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The Finn Chronicles: Year One: A dog's reports from the front lines of hooman rescue
Gwen Romack
First-time author Romack writes from the perspective of her beloved dog, a Vizsla mix named Finn, as he narrates a year’s worth of comedic weekly updates. The book began when Romack was fostering Finn, as a series of popular Facebook posts she hoped would “help prospective adopters fall in love with Finn.” However, Romack and her partner could not part ways with the pup, and, as Finn himself confesses, “I find myself growing attached to these freaks.” We see through Finn’s eyes as he muses about Romack, “The Squishy One”; and her partner, “The Hairy One”; and Finn’s tribulations and joys in dealing with the silly habits of “hoomans.” ‌ ‌ ‌

This is more an episodic scrapbook than a novelesque narrative arc. Entries’ structures vary occasionally with a comedic haiku, frequent Special Reports, and weekly stats like, “Ribs I almost snatched off the counter: 3.” Finn is, undoubtedly, the book’s selling point. Photos for each post show him with a cone around his head, or looking yearningly at a tennis ball stuck under the bed, or wearing new outfits his people have made for him.

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The humor and personality Romack gives Finn will appeal to readers of all ages. Humor ranges from highbrow to low: Finn describes certain training as “my 6th ring of Hell (Yes, dogs read Dante too),” but also boasts, “5 deuces in one walk!!” As Finn says, “Sometimes I like to throw the hoomans a bone to keep them feeling positive.” And this charming diary is a lighthearted escape that will put a smile on dog lovers’ faces.

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Takeaway:‌ ‌This light and joyous collection of a dog’s weekly updates will amuse and comfort readers looking for relatable humor about the abrupt and daily starts and changes of training a new dog.

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Great‌ ‌for‌ ‌fans‌ ‌of:‌ ‌Matthew Inman’s My Dog: The Paradox, E.B. White’s E.B. White on Dogs, Maira Kalman’s Beloved Dog.

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

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Santa Abella and Other Stories
Ken Wetherington
Wetherington’s first short story collection sees ordinary people grapple with big questions, from death and dying to love and sexuality. Some of Wetherington’s stories are more nuanced than others, but the author has a clear capacity for revealing something profound about the human condition. The characters’ foibles and faux pas drive the action, for example in “Sweet Jenny,” whose narrator’s obsession with a youthful crush persists across decades, and “The Postwar Years,” whose narrator pushes away the woman who loves him out of fear she’ll find out his secret.

Other stories in this collection are less nuanced. “Black Bear Lake” chronicles the mysterious death of one member of a camping party in the North Carolinian mountains, hinting at local legend and lore without a satisfying payoff. Similarly, the story “The Revivalists” seems hastily sketched out—Wetherington’s central idea of a woman paying a celebrated doctor to revive her dead husband deserves more narrative weight.

The collection’s standout pieces convey a heartfelt intensity of feeling. “Inheriting Dad” depicts a father and son’s strained relationship in a careful meditation on the complexity of grief. Charlie Harris, whose father supposedly died in the ICU, learns that the hospital made a mistake and his father is in need of home care. With no other family members available, it is up to Charlie to shelter his father, who never had a kind word for him. In “Starstruck,” teenager Angie’s nagging infatuation with a beautiful actress is poignantly described. Though some endings leave many questions unanswered, fans of searching, inquisitive short fiction will be gratified by Wetherington’s tales.

Takeaway: This probing collection of short stories is perfect for readers seeking to delve into the complexities of human nature.

Great for fans of: Alice Munro, Lucia Berlin.

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

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Moving Jack
Michelle Mars
Mars (“Frisky Connections” in Eight Kisses) kicks off her Love Wars series with aplomb in this funny, ultrasteamy paranormal science fiction romance. In 2025, Tarc (a member of the Staraban species and commander of the Alien Relocation Cooperative) is trying to save humanity by relocating them from a dying Earth when he discovers geek-girl vampire (and anonymous dating blogger) Jack Daniels hacking into alien computers. Raven-haired, golden-skinned Tarc is unaware of Jack’s leadership in HARM (Humans Against Relocation Movement), and the two are launched into an all-out battle, caught between their explosive chemistry and individual allegiances. Mars sets up her protagonists to be enemies on the surface, but when HARM becomes convinced the Vrolan (the alien race that hired the Staraban to relocate Earth) are operating under false pretenses, their causes unite.

