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The New Face of Grief: Transform pain into empowerment
Katie Rössler
Rӧssler, a licensed professional counselor, explores a new way we can understand, work through, heal from, and even “upgrade” our experience of a common and natural passage of life: grief. In a highly accessible style, Rӧssler introduces and reconsiders the five familiar stages of grief, touching on how grief is born out of trauma and life changes, and unpacks how we can reimagine western societal standards to view bereavement differently. Most importantly, Rӧssler delves into the human ability to be resilient once grief strikes, giving hope and encouragement to her readers. Beyond self-help, ​Rӧssler aims to support her audience in better understanding the breadth of grief as well as coaching them on to help others who may be experiencing it.

Rӧssler demonstrates a keen skill for breaking down concepts and exploring--and challenging--our preconceived ideas and thoughts, through analysis of the phases and types of grief, all illuminated by relatable examples and anecdotes from her own and her clients’ lives. She notes how some cultures share communal expressions of grief, and reminds readers that learning to face, acknowledge, and grow from it doesn’t just benefit the individual: “It’s also to help future generations in your family, neighborhood, community, culture to be more comfortable with grief as well.” Rӧssler writes about women’s experiences with grief, but her teachings are universal: all are welcomed to learn about grief and how to manage it.

Rӧssler helps readers retrain their current beliefs and expectations surrounding grieving “do’s” and “don’t’s” to work through grief in a healthier way. Throughout, she acknowledges that, despite the framework of those stages, there is no standard bereavement process. One pressing passage covers how to reach out to others who are facing grief and trauma, especially in the global pandemic, including what not to say and how to respond if they’re not ready to talk. Rӧssler’s contemporary definition of grief will help readers and beyond with the most common emotional process known to humanity.

Takeaway: A contemporary definition of grief that offers readers creative ways to manage and heal.

Great for fans of: Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler’s On Grief and Grieving, David Kessler’s Finding Meaning, Megan Devine’s It’s OK That You’re Not OK.

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

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Charlie Saves Christmas: A Prelude to the Chronicles of Eridul
Daniel Nichols
In this holiday fantasy, the prelude to the forthcoming series The Chronicles of Eridul, Nichols deftly blends genres, combining the menace of traditional fairy tales, a deep-rooted struggle between good and evil in an animal-ruled kingdom, and contemporary economic struggles tinged with Scrooge-y villainy. When eleven-year-old Charlotte, who prefers the spunkier moniker Charlie, vanishes from her apartment in a public housing high-rise, the real-world consequences for her aunt (and newly adoptive mother) include a visit from Child Protective Services. But Charlie has been whisked away to Eridul, where her mysterious powers are coveted by warring factions who seek to heal–or destroy–their fractured world.

Nichols cuts between Charlie’s adventures in a majestic, post-apocalyptic forest and the events in her depressed hometown, where struggling families face endemic corruption. Chapters centered on Joan Willard-Stewart, Charlie’s Aunt Nonie, prove the most affecting, portraying a compassionate and indefatigable woman still haunted by her sister’s disappearance (with hints of secret family ties to Eridul). Sisterly bonds are key to the narrative, including the antelope Adeline and great blue heron Millicent, once as close as siblings, and now the leaders of opposing forces in Eridul. The men around Joan, who range from venal to benevolent, embody the fears and promise of the Christmas season, but feel disconnected from Nichols’s fantasy world-building.

Charlie Saves Christmas debuted as a podcast, and Nichols masterfully uses dialogue to establish character traits. Reclusive Old Pete, a world-weary kakapo, declares: “Terrible news, you say. How delightful…I haven’t heard news in such a long time, good, bad, terrible, or otherwise.” By contrast, Nichols’s descriptive sentences at times are overstuffed with unnecessary detail. Juxtaposing holiday morality tales of just rewards for good behavior with a magical realm where animals unite to save their dying world, Nichols’s series prelude offers young readers a vision of triumphant goodness–one that doesn’t come without a fight.

Takeaway: A young girl discovers her own power and the true meaning of family in this epic adventure.

Great for fans of: Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure, Liz Braswell’s A Twisted Tale series.

