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THE SPHERE OF DESTINY
NASSIM ODIN
Odin’s young adult debut explores themes of cultural diversity as human and alien characters must understand each other to achieve the common good. In 832 AD in Baghdad, alchemist Al-Khidr, an expert in the chemistry of plants and acids, is hired by the Caliph to travel to Egypt, find a way into the Great Pyramid, and plunder the riches within. The Caliph ultimately confiscates the gold but lets Al-Khidr keep some apparently worthless trinkets: an orb and a mysterious strip of bendable glass. Al-Khidr enlists the aid of Sufi mystic Dhu Al-Nun to translate the writing on the orb, which says “As above, so below,” and, as Al-Khidr fiddles with it, a sphere of energy envelops him, transporting him to the planet Lyra around the star Vega. There, Al-Khidr encounters an advanced civilization—but when the people learn he is from the cursed planet Keb (Earth), they fear he will infect them with a deadly disease.

Odin drives the action as nightmares haunt Al-Khidr, bandits chase him on Earth, and police arrest him on Lyra, with one officer, the kind Nefertiti, hoping to help. Still, the story is breezy, even as it reveals a surprising alternate history in which, millennia ago, Lyra’s Queen Hathor and her scientific crew landed on Earth and contracted the disease. With his knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants, Al-Khidr asks the queen if he can return to Earth to look for a cure.

Al-Khidr’s education and the region’s language, dress, and culture contrast sharply with Lyra’s advanced technology. While the action progresses and readers will enjoy Al-Khidr’s honesty and generosity, some clunky language distracts and the pace sometimes languishes as extraneous events detour from the main plot. Nevertheless, this fresh take on the concept of an ancient Egypt inspired by aliens will draw readers in with its cultural interactions and tense action.

Takeaway: Aliens, ancient Egypt, and tense action power this alchemist’s adventure for YA and SF readers.

Great for fans of: Ashley Poston’s Heart of Iron, Ryan Graudin’s Invictus.

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

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A Necessary Explosion: Collected Poems
Dan Burns
This expansive, conservational collection from Burns, a poet and novelist who embraces above all else the role of storyteller, collects 75 poems composed as something of release valves, “necessary explosion”s that expel “the worrisome crap accumulated / within the confines of one’s skull”. Little surprise, then, that the verse (and occasional prose pieces) is so urgent and engaged. Burns examines this impetus in the disarmingly direct “Why Write Poetry?”: penning these pieces, he writes, is a way to “Let the world know that you’re alive” and “Utilize symbolism, metaphor, structure, and form to say what cannot be said any other way.” Throughout A Necessary Explosion he does both, again and again.

Burns’s eruptions survey, among other topics, what seems “the coming end of the world” and his hopes that perhaps there’s a better one to be discovered. Burns takes on the terror of his times—he likens living during the Covid-19 pandemic to being “the only passenger on a plane that I understand will soon run out of fuel”—but also the everyday experiences that make those times worth enduring. He captures the collective transcendence of experiencing live music (“Hearts pause, / imprinted with wonder.”) and the transformative power of encounters with nature (a spring thicket “poking me to let me know/I’m alive and human to a fault”). His touch can be engagingly light, as in a block-text consideration of scribbling notes on napkins: “it beats the alternatives, which are gazing endlessly—like a self-absorbed dope with mind-numbing consequences—into the idiot-slab (iPhone)”.

That line’s a joke with teeth, exemplifying what is, for Burns, a need to write: it beats the alternatives. The collection builds to a prose piece, “Adrift at Sea,” that circles feelings of loneliness and longing–and the suspicion that the narrator will become “a once-vivid memory soon replaced by a more present thought.” That narrator knows that books, though, endure, making past present, staying vivid even as all else fades.

Takeaway: These poetic eruptions strive for meaning and connection in a world seemingly lurching to its end.

Great for fans of: Heather June Gibbons, Campbell McGrath.