The novel’s twist on vampire lore—vampires don’t instantly turn to dust in the sun, but will fatally overdose on it if they stay outside too long—is fun, allowing Jack to move around undetected and making for some high-stakes scenarios. Jack’s self-esteem issues make her character more believable, and Tarc’s experience with an ill-fated romance adds depth to his personality. And their couplings are frequent, energetic, and highly orgasmic.

The sassy characters’ camaraderie is a treat (Jack’s snarky personal assistant link, Hal, routinely fires off sarcastic, witty observations), and Mars throws in original and genuinely clever byplay between Earth women, the groundwork for future couples in the series, and the Starabans’ love of “peet-zza.” This paranormal is light, sexy interspecies fun.

Takeaway: Fans of funny, strongly erotic paranormal science fiction romances will eat this one up.

Great for fans of: Christopher Moore’s vampire trilogy, MaryJanice Davidson, Shelly Laurenston.

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

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The Hugonauts - Animals of Africa: Amazing Animal Adventures
mark morris
This picture book, one in a series of four from Morris and Swingler, delivers a menagerie of information combined with complementary visual elements. To focus on teaching children about the natural world and its inhabitants, each animal is given an African first name (such as Osumare) that suits their habitat and a rhyme describing their unique traits (such as Jahi the Giraffe, “who is very, very tall..., she is the tallest of them all”). The book’s protagonist, Hugo the explorer, peers out from a "hidden" place on each page. Extra material at the end supplies intriguing and funny animal details relevant to the geographical area covered in the story.

Though Hugo and his sidekicks have cute character design, they play a fairly minor role; the text focuses on bringing to life the animals’ quirks, and even adult animal lovers will discover new facts ("unlike his cat mates, [the cheetah] cannot roar, but he has a loud purr when he is happy, lying on the savannah floor"). The search-and-find aspect is best suited to the youngest readers; Hugo is not concealed in very challenging places (on the page of Hakima the Hippopotamus, Hugo is hiding in the only thick clump of reeds in the illustration), so even very small children should not feel frustrated in this pursuit.

Swing’s lively illustrations are the highlight, giving readers an up close and personal encounter with the story’s animal stars . And the creators’ love of the natural world is apparent. The combined effect is informative and appealing, without overwhelming the reader.

Takeaway: Young animal lovers will enjoy the polished, professional illustrations on this whirlwind tour of popular African fauna.

Great for fans of: Laura Watkins’s T is for Tiger: A Toddler’s First Book of Animals, Alek Malkovich’s I Spy Books Series.

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

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Complex
A.D. Enderly
Enderly’s first installment in his Complex series is a carefully crafted adventure in a dystopian hellscape. The future world has two types of governments: Legacies (shells of former democracies) and Complexes (police-nation-states run by corporations, whose contracts bind users in lifelong agreements in return for basic human necessities). After their father’s untimely death, teenage Legacy citizen Val and her younger sister Kat are ekeing out a meager living in a poverty-stricken area. When Kat is abducted, Val joins forces with a group of scrappy renegades desperate to improve their situation through rebellion, and they claw their way through a Complex megacity to rescue Kat. And, in trying to unravel that mystery, they stumble on a much larger-scale threat.

Enderly’s dystopian world is gritty and cruel. Although life would be easier joining a Complex, Val refuses to, following the advice of her deceased father; the theme of fighting for survival is illuminated through Val’s encounters with the brutality of both the Legacy and Complex systems. In a 700-page book, the expository focus on the corporate evils of the Complexes can be somewhat overlong, and a multiplicity of viewpoint characters may make some readers feel disconnected from the action.

But Enderly’s faceless corporations and social scoring system are dystopian sci-fi classics that will resonate with fans of the genre, and Val’s steely determination in the face of overwhelming odds makes her a likeable heroine. Enderly does a remarkable job of weaving together his many threads and characters, and there is broad appeal in this detailed futuristic world. Readers will want to see where this story is going.

Takeaway: Readers who enjoy gritty science fiction will find much to love about Enderly’s grim, multilayered portrait of the future.

Great for fans of: Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy

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

Click here for more about Complex
Called to Dragons Nest
Madison Hinko
This YA fantastical allegory debut from high school student Hinko, the second in a series, follows a young woman, Rose Mensch, on a fateful journey. Rose learns that she’s a Red Lip: a member of a race of sinless people created by dragons, gifted with the power to create fire, and tasked with being a constructive example to humanity—but who, because of their aversion to harming others, are “entirely unable or unwilling to protect themselves.” Jealous of their power, the king of Rose’s homeland, Nava, has oppressed the Red Lips and hopes to eradicate them, a catastrophe that Rose is prophesied to defeat. After learning about the prophecy, Rose leaves her aunt’s idyllic home and she sets out to kill the king, while wrestling with whether doing so is worth betraying her inherent pacifist nature.