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

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Therapize Yourself: Choose to Heal and Find Your Truth
Carrie Leaf
Psychotherapist Leaf offers readers an introduction to therapy’s first steps in this accessible self-help guide. Structured as a series of exercises, Therapize Yourself replicates the intake process of her practice, first covering initial medical history and substance abuse questions before diving into a guided self-assessment of the reader’s current situation: their family history, traumas they have suffered, and what coping skills they possess. Leaf asks readers to identify their problems but notes that “Insight alone does not create behavioral change.” Instead, she urges readers to dig beyond the surface to the underlying issue and to build a “solid foundation for deep healing and growth” rather than focusing on superficial change. Leaf’s approach is holistic, emphasizing mental, physical, and spiritual components and helping readers recognize harmful thinking patterns.

This guide provides a detailed but concise exploration of the kinds of questions and concerns therapists initially use with their patients. Leaf writes in an inviting, non-judgemental tone and eschews jargon and diagnosis terminology; the steps that she lays out prove applicable to problems of differing severity. She makes it clear that the therapist’s goal is “helping you identify and eliminate [your] negative belief” and points out that the answers to problems need to be excavated from inside the patient. She closes with encouragement for readers to continue the work that she has coached them through with a qualified therapist.

Leaf offers isolated anecdotes and examples from her experience, driving home the value of therapy and the issues it can address, thought more of these would be welcome. Additionally, she praises EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), including its positive impact on her own life, and hints at how it works, but readers not already convinced of its efficacy may wish for more details. These minor issues, though, don’t diminish her welcoming, straightforward, easy-to-follow demystification of therapy—and the work it demands—for anyone hesitant or anxious to seek it out.

Takeaway: Readers curious about therapy will appreciate this self-paced, introspective handbook.

Great for fans of: Faith Freed’s Starting Therapy, Irvin Yalom’s The Gift of Therapy.

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

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This Way To Wall St.: A Guide To Getting Started
Mack Tuggle
Tuggle walks readers through the complexities of the current stock market, ETFs, cryptocurrency, and investor psychology in this detailed yet uncluttered investment guide. Written for the novice investor, This Way to Wall St. urges readers to take advantage of a “playing field [that] has been leveled,” and to begin the journey to “intelligent investing and disciplined trading.” Using relatable language and simplified definitions, Tuggle illuminates how money is actually made in the stock market, while giving rookie investors practical advice on how to manage risks and put themselves in the best position to generate wealth on Wall Street. “Being an investor is a journey—a journey of self-discovery,” he writes. “You won’t always be correct, but you can always learn.”

The guide begins with a brief overview of the contemporary market, followed by a chapter dedicated to demystifying investment terminology. With inviting clarity and straightforward language, Tuggle then delves into the inner workings of the stock market using Las Vegas-style gambling and Mr. Market, a fictional character from Benjamin Graham’s 1949 classic, The Intelligent Investor, as allegories for the volatility and uncertainty that investors face. The bulk of the guide walks readers through the differences between indices such as the S&P 500 and NASDAQ, the creation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, portfolio management, and different methods to analyze stocks. The guide culminates with a list of actionable steps new investors should use to research investment opportunities.

Tuggle’s insight into investor psychology sets this book apart from other investment guides. He states, “Investing psychology is very real. Your attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and thoughts will influence your equity curve.” He goes on to explain how fear of failure, crowd psychology, and emotions can impact investment decisions. Novice investors and readers interested in entering the stock market will appreciate Tuggle’s straightforward coaching and his clear-eyed survey of the many avenues that lead to wealth on Wall Street.

Takeaway: Readers interested in entering the stock market will appreciate this straightforward guide’s inviting clarity.

Great for fans of: Peter Lynch’s Beating the Street, William J. O’Neil’s How to Make Money in Stocks.

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

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Becoming K-9
Rada Jones
Jones (Poison) tells the story of a German Shepherd named Guinness from the dog’s point of view, starting with her puppy years and extending through her career as a bomb-sniffing dog. The result is a fully realized, well-researched portrait of a working dog as well as a gritty account of life in war-torn Afghanistan. While Jones doesn't flinch in depicting death and tragedy, she also never loses her sense of humor, especially when bringing to life how strange dogs find human behavior.

Guinness is a proud and willful dog who joins the military because she wasn't cut out for a life of leisure. She helps her first owner, Shorty, rescue a little girl from a kidnapper in a harrowing scene that may be difficult to read for younger audiences. Guinness becomes an expert bomb sniffer under the tutelage of a soldier named Silver, helping her get over the death of another dog, but when Silver dies in combat, Guinness develops PTSD and is taken out of service—only to be adopted later by a loving criminal named Tony. Along the way, Guinness makes friends with other dogs and finally winds up with a grizzled ER nurse, always maintaining her pride and dignity.