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

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Girl on the Carpathia - A Novel of the Titanic
Graham Hodgetts
The latest polished historical novel from Hodgetts (author of the Excalibur Rising and Toby Whitby series) cleverly mixes fact with fiction in this story of a governess embroiled in Senate hearings following the RMS Carpathia’s rescue of survivors of the RMS Titanic. Kate Royston escaped painful memories of her past by finding work as a governess aboard the Carpathia; she assists in caring for Titanic survivors, including wireless operator Danny McSorley, a man she’s drawn to, and elderly Eva Trentham, who wants Kate’s assistance in sending a Marconigram message to U.S. Senator William Smith, urging him to conduct a hearing into the catastrophe. Upon the Carpathia’s arrival in New York, Kate attracts the interest of Sheriff Joe Bayliss who is charged with issuing subpoenas to the Titanic’s crew for the hearings before they can escape out to sea. Kate watches the hearings while acting as a companion to Eva and weighing her feelings for Danny, believing that cowardice led him to claim a seat on a lifeboat.

Hodgetts excels at setting vivid fiction in a convincingly realized past. She finds compelling drama in a Senate inquiry populated with historical figures, crafting a fast-paced, expertly written story that immerses readers from page one. Her focus on class disparities among the Titanic’s survivors, and the discrimination faced by the steerage survivors, is chilling and resonant, a reminder of the treatment visited uponimmigrants to the U.S., such as the “humiliating so-called health examinations” endured by women.

Unlike so many Titanic stories, Hodgetts highlights the aftermath. Her reimagining of the crowded conditions on the Carpathia, the hunt for the Titanic’s crew, and the media frenzy that followed the disaster offers a fascinating new perspective, all while Kate strives to reinvent herself after the financial downfall of her family and navigate the upper-class society where she once belonged.

Takeaway: This resonant historical novel finds a young woman facing the aftermath of the Titanic disaster.

Great for fans of: Walter Lord’s The Night Lives On, John Maxtone-Graham’s Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner.

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

How To Be Dead-: A Love Story
Laurel Schmidt
In her first novel, nonfiction author Schmidt reveals secrets from beyond the tomb, turning out less the love story promised by the subtitle than an epic tale of vulnerability across lifetimes. (There’s a romance, too, of course.) After an opening set in our world in the spry, combative voice of protagonist Frances Beacon, the narrative jumps to a “whitewashed” Afterlife. There, Frances is locked in a kind of Groundhog Day of her own denial—beginning, then refusing, to perform the healing tasks the University of the Afterlife and her guide, Grayson, set out for her. As Frances fights the inevitable, including reliving painful moments of her life on earth, she also gleans insight on the relationship between her death and ideas of reincarnation.

At first, readers will cheer Frances’s obstinacy, expressed through martyr-like outburst of rebellions: “Mandatory? Says who? Who’s running this place, anyway?” Eventually, though, the sheer number of days that transpire, with “Constant Comment” (the voice in her head) and her other emotional deficiencies cropping up like a game of Whack-a-Mole, can drag the story’s momentum. But when Schmidt eventually reveals all her surprises, the novel coalesces. Rich in ideas, How to be Dead explores reincarnation and how history shapes our lives, right up to its last letter: characters from suffragettes to a Victorian life-coach breathe life into the afterlife as the Committee, a group of Frances’s previous incarnations concerned with saving “their collective life.”

These inventive, often feminist figures speak in quick-witted, soaring prose that give power to the themes and context to Frances’s outbursts. Bantering dialogue is a consistent pleasure throughout the book, and the climax, when it comes, is clever: just when readers will be sure that Frances has failed, the novel turns. From there, we learn the story of Mac (the romance), and witness a breakthrough that will ring bells of recognition—and likely trigger tears.

Takeaway: A fiery fictional take on life and death sure to engage anyone who wants to rediscover that “life is a gift.”

Great for fans of: Camille Pagán’s Forever is the Worst Long Time, Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing.

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

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The Roar of Ordinary: Brothers, Sisters, War, and Fate
J. C. Foster
Foster’s illuminating coming-of-age memoir details the experiences of an American family as they face historic 20th century milestones of war and socio-cultural change. The story begins with the author’s parents and how they happened to set foot in the U.S. In the process, Foster takes us back two generations, introducing grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and cousins and siblings, all of whom have had a significant effect on Foster. As the narrative forges forward, Foster zeroes in on his sibling relationships in particular, the connections between them palpable. He eventually reveals that these relationships serve as one of the defining reasons for his memoir: to memorialize his siblings and the bond they shared.