The novel’s vision is ambitious, but the plot can lack momentum at times, encompassing a number of detours unrelated to the stated goal. The stakes are sometimes lowered because the social persecution of Red Lips, which is the reason for killing the king, is rarely shown. And some characters can lack complexity, having only one note or characteristic; for example, the main villain is one-dimensional evil.

But Erik, the morally compromised chief of the Blue Lips, is a fun, complicated, and necessary foil for simpler characters. Rose’s parents’ backstory is told in affecting fashion. And the worldbuilding will draw readers in. This imaginative young author has built a compelling world, populated by thoughtful, philosophical characters considering big questions. Readers will be curious to see how her work evolves.

Takeaway: Readers searching for classic YA fantasy with girls on the front lines and a focus on virtue will enjoy this traditional tale.

Great for fans of: Sherry Thomas’s The Burning Sky, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon.

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

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Running from Moloka'i
Jill P. Anderson
This emotionally affecting debut novel follows Mele, a young woman with a white father and native Hawai’ian mother in 19th-century Hawai’i, as she struggles to understand her identity and leprosy is brought to the islands by foreign travelers. The disease primarily affects native Hawai’ians, who are taken from their homes by the health authorities’ bounty hunters and exiled to Moloka’i. Mele’s father, a compassionate yet pragmatic physician who works for the Board of Health, argues that this forced banishment is necessary for the survival of the population, while her mother helps harbor fugitives in the caves near their house. As the disease begins to affect those closest to her, Mele reckons with the morality of her and her family’s decisions.

Mele’s attempts to do the right thing, in such a complex situation with her parents at odds, make for an intriguing premise. Anderson, who lived in Hawai’i, is clearly knowledgeable about its culture and its people—there are references to real historical figures and places sprinkled throughout—and her descriptions of the physical landscape are detailed and poetic, making readers feel they’re right alongside Mele.

The many side stories (including those of Daniel Livingstone, a disrespectful boy from San Francisco; Keanu, a criminal on trial for murder; and Kalua, a young boy who keeps sneaking onto cargo ships) can lessen the impact of Mele’s journey by giving the reader a great deal of information to digest at once. The story is at its best when it focuses on Mele, her family, and her place in society. Ultimately, this is a riveting and educational coming-of-age tale, and readers will relish learning about this period in Hawa’ii through Mele’s experience.

Takeaway: This thought-provoking coming-of-age novel is perfect for history buffs.

Great for fans of: Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i, Kiana Davenport’s Shark Dialogues.

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

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Donnybrook Good-Bye: The Longest Game, Book 1
Martin A. Cullen
Cullen's action-packed debut is an exciting magical romp through the streets of modern-day Boston. Inara Caan is a member of a holy order dedicated to slaying monsters. She and her creepy soul-eating demon partner, Biff, are used to taking down underworld targets harboring monsters. But when their latest assignment turns out to be the McMinnens, a well-to-do suburban couple with an adorable young daughter, Inara makes a fateful choice to spare them and take them on the run. Right on their tails are order assassin Lee, a lonely mortal-griffin hybrid; Cyrus, a dark sorcerer in an expensive suit; and Jacob, a smarmy order priest. Meanwhile, a maniacal, centuries-old Korean shapeshifter is sowing chaos for everyone. To save the McMinnens and herself, Inara must rely on unlikely allies like Fion, a diminutive Irish nature spirit, and Yukie, a Japanese aikido master.

Explosions, car chases, and sword fights abound in this fun paranormal mystery. Inara is a classic urban fantasy badass: a disillusioned operator with serious magic chops, excellent combat skills, and a dark backstory. Other portrayals may put off some readers: one point-of-view character repeatedly uses offensive terms for Japanese people, and the characters of Asian descent are more one-note than, for example, the Irish puca, a nuanced twist on European mythology.

The magic is flashy and fun, and the book doesn't waste time on technical explanations. The story moves at a rapid clip, balancing action with humor. Between car chases in a bright orange Mini Cooper and demon battles in Fenway Park, there is never a dull moment. Readers will find it a diverting escape and a promising start to a new series.

Takeaway: The nonstop supernatural action and snarky quips make this a great autumnal version of a beach read.