Jones’s story is surprisingly visceral, with frank and even graphic violence, and its mature handling of subjects like mental illness may be challenging for some readers. As a result, it's best suited for a slightly older YA audience, but the no-nonsense treatment of intense subjects shows how Jones has no desire to talk down to her audience. Her attention to detail grounds the more fantastic elements of the book—like the dialogue between dogs and their owners—and gives a powerful voice to the animals’ perspectives. Jones's essential message is that you can't fool a dog, and she encourages readers to take an honest look at their unique view of the world.

Takeaway: Young adult readers interested in dog training from the canine's point of view will chuckle along—and feel depths of sadness and loss.

Great for fans of: Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan.

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

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Kings of a Lonely Kingdom: Earth Day Essays, Poems, and Musings on Nature
David C. Mahood
In this disconcerting and informative collection of essays, poems, and interviews, Mahood (One Green Deed Spawns Another) shines a light on the many ways humanity is harming this planet and its inhabitants—and considers whether it’s too late to repair the damage. With an emphasis on alarming details of the precarious state of the ocean, from climate change and an abundance of trash and ocean traffic, Mahood lays bare the impact our species has had on much of sea life but on us as well. He tells a personal story about his wife’s parents and the devastation they experienced when Superstorm Sandy ravaged coastal New Jersey, noting “We don’t know when the next superstorm will come and level beaches along a thousand-mile swath; we just know that it will come.” He’s frank about the extent and cause of the problems (“The industrial revolution, he notes, “coincides with the beginning of our assault on the atmosphere”) while still encouraging action to address it—and even a little hope.

Not just a casual observer, Mahood has spent his life writing about and getting involved in saving the planet. Mahood opens each chapter with essays written on Earth Day each year between 2010 and 2020, capturing a decade of escalating environmental crises, followed by thoughts and poetry from the present, covering pressing new facts (on the colossal subsidies enjoyed by fossil fuel companies, or the challenges facing sea turtles), influential changemakers he has met and had discussions with (a butterfly activist; Reluctant Radical Ken Ward), his own experiences in parts of the world affected by climate change.

Mahood’s inviting approach of ruminations, verse, and interviews draws readers in, keeps them interested, and demonstrates his argument that change must be made, all while encouraging action rather than hopelessness. Readers will end with a healthy fear of the planet’s future, armed with practical inspiration on how to change it.

Takeaway: An engaging look at climate change and other urgent environmental problems, from the perspective of activists.

Great for fans of: This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, Nick Meynen’s Frontlines: Stories of Global Environmental Justice.

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

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The Other Mermaid
Billy O'Shea
O’Shea creates a fantastical yet harrowing story inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s mermaid tale but set in 2242 after a global catastrophe. Daniel Manston, medic and occasional bodyguard to the crown prince of the nation of Anglia, fails at his duty: On an incognito excursion to Denmark, the prince is viciously attacked by a mysterious woman who vanishes into the ocean. After tense interrogation, Daniel is given two options for how to pay for not protecting his charge: accept a death sentence or fake his death and take a clandestine job as a spy. Choosing life, Daniel’s assignment leads him on a quest to track down a century-old scroll known as the Angel File—and secrets about the past, the relationship between humanity and the sea, and even about Daniel’s own identity.

While the first half of Daniel’s adventure features rapid action, mayhem, and murder, the second half settles into a delicate volley between his present predicaments and the world that existed before that global catastrophe that upended everything (and connects The Other Mermaid to O’Shea’s science fiction/steampunk series, Kingdom of Clockwork.) Daniel teams up with a woman hermit, Deryn, who serves as a research partner, friend, and love interest. Together, they seek answers to questions never meant to be asked, and O’Shea explores the past through a fascinating series of transcriptions from scientists outlining trailblazing research regarding communication between humans and sea creatures.

With a mix of sci-fi and fantasy as well as a splash of romance, O’Shea’s genre-bending mystery captivates with compelling characters, polished prose, and subtle yet ever-present tension. The intrigue into the Angel File mystery keeps a firm grasp on the reader’s attention. Daniel is a well-developed protagonist whose relationship with Deryn allows both characters to express a vulnerability relatable to readers. With themes of love, family, and redemption, O’Shea’s story is a satisfying read for those looking to escape into a future world where myth and folklore become reality.

