops, Peter Gatien’s The Club King.

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

A Southern Enchantress
Deborah Trahan
With a keen eye for atmospheric detail and a clear passion for history, Trahan’s debut novel deftly explores the resilience of women faced with decades of generational trauma and a legacy as enchantresses. With a backdrop spanning Louisiana and Mississippi, the plot traces threads through the lives of two women in time spanning from the 1940s to 2010s. Suzanne, the divorced mother of twins, is blessed and cursed by clairsentience. Her romance with too-smooth sociopathic real estate developer, Max, however, catapults her onto a journey of self-discovery, beginning with his unstable temperament and lies about his dead wife, Farrah. Addy, meanwhile, is a bright young aspiring clothing designer, who finds herself burdened with the extrasensory abilities that plague her family line. She, too, finds herself in a bad romance, one stained by violence and betrayal—this time with a young pilot at the tail end of World War II.

Ghosts take top billing in this perceptive and thoughtful fantasy tinged with horror. While Suzanne never much believed in her mother’s hoodoo teachings, a legacy of her Choctaw ancestry, she’s dealt with the spirits all of her life as a conduit and guide. Her journey parallels beautifully with Addy’s in that Addy wasn’t allowed much of an education in the hoodoo practiced by her grandmother, Mimi Jeanne. She, like Suzanne, had one foot in the spirit world and the other on Earth. Elegant details are painted with broad strokes, transporting readers to timelessly beautiful locations.

While the time jumps are, at first, jarring, their rhythm soon becomes clear, offering delicate layers of perspective. Chapters with Suzanne’s narration and contemporary perspectives are largely told using third person and present tense, while those in the 1940s favor past tense, which creates strikingly different moods. Sexual assault, violence against women, gaslighting and emotional abuse all make an appearance, but are sensitively handled.

Takeaway: Time-crossed novel of spirits, generational trauma, and two remarkable women.

Comparable Titles: Joyce Maynard’s The Bird Hotel, Jessica Dodge’s Misplaced Magic.

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

Click here for more about A Southern Enchantress
Rethinking Money and Finance: Economics, Morality and Common Sense
Richard G Patterson
Making the case that economics is less a science than a branch of moral philosophy, this clear-eyed treatise from Patterson (author of Understanding Thomas Sowell) dissects economic orthodoxies and truisms at both theoretical and practical levels, taking aim at societal abuses that come at the hands of capitalism—namely a lopsided wealth distribution that puts most of the power and the benefits that come with it, into the hands of a lucky few. “Exploring the way we conceive of money,” he writes, “is one way to free our minds from the prison cell of dogma.” Rethinking Money and Finance urges readers to not accept as “inevitable” or ““divinely mandated” market outcomes like an increasingly greater number of people forced to choose between life in abject poverty or working ever harder simply to “keep their head above water,” without opportunity to accumulate real wealth.

Patterson, like many of the philosophers, economists, and other heavyweight thinkers he cites, is a long-term thinker facing a world of finance dominated by short-term interests. As he notes in his clarifying discussion of the broad-based mortgage collapse now known as The Big Short, economies are subject to the will of many whose relatively quick grab for profits and/or power tend to help a few get rich at the expense of the many. Rethinking Money and Finance calls for recognizing this as a human choice rather than a natural law of markets.

In his sharp-elbowed, well-researched considerations of Modern Monetary Theory, “the fetish of liquidity,” the messages peddled by “financial ‘news,’” globalization trends, and more, he argues, with persuasive power, that substantive reform can only come after establishing a vision, a clear and shared sense of what economies themselves should do. That’s the vital societal step to change, Patterson argues, and his thorough examination of economic terms, policy, crises, and above all else assumptions proves both pained and heartening.

Takeaway: Sharply argued case for economics not being a science at all.

Comparable Titles: Nicky Pouw’s Wellbeing Economics, Robert Skidelsky’s What’s Wrong with Economics?.

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

Click here for more about Rethinking Money and Finance
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