Great for fans of: Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher.

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

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The Glass Boxes In Which We Live: She was not expecting him. She was not expecting her here.
Beatrice M. Sylvie
A 40-something woman surrenders to a relationship with a younger man in this dynamic, albeit at times didactic, debut contemporary romance. While in New York City with her design team for a work project, 43-year-old French single mother Alienor Lacroix engages in a flirtation with 38-year-old mixed-race American barman and aspiring actor, Wesley Johnson, leading to romance and a relationship. Despite her angst about their differences in age, backgrounds, and lifestyles, the unlikely pair forge a long-distance relationship that spans more than two decades until tragedy strikes.

Alienor’s nationality leaves openings for the author to comment on sociopolitical issues, such as medical care in the U.S. and the politicization of daily life. The scenes addressing racism and violence can feel overstated and preachy, but the story’s poignant, emotional aspects shine through. Alienor is appealing and sympathetic, a devoted mother credibly trying to reconcile her confident work persona with her self-doubts about romantic partnership with a younger man who appears to have nothing in common with her. (And when readers first meet her, she’s throwing down an impromptu rap at a karaoke night out with her team.)

Alienor and Wesley’s life together is not fully developed, but rather revealed through snapshots; toward the end, these become somewhat rushed and cliché. Alienor’s hesitance and uncertainty about embarking on a relationship with confident and handsome Wesley, and his certainty about being with her, are well developed, sweet, and romantic, and their continued attraction to one another is well sustained. Flirty banter, hot sex, and sincere affection make this a book romance fans will enjoy.

Takeaway: This socially conscious romance weaves together cross-cultural relationships, race, parenthood, work, and other issues.

Great for fans of: Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Tamara Gregory’s Passport Diaries.

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

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Celadon
Raymond Avery Bartlett
Bartlett’s stunning novel is a poignant, elegiac mid-20th-century tragedy of wanderlust, loss, obsession, art, and redemption. Neil Chase has been caring for his blind father since he was a teenager, while longing to travel to distant shores. In 1964, 20-something Neil falls in love with both Marinne, a kind French girl, and Japanese ceramics. Marinne, knowing Neil is still compelled to travel, offers to care for his father while he embarks on a yearlong voyage to Japan. A chain of unlikely events lead Neil to the hidden pottery town of Moon Island, where he feels a soul-deep connection to the landscape, the spectacular local celadon-glazed pottery, and the angry, beautiful Miyū, who makes the ceramics along with her father. As Neil learns their craft, he is drawn into their family’s tragic story, in which one act will irreversibly alter all their lives. Will Neil go back to what he was before?

Bartlett answers these looming questions with lyrical prose and an elegiac sensibility. He treats characters’ desires and griefs with delicacy; their sometimes dark impulses animate the pages with yearning, desolation, and fleeting moments of warmth. Neil Chase is a flawed, believable protagonist with a wry sense of humor and a passion for transcendent beauty.

Bartlett’s unhurried account of an imperfect world and its complex inhabitants will grip readers. This deeply affecting and well-constructed novel, with its memorable characters and evocative brilliance, will leave readers with a lingering sense of mournful beauty after they’ve turned the last page.

Takeaway: Literary fiction lovers will be swept away by Bartlett’s brilliant, passionate odyssey.

Great for fans of: John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Kunzang Choden’s The Circle of Karma, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

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

Click here for more about Celadon
Synchronicities on the Avenue of the Saints
Deborah Gaal
Gaal’s second magical realism novel (after The Dream Stitcher) follows physicist Noah Friedman and his adoring businesswoman mother, Sally, as they grapple with Noah’s bipolar disorder plus a decades-ago family curse. When Noah’s great-grandma, Sara, fled Russia in the early 20th century, her family promised Hadassah, a fellow villager, that they would deliver a valuable heirloom to her nephew in America. Instead, Sara’s family took the wealth for themselves. Now Sara has died and Hadassah is haunting Noah in present-day 2002. Simultaneously, Noah receives an ominous message that the drug he takes to manage his disorder, Selexikote—which was developed by his psychiatrist and is owned by his mother’s pharmaceutical company—is dangerous, sending him on a journey to both rid the world of the drug and rectify his family’s offenses. He works with a shaman to invoke his ancestors and rewrite the past, while fighting Selexikote and Duschene, the evil corporation trying to buy his mother’s company.