Takeaway: An accomplished genre-crossed adventure with compelling protagonists set in a future of mythology and mystery.

Great for fans of: Mira Grant’s Into The Drowning Deep, Alexandra Christo’s To Kill A Kingdom.

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

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The Pawns: Book Two of The Bucharest Witches
Ron Gabriel
Gabriel’s second installment in The Bucharest Witches contemporary urban horror series picks up four years after The Banished, with Bucharest-based witch and psychologist Travis Coman fighting the forces of evil in Eastern Europe and New England. Travis has created a crystal ball-like orb that extracts people’s fears and anxiety and transfers that emotional energy to power his magic. He tests the orb on two patients—Andrei, a young boy who has bruises and is easily distracted, and nursing home resident Marku, who is tortured by guilt and shame—and encourages them to lay bare their pasts because “[s]haring releases torment that’s toxic while it’s bottled up.”

But there’s a catch. Soon, a gruesome death reveals that the orb unexpectedly creates a conduit through which the devil can possess the hapless patients. Meanwhile, Travis’s testing tactics also extend to Stefan, Andrei’s overprotective father who hints that he harbors a secret past. Fans of horror and the occult will enjoy this urban adventure with magical battles, an intricate mystery, and travels around the world. Gabriel focuses this second installment on Travis’s clash with the witch coven that considers him an outsider, and the tension takes time to build as Travis navigates the deception and cruel magical manipulation surrounding him as well as those who try to do good.

The action commences when Stefan announces that he and Andrei will vacation in Vermont, the location of a family Travis knew well who experienced a tragic accident. Travis and his mentor, Sorinah, travel to Vermont, wondering if the coincidence is a trap to draw them to their enemies. As the orb’s power also grows, Travis’s fight to overcome its pull ratchets up the story’s suspense. Readers who have read the first in the series will eagerly follow Travis’s continued adventures as he plays cat and mouse and investigates the mystery of who is really being hunted, though newcomers are advised to start with The Banished.

Takeaway: A suspenseful urban horror sequel with magic, devilry, and inspired surprises.

Great for fans of: T.J. Payne’s Intercepts, Wendy Webb’s The Keepers of Metsan Valo.

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

Click here for more about The Pawns
Trapped in Glass
Pam Records
The sequel to the accomplished ­­­­Tied With Twine, Records’s epic Trapped in Glass returns readers to Hegewisch, the Polish neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side at the tail end of the roaring 1920s. Again investing vivid life into a milieu of kielbasa, gulumpki, and bootleg hooch in milk and Purex bottles, Records picks up the story of Halina, a young nurse’s aid as steeped in Old Country healing as she is in modern medicine, and her community as Hegewisch faces increasing threats and violence from Chicago’s gangsters. Pacja, Halina’s sister, runs the local tavern and faces trouble from “the Organization”—trouble that her 10-year-old son elects to handle on his own. Meanwhile, Stach, the newsstand proprietor who serves as something of the community’s memory, discovers that a detective is digging into secrets that Hegewisch would prefer stay buried.

The past looms large in this gripping sequel, as Records understands that people whose lives might seem like history to us were themselves shaped (and sometimes caught up in) what happened before, even long ago. Despite the urgent drama of the novel’s present—which includes shocking confrontations and Halina’s efforts to heal someone close to her—Records’s adult Poles are plagued by flashbacks and powerful memories of life before the States and of an earlier Chicago, too. This makes them feel uncommonly alive and relatable: scratch their present, and Poland or a decades-old job working at the Hawthorne Hotel bleed through.

That richness can slow the narrative momentum, but readers who share Records’s interest in immigrant communities, arresting character portraits, and the minds and language of the people of the past (“She looked silly, all dolled up like she was going to a wake for a saint. She had that floozy paint on her mouth,” one man thinks) will find this lengthy novel rewarding. It’s even, in its unhurried way, a page turner, with life-or-death stakes and plenty of swaggering gangsters. It stands alone, though Tied With Twine is recommended.

Takeaway: A stellar historical novel, set among Chicago’s Polish community and the gangland violence of the 1920s.

Great for fans of: Meyer Levin’s The Old Bunch, Aleksander Hemon’s The Lazarus Project.