As suggested by the title, the narrative offers an intimate glimpse into ordinary lives that of course turn out to be extraordinary in their own ways. Foster is as inclusive as he is generous with this dramatization of family history. He takes pains to show the formative impact each had on his upbringing, highlighting not just their foibles but also their strengths. Especially in the book’s focused first half, every individual backstory is one piece of a larger puzzle, coming together to paint a comprehensive picture of the author, the family, and their century.

As The Roar of Ordinary goes on, Foster delves deep into the history and politics of the Vietnam War, often laying out Foster’s opinions and convictions about what went wrong, a worthy subject for a book though here it diminishes the focus and narrative flow that he had established, though emphasis on his siblings, and on his brother Steve in particular, remains consistent. Overall, Foster succeeds in evoking a genuine regard for this ‘ordinary’ family making the best of an extraordinary century. Lovers of grand family sagas will enjoy this memoir, whose epic and ambition are laudable.

Takeaway: A memoir for readers of family sagas and war novels that is as epic as it is intimate.

Great for fans of: David Laskin’s The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, John Egerton’s Generations: An American Family.

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

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Soulwork: Connecting with the Universe and your Spiritual Path to Find your True Purpose in Life
Elizabeth Radcliffe
Radcliffe makes her debut with this passionate reflection on her spiritual journey, enjoining readers to “get out of your own way” and discern the purpose in their lives. Noting that she is an “ordinary” person who has worked through challenges and learned to manage stressors without breaking down, Radcliffe urges her audience how to engage deeply in “Soulwork,” the process of uncovering the inner fears and pain disrupting our spiritual maturity–while simultaneously building personal strengths and capabilities. She shares her own transformative experiences, including accounts of manifestations of soulwork and the passionate declaration that “[w]ithout conscious effort, whatever I wished for materialized before me.”

Both skeptics and believers will appreciate the clarity of Radcliffe’s writing, as she makes the complexities of spiritualism inviting and even addresses prankish questions like “Why don’t you [manifest] a million dollars?” Whether recounting her painful divorce or career hiccups, she painstakingly outlines how Soulwork has boosted her “resilience for the unexpected events that threaten to upend our lives” and empowered her to discover and resolve the roots of her dilemmas. Radcliffe goes into great detail about her mystical experiences, triggered by fasting, meditation, and “direct sunlight exposure,” but she does so in a relatable way that encourages readers to follow her steps for emotional recovery and manifestation of inner “bliss.”

Despite some dense material and obscure concepts, Radcliffe demystifies spiritual evolution, offering readers advice crafted to end unhealthy patterns and realign their relationship with the Universe. Individualized exercises reinforce her teachings and break down the different stages involved in Soulwork–such as making committed promises to the Universe and using music to sway emotions– to demonstrate the connection between our inner states and outer environments. Above all, Radcliffe insists that the process of spiritual transformation is always ongoing, but “when we’re willing to take on our Soulwork, the Universe is always in our corner.”

Takeaway: An inviting study of spiritual transformation for readers open to conscious effort and mystical experiences.

Great for fans of: Kavitha M. Chinnaiyan’s Shakti Rising, Anodea Judith’s Eastern Body Western Mind, Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Rooted.

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

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Dark Dig: Ancient Gods and Modern Drama
Bruce Spohn
In this steamy archaeological thriller from Spohn (Lovers by the Lake), Carol Dunmore has always felt that she’s not like other girls. Aware from a young age of the challenges of being a woman in a man’s world, Carol learned to rely on her feminine wiles and wits to achieve her ends while always dreaming of the world beyond her high school. When she heads to New York for college, she’s instantly attracted to her Ancient Greek Culture professor, Dr. Marcus Atonasis, and becomes drawn into his side business of selling Classical antiquities with a sexual theme. Marcus and Carol embark on an archaeological dig in Greece, but when a group of armed and disguised men kidnap twelve young women from the dig, it’s clear that this adventure is more dangerous than they bargained for—and that the gods of Ancient Greece might be more than myths.

Part thriller, part graphic romance, Dark Dig pairs adventure with a supernatural twist and the possibility of soulmates as Carol and Marcus, working with the FBI and Interpol, must race to rescue their team while unraveling the secrets of the mysterious Temple of Eros. Dark Dig is in the thrall of Eros—the God, the cult, the temple, and the concept—with regular graphic sex scenes and much musing on female sexuality.