This saga spans generations, cultures, and dimensions, ultimately paying off with a tightly connected finale. Gaal successfully balances the down-to-earth and the fantastical with stunning imagery and cleverly constructed parallels—or “synchronicities,” as Noah calls them; Hadassah’s descendant, Bernard, coincidentally works for Duschene, giving the families a chance for repentance.

Skillful, memorable prose (“they shared the same blue eyes—cobalt, Co, atomic number twenty-seven—and trademark red hair—copper, Cu, twenty-nine”) assures readers they’re in good hands. And it’s heartwarming to watch Noah and Sally rectify their strained relationship by repairing their family’s past. This multigenerational epic of family strife and healing will charm readers.

Takeaway: The magical realism of this multigenerational epic will transport readers.

Great for fans of: Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, Ellen Galford’s The Dyke and the Dybbuk, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

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

Riding with Ghosts, Angels, and the Spirits of the Dead
John Russell
In this entertaining debut autobiography, Russell (“I’ve been a professional psychic for over 45 years and a biker for over 50”) shares his curious experiences with what he calls the Other Side and his love for stumbling onto those experiences while riding his motorcycle, Melissa. He describes overwhelming urges to travel for unknown reasons, resulting in new and unexpected discoveries upon arrival, and instances in which friends and pets who have passed away are still present. From irregular movements of vegetation to paranormal battle reenactments and a spirit who saved his life when he was overheated, Russell excitedly recounts his experiences.

He also unabashedly admits there are a lot of things he doesn’t know, such as the purpose and meaning behind his specific experiences, and relays the frustrations of having too many unanswered questions and being unable to direct his interactions with the supernatural. Though some will question the validity or explain away his encounters, readers will be charmed by his freewheeling prose (“I… look up… expecting to see a whirling mass of tornadic doom—Damn it...I’m too young to die!—and instead I’m greeted by the sight of a shiny metallic looking disc…. I literally perform a cartoon-style eye rub”).

His affection for things natural and supernatural—he calls a particular branch “my old friend” and dedicates the book to “my guys on the Other Side”—and his gratitude for these experiences are infectious. Russell brings his treks to life with vibrant immediacy. His unadulterated joy and way with words yield an entertaining and meaningful account.

Takeaway: Motorcycle riding and psychic experience enthusiasts will relish in the physical and spiritual journey of this entertaining autobiography.

Great for fans of: Maureen Hancock’s The Medium Next Door, Marla Frees’s American Psychic.

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

The IPO Playbook
Steve Cakebread
Cakebread’s debut playbook walks readers through the process of making an initial public offering (IPO) from the first decision to go public to ringing the bell on opening day. Cakebread categorizes IPOs as a way to both get quick cash and simultaneously build a “great, enduring company” that will prosper for years to come. He makes a strong case to company founders that a properly executed IPO will provide “the best possible future to your stakeholders… not least, yourself.” Cakebread’s background as CFO for several successful IPOs lends credibility to the guide, and he infuses energy into discussions on the new controls required to go public. By tying in the backstory of his flourishing family winery, Cakebread illustrates that implementing these controls contributes to the health of a growing company. Cakebread closes with a helpful two-year timeline of crucial steps for a successful IPO.

Cakebread’s experience applies primarily to tech fields, although he offers steps that will be helpful to founders in other areas as well. He brings expertise and humor to his explanations of, for example, the various roles on an investment banking team and how to decide which investors to court and which to avoid. And he makes graceful use of subheadings and bulleted lists to make it easy for readers to follow along.

The audience for this type of guide is niche, and founders embarking on this process will ultimately need more counsel than a book can give. But this highly professional guide delivers a valuable orientation to an intimidating and mostly opaque process.

Takeaway: Company founders looking to go public will find this thorough guide both useful and encouraging.

Great for fans of: Philippe Espinasse’s IPO: A Global Guide, Steven M. Bragg’s Running a Public Company.

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

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Social Economics in Uncertain Times: How to make work and life decisions in the New Normal
Amelia Sander
Perhaps the first published book of its kind, Sander’s book documents the monthly, even weekly, social and logistical shifts of the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic in Manhattanites’ lives, by following a handful of people through 10 thematically organized chapters. She draws upon her journals, the experiences of her friends, and news articles (helpfully footnoted) to examine “interesting behavior economics shifts related to systems design” in her circle since New York City shut down in March. Even though Sander expresses a desire to “help you make better decisions in work and life,” this is not per se a guide but a survey of her subjects’ and her city’s improvisations and adaptations. In a thoughtful chapter concerned with the protests of summer 2020, she suggests that social changes may ultimately offer opportunity for greater justice.