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

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Jojo's Tiny Ear
Stefania Munzi-Logus
In Munzi-Logus’ touching picture book, a little boy named Jojo enjoys his childhood just like any other curious kid–he likes going to the park, playing with cars and dinosaurs, and traveling to the beach, and he has lots of friends at school. The one thing that sets Jojo apart is his tiny right ear, which never grew and makes it hard for him to hear. That’s why Jojo wears a hearing aid, which is held in place by a colorful headband and to him is no big deal–but one day some bullies on the playground see it as a reason to push him down into the sand and tease him for being different.

Instead of fighting back, Jojo responds with incredible compassion and awareness: “Jojo realized they might never have seen a tiny ear. Maybe he needed to teach them about his headband and how it made sound clear.” This book’s strongest message come from its joyful celebration of the characteristics that make individuals special. Instead of treating Jojo’s disability as something he must overcome, his tiny ear is simply a part of who he is. “We all have differences. It's not bad,” Munzi-Logus writes. “Some kids need glasses or tools to help them speak. Without our individuality, the world would be sad.”

Throughout the story, vibrant, soft-edged illustrations show Jojo playing and traveling with his mom, as well as using sign language to communicate and his hearing aid to make sense of sounds that he otherwise could not hear. These pictures will help kids visualize and understand how Jojo’s special headband helps him. Inspired by Munzi-Logus’ real-life son, who was born with microtia, this tale serves as a powerful ode to the beauty of our differences and offers a memorable, uplifting lesson for kids about the importance of acceptance and kindness.

Takeaway: This inviting picture book offers a memorable lesson about the beauty of our differences.

Great for fans of: Emma Bilyk’s Rebekah's Superpower, Maggie Klein’s Maxi's Super Ears.

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

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UNDER THE GREAT ELM : A Life of Luck & Wonder
Rich Flanders
Debut author and lifelong actor/singer /songwriter/poet Flanders documents an adventurous life well lived in his sweeping and deeply honest memoir. After an idyllic childhood in the bucolic little Illinois town of Western Springs (home of the namesake great elm), Flanders’s father is transferred to San Francisco, kicking off a time that Flanders spends trying to find himself. His journey involves hitchhiking all over the West in the 1960s in the name of adventure, tales of hard labor in Arizona heat, taking an Army physical just ten days before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, being stationed in Paris and briefly living on a kibbutz in the Gaza Strip—and, among other noteworthy experiences, a UFO encounter.

Flanders—whose creative endeavors have included appearing in Broadway’s Shenandoah and in the touring production of Annie, as well as albums of trail songs and cowboy tunes like Yondering and Ride Away—spins beautiful prose as he recounts his life’s journey, marveling that although his adventures may have seemed random at the time, he now knows, as he looks back, that they cohere into something like a rich storyline. He embraces that journey with joy and optimism, even after losing the love of his life and working through that incredible pain. Eventually, he finds love again with an old flame—something he wasn’t expecting, but which renews his spirit and inspires him to live every day to the fullest. She and Flanders continue to perform music together, keeping both their spirits light.

A few grammatical issues distract but don’t diminish the power of Flanders’s lyrical prose. Readers will live vicariously through the author’s varied, adventurous life, which has an abundance of adventure and braveness packed into it. Any reader who believes in second chances and living life to the fullest will devour Flanders’s tale.

Takeaway: Flanders’s recounting of his Renaissance Man life will inspire readers to realize that it’s never too late to chase a dream.

Great for fans of: Brendon Burchard’s Life’s Golden Ticket, Tara Westover’s Educated.

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

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Becoming Santa: Mom, today at the Christmas party Tommy said Santa isn't real!
Cyndi Go Go Merritt
When he starts to notice Santa comes in many different shapes and sizes, school-aged Daniel and his friends struggle to understand why in this coming-of-age tearjerker. Every Christmas since he was born, Daniel has been visited by Santa—who always kisses Daniel’s forehead while he sleeps, after leaving presents under the tree. But when his friend Tommy casts doubt on whether Santa is real, Daniel, filled with dread, turns to his mother for answers. She lovingly explains how Santa is a manifestation of that “wonderful, magical feeling you get deep down inside when you do something nice for someone” and helps Daniel learn how to become Santa himself, for others who need him.