The story’s appeal is diminished by indifferent editing and the depiction of Carol, an object of fantasy celebrated for “ample” breasts and “ivory” skin, and whose May-December romance frequently throws her into the older man’s “powerful” arms. Spohn takes pains to acknowledge the harassment and double standards women face in contemporary life and throughout history, and the plot eventually centers on the organized repression of women, but scenes like the one where Carol sunbathes in a state of erotic rapture, thinking about her professor, strain credulity.

Takeaway: Greek mythology meets modern murder in this steamy mystery set on archaological dig.

Great for fans of: G.G. Vandagriff’s Murder at Tregowyn Manor, Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon.

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

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Uncommon Courage: An invitation
Andrea T Edwards
Topical and refreshingly up to date, Edwards’s (18 Steps to an All-Star LinkedIn Profile) latest is ideal for those seeking to make small changes that can have a big impact. In this highly practical self-help guide, crafted as an “invitation” to live with purpose and courage, Edwards coaches readers on personal growth topics such as self-awareness, self-empowerment, and leadership. Her expertise as a world traveler and communication professional, among many other experiences, shines through in her unique spin on somewhat atypical self-improvement content: along with influencing others and one’s own empowerment, she addresses issues like how to face and find solutions to the climate crisis. For those readers who want to achieve contentment, tweak their health habits, or find encouragement to keep bettering themselves and the world, Uncommon Courage is accessible and engaging.

The guide is long, but it stays highly digestible, with short chapters that can be consumed while riding down an elevator, taking a break from chasing the kids, or in a more concentrated, meditative manner. That approach seems by design: Edwards’ structure allows readers to dip in and out according to their interests or needs. The guidance can be deep or breezily superficial (“buy wine that’s at least four years old”); like all good advice, it can even be irksome when she hits the right button and tells a truth you might not yet want to face. The book’s busy, with some potentially distracting elements—such as the adages Edwards calls “wisdoms” that relate to another project, unconventional hashtags, and QR codes introduced for further reading—but Edwards takes pains to expose readers to fresh ideas and possibilities beyond the purview of the average self-help book.

As Edwards introduces new habits and mindsets, helpful footnotes suggest opportunities for further research, and workbook pages encourage contemplation of the material. Her style is highly narrative, with dishy anecdotes bursting with practical advice delivered in her funny, straightforward, and entirely supportive fashion.

Takeaway: This wide-ranging, of-the-moment self-help guide urges readers to live with purpose and courage to make a difference.

Great for fans of: Shad Helmstetter’s Negative Self-Talk and How to Change It, Jon Gordon and Damon West’s The Coffee Bean.

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

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Turtle Tube: An Erutuf National Park Novel
Kathy Arnold Cherry
For green-minded middle-grade readers, Turtle Tube, the kickoff to Cherry’s Erutuf National Park series, offers the action-packed story of siblings Reese and Dean after they’re mysteriously pulled into an online video about Reese’s favorite animal, the sea turtle. Once transported onto the island of the Erutuf National Park, they meet Emma, their talking sea-turtle guide. Emma soon tasks Reese and Dean the mission of finding a map and concealing it from pirates in order to save the island. The redoubtable pair are committed to helping the animals—including butterflies, bison, and pandas—and the land of natural treasures and magic that they’ve inexplicably discovered.

Turtle Tube follows the siblings’ exploration, experience, and occasional transformations throughout one day on this island, the story exhibiting clear admiration and care for issues of land management and conservation. The dialogue, blended with modest narration, carries the story along at a quick pace. Much of the plot is described through conversation that at times sounds more formal than how children speak. Reese and Dean are straightforward characters and are represented by things they are interested in (turtles, jokes, books). As the children are without supervision, their need to act independently and seek guidance is necessary and serves as an invitation to readers to explore problem-solving skills, though the conflict and its ultimate resolution are cozily minor.

The world of Erutuf, by contrast, is conceptually grand, combining fun, playful, surprising magic and a bounty of animals, though its wonders are not as thoroughly described as they could be. A map at the beginning of the novel surveys much imaginative territory that, while unexplored in this book, will likely figure into the ongoing series. Reese and Dean’s wild adventure at Erutuf National Park is sure to expand the reader’s imagination and, likely, a curiosity about animals and the world.

Takeaway: Siblings take on the adventure of a lifetime when they’re transported to a magical national park with talking animals and pirates.