Some generalizations may be a bit premature (“no longer do you end up married to the person you turned to chat to at orientation” may not be true, if in-person schooling is only temporarily disrupted), but Sander arrives at some striking insights. Maybe the reason she found herself checking work email late at night was not because of her employers’ expectations but because doing so distracted her from a sense that the world had come unmoored. “Work,” she notes, “became a coping mechanism.”

Readers who are actually seeking guidance about the decisions of Covid-19 life (which furnishings to buy after a relocation, from which stores? Should you travel by car, train, or scooter?) may find themselves instead turning to news outlets and websites for ever-changing information. But readers in the future who want to know what life was like during the pandemic, and readers today seeking to see their recent experiences summed up in print, will find what they’re looking for here.

Takeaway: This study of New York life in the early days of Covid-19 sums up the dislocations and decisions many Americans faced in 2020.

Great for fans of: Choire Sicha’s Very Recent History, Sonja L. Traxler’s Office Etiquette: The Unspoken Rules in the Workplace, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.

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

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Storybook, Inc.
Parker Pace
After being expelled from her high school, 17-year-old senior Mica Psmith is directed to a specifically designed boarding school, Storybook, Inc., which offers a program to help students in extraordinary situations. In Mica’s case, she’s lived with worsening depression since her beloved inventor father’s suicide three years earlier. Mica’s journey from her home in Seattle to the school in San Diego is quickly disrupted by a strange phone call from her mother and then a violent train robbery. She and Roman, the older boy who’d been sitting next to her on the train, escape and try to find safety, complicated by mysterious occurrences and run-ins with sinister figures. Is Mica losing her grip on sanity, or are dangerous people after her?

Pace has penned a complex, fast-paced psychological thriller with romantic tension sprinkled throughout. Mica is a fully developed protagonist and Roman an intriguing romantic interest, with just enough of a dark past and secretive nature to keep readers guessing about his true motives. Some awkward language (“shocked… his mouth puckers like it’s full of marbles”; “my body collapses into butter over Julia’s chest”) may pull readers out of the story momentarily, but they’ll soon be drawn back in by the high stakes, multiplying mysteries, and striking images.

While true mystery aficionados may see the ending coming, there is still enough suspense and worldbuilding to hold their attention before all is revealed in the climatic ending. This intricate, action-packed story—which adroitly spans multiple genres, including YA, thriller, and romance—will keep readers turning the pages.

Takeaway: Fans of psychological and YA thrillers will enjoy the fast-paced action and suspense Pace serves up.

Great for fans of: Veronica Roth, Dean Koontz, Karen M. McManus.

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

Click here for more about Storybook, Inc.
To Burn the Cloth
P. A. SANTOS
Santos’s political religious thriller paints a grim alternative future in which the separation of church and state has recently been undone in the United States. Reverend Franklin “Frank” Catoe (the founder of Tall Rock Baptist Church), with a dodgy past and unorthodox religious views, transforms into a formidable opponent of the government’s United Holy Christened Church (UHCC), which seeks to dissolve all sects of Christianity, tax small churches into extinction, and run religion like a business. Frank elicits the help of college thespian Daniel Montclair to infiltrate the UHCC, gain incriminating information, and bring the organization to its knees. Daniel travels to South Carolina to train for his covert mission. Here, the thriller deviates from its suspenseful plot: Daniel gets ensnared by some conniving, dangerous locals, and the part of the narrative following Frank delves into his relationship with his wife and the resurfacing of his violent past self when faced with a threat.

Santos portrays men as vigilantes and women as unchaste and often untrustworthy. Time-jumping chapters alternate between past and present, providing exhilarating background information; however, the lack of explanatory labels in some chapters leaves the reader working overtime to discern the timeline. But these stumbling blocks are quickly overcome as the story pushes forward.

Violent plot twists and explicit sex and rape scenes earn this book the “mature audience only” label. Meanwhile, devout Christians may be disturbed by Frank’s heretical beliefs and violent actions, and non-Christian readers may be put off by the book’s premise. But Santos’s story is an exciting one. Readers seeking thrillers that mix politics and religion with a dark worldview will appreciate this one.

Takeaway: This political thriller with its unconventional religious hero will win over readers looking for a gritty adventure.

Great for fans of: Dan Brown, Sam Christer.

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

Click here for more about To Burn the Cloth

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