Once he learns that the real meaning behind Christmas is “showing people how much you love them,” he is eager to pass on the affection. Daniel and his mother break open his piggy bank and purchase gifts for Tommy, anonymously leaving them on his front step on Christmas Eve. Daniel’s desire to lift up someone in distress is touching, made even more so when readers find out that Tommy’s family has recently split up–and see the magic and wonder felt by Tommy and his mother when they discover the gifts. Merritt’s emphasis on internalizing the Christmas spirit to help others is a valuable lesson for young readers, and adults will appreciate the creative assistance in explaining the complexities of Santa Claus to questioning children.

Bundoc’s brightly colored digital art fuses the narrative with an animated holiday atmosphere, complete with twinkling lights and warm Christmas scenery, while skillfully portraying the characters’ emotions. The story comes full circle in the end, with Santa visiting a grown-up Daniel and his family in a touching and sentimental conclusion–and readers will enjoy the link provided to create their own lists of who might need them to become Santas. This tender holiday narrative will be welcome on any Christmas bookshelf.

Takeaway: A child learns the moving truth about Santa and giving in this coming-of-age holiday tale.

Great for fans of: B.K. Gendron’s The (Wonderful) Truth About Santa, Martha Brockenbrough’s Love, Santa.

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

Click here for more about Becoming Santa
Where the Light Shines Through: An Olivia Penn Mystery
Kathleen Bailey
In Bailey’s accomplished debut, advice columnist Olivia Penn (author of the syndicated “Penn’s Pals”) is back home in Virginia horse country for a quick visit with her father before she moves to New York City. Recently promoted and with a novel forthcoming, Olivia’s life might have seemed perfect—until her boyfriend of two years unceremoniously dumped her. Now back in Apple Station for the annual May festival, Olivia’s ready to unwind and recuperate among old friends. The relaxing trip quickly becomes a confounding mystery, however, when one of those friends winds up dead hours after they meet and Olivia must choose whether to follow her instincts for justice, even if it means uprooting secrets, or keep to the safety of her comfortable life. But when a family friend is implicated in the murder, Olivia must navigate small-town politics with the help of her childhood crew and an old rival—all before the murderer strikes again.

Olivia’s vividly sketched hometown of Apple Station is so alive with warmth and local color that it brings to mind a southern version of Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. Bailey’s prose proves just as inviting. Her story boasts moments of real tension throughout, however, especially in the climax, which will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The mystery weaves a web of intrigue that brings skeletons out of the closet and long-held secrets to light, all while staying firmly grounded in the reality of living in a town where everyone knows everyone else’s business—and where the “ idyllic streetscape ... concealed the severity of the affairs transpiring within the [police] station.”

With these engaging, well-conceived characters, and expertly crafted twists that will keep readers guessing, this mystery is sure to please readers looking for an adventure with plenty of intrigue and a comforting conclusion. Fans of the cozy mystery genre will be thrilled to learn that this is just the first of many Olivia Penn mysteries planned.

Takeaway: Bailey’s winning debut will thrill fans of the cozy mystery genre.

Great for fans of: Stephanie Blackmoore’s Engaged in Death, Rita Mae Brown’s Wish You Were Here.

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

Click here for more about Where the Light Shines Through
The Marching Ant: A Novel Inspired By True Events
Allyson Chapa
Chapa’s wrenching yet heartening debut, based on her grandmother’s life, will shock, horrify, and ultimately inspire. The childhood of abused Antonia “Annie” Rivas in the 1950s is positively heartbreaking: rather than sending her to school, her father (a widower) makes her pick cotton all day starting at age nine, and when Annie turns 12, he settles a large financial debt with a pedophile who wants to rape his daughter on a regular basis. At 18, Annie escapes from her hell in her hometown of Big Spring, Texas, and steals away to Port Isabel, Texas, to take a job as a waitress. It is there that she meets and marries the sailor of her dreams, Art Garza.

Chapa toggles between Annie’s third-person voice and her granddaughter’s (named Alice in the book) first-person voice as it covers five decades of intimate history. Annie bears three children, navigates marriage hiccups, struggles to learn how to read and write (which, due to a suspected case of dyslexia, never fully happens) and works hard in a number of different jobs, including being a janitor at Alice’s school. For her part, Alice is inspired by her grandmother to study and learn as much as she can, culminating in acceptance to the University of Texas at Austin—ultimately, she’s the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Annie’s horrific abuse, described in frank language, makes this a tough read: Readers will find it challenging to accept that a father could fail his child so willfully, but they will be humbled by Annie’s grit, resolve, and her ability to power through even the most awful situations—and by her beloved granddaughter’s love and admiration. In fact, the title comes from ants’ ability to lift more than 100 times their body weight—much like Annie. Chapa pays beautiful tribute to the importance of family and one courageous woman in particular with this heartfelt and heart-wrenching tale.

Takeaway: This heartbreaking yet ultimately inspirational story personifies tenacity and the will to survive.

Great for fans of: Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It, K.L. Randis’s Spilled Milk.

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

Click here for more about The Marching Ant
Run to the Pain
Dr Robert Lewis Evans III
In this rousing yet practical debut, psychotherapist Evans shares hard-won wisdom from both his own life and more than two decades as a therapist. His chief insight: rather than running away from pain, it’s absolutely crucial to move through it and embrace the challenging lessons that it offers. He frames adversity as an opportunity to learn one’s specialized talents and skills, and he urges a paradigm shift for those who have been trained to believe that problems derail progress to ultimate happiness. Instead, he counsels readers that developing resiliency is impossible without failure. He smartly advises readers to allow themselves to release negative feelings, to identify lessons learned and what can and what cannot be changed, and, through reflection and documentation, to pay “meticulous attention to every experience that causes you to feel emotional distress” while still continuing to move forward.

Evans’s guide is structured with valuable formulae, or “evidence-based equations,” for readers to practice early and often on their path to resolving pain, such as “Self-Awareness + Desire = Intentionality” and “Humility + Motivation + Resiliency = Defeat of Adversity.” “If your behavior is not the best illustration of who you would like to be, your first step is to become Self Aware,” he writes, and Run to the Pain offers concrete steps to practice thought replacement, banish that harsh inner critic so many of us hear, and deal with painful situations in a realistic, productive fashion. He sensibly admonishes readers that “by failing to forgive, you are sponsoring your self-destruction.”

Though occasional incorrect words and grammar missteps distract, Evans packs a great deal of wisdom and useful advice into this slim tome, with kind yet firm guidance on how to persevere and move forward in the face of adversity. This common-sense guide to powering through pain will hand readers a valuable roadmap for personal growth.

Takeaway: This guide to moving forward, through pain and adversity, offers clear-eyed wisdom and practical steps.

Great for fans of: Eric H. Mennell’s Relentless and Unbeatable, Eileen Lenson’s Overcoming Adversity.

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

Click here for more about Run to the Pain
ALICE IN DREAMLAND
Roland S. Jefferson
This urgent political thriller from Jefferson (White Coat Fever) centers on a secret plot among white politicians and officials to establish an “English-speaking, non-Hispanic whites-only democratic republic” outside of the United States. Fearing “the looming shift in racial demographics as a catastrophic threat to the financial and political power of America’s dwindling white supremacist population who controlled the country,” and convinced that Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign truly meant “Make America white again,” Kansas Senator Methias B. Crandal and others hatch the “Alice Plan” to preserve white cultural and economic power. The thriller plot kicks in when Pepper, a Black sex worker, snatches from a congressman client an encrypted USB drive with details of the plan. Soon she’s on the run, aided by ex-cop and current hot mess Taylor, a man pushing fifty and in bad need of a cause.

“America’s ongoing cultural shift by the year 2050 was on a collision course with white privilege,” Jefferson writes, and his depiction of the machinations of a cabal of white elites scheming to preserve and protect their power outside the U.S. has a timely frisson. Of Trump, Senator Crandal says, “He didn’t understand that to have a white republic again, meant we would have to be the ones to leave.” The unlikely conspiracy is presented with convincing detail, both in the plotters’ thinking and in the practicalities of pulling it off, right down to strategic planning documents and attention to how congressional committees actually work.

Still, Jefferson’s tendency to use terms in narration like “the treasonous Kansas senator” or “an extremely bigoted eight term congressional racist” edges the novel into polemic territory, distracting from the suspense. His use of exaggerated dialect, especially for Pepper (“Ain’t you got no common sense left in that brain of yours?”), also cuts against verisimilitude, though the chase and its mysteries, which span the globe, prove surprising and often exciting, with stakes that couldn’t be higher.

Takeaway: This urgent political thriller pits a conspiracy of white racists against the Black sex worker with the power to expose them.

Great for fans of: J.A Walsh’s Purpose of Evasion, John Cutter’s Firepower.

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

Click here for more about ALICE IN DREAMLAND

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