Great for fans of: Piers Torday’s The Last Wild, Katherine Rundell’s The Explorer.

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

A Span of Moments
Robert Beech
Beech’s lyric debut opens in 1994, with Jake Crawford returning to Marcosta Island, his childhood home off the coast of Florida, after 23 years. As a bio-scientist who has discovered a drug to further the treatment of cancer, his disgust for the greed and callousness of the pharmaceutical industry has fueled his decision to try out a quieter lifestyle. In his first hours back, Jake meets up with Simon Bronson, the reclusive, hermit-like tender of the original wooden bridge to the island, who was a father figure to him in the past. From Simon, Jake learns that the “old Florida” way of life is being threatened by Derek Nielsen, a multi-billionaire who wants to develop the island into a tourist resort. The conflict between Nielsen and the islanders who oppose his plan forms the rest of the story.

Beech delves into questions about the true value of development, especially its cultural and environmental costs. His love for Florida comes through in the detailed descriptions of the island, its beauty, and “the sound of the gulf waves mixed with the soft whistling of the trees.” The character of Simon is well-etched, as are his internal conflicts and the reason for his reclusive way of life, and the symbolism of the bridge, its nature, and its ultimate fate add depth to the narrative. The relaxed pacing is in tune with the rhythms of life on the island, with a subtle weaving of the concept of karma from the Bhagavad Gita threaded throughout the story.

Beech succeeds in bringing out the inherent conflicts between development and conservation, reinforcing the idea that much American development, as defined by the rich and the influential, is a mixed bag, not beneficial to all concerned. His treatment of these themes (and the practicalities of local politics) is nuanced yet impassioned, resulting in a novel that will engage thoughtful readers fascinated by environmental issues.

Takeaway: A thoughtful, lyric drama of coming home again—and fighting to preserve it from development.

Great for fans of: Nancy Burke’s Undergrowth, Ron Rash’s Above the Waterfall.

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

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Be a J.E.D.I. Leader, Not a Boss: Leadership in the Era of Corporate Social Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Omar L. Harris
In this thought-provoking leadership guide, Harris (The Servant Leader’s Manifesto) challenges CEOs and business leaders to stand up to “the dark force”—or colonialism, imperialism, and toxic bias—to “create a world that values self-actualization” and change the status quo to one that benefits all. Harris warns that, due to recent historical events like the global pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and record-breaking hurricane seasons and wildfires brought upon by climate change, the bar for effective leadership is higher than ever before. To combat the dark force and these escalating crises, Harris asserts that a new class of leader is required–J.E.D.I. leaders concerned with justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Harris’s purpose is clear: to encourage readers to adopt a new approach that deepens understanding of injustice and inequality—and fosters a commitment to eradicating them. Coined the “6As of J.E.D.I action”, this new framework urges business leaders to first question their leadership motives and eliminate their ego before attempting to respond to issues of race, acceptance, allyship, and sexism. He lays bare how many toxic leadership practices are rooted in systematic racism, inequality, and the disenfranchisement of marginalized communities and makes the case that contemporary leadership demands facing this truth and these issues with clear purpose and without fear.

“We have experienced enough of selfish and self-centered leadership,” Harris writes, and he’s direct in his criticisms of hierarchical power structures within corporations. Drawing compelling examples from Apple, Wells Fargo, and other Fortune 500 companies, Harris highlights the differences between traditional toxic leadership styles and the J.E.D.I. approach, which prioritizes an atmosphere of inclusion, humility, and collective purpose. This forward-thinking leadership guide offers clear steps to help leaders rise to the occasion of defeating toxic practices and work environments to ensure a better future for us all.

Takeaway: This impassioned guide challenges business leaders to dismantle toxic and racist leadership practices by promoting allyship, humility, and diversity.

Great for fans of: Jennifer Brown’s How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, Jason Isaacs and Jeremy Isaacs’s Toxic Soul.

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

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Black Mark: The Black List Book 1
Katherine E Beals
Hazen’s polished debut, the first in The Black List urban fantasy series, introduces readers to a delightful Seattle where magic is real and the mysteries are plentiful. Bartender-turned-private-investigator Alex Whittaker, a human, is having a very bad life. She and her powerful Otherkin girlfriend, Maeve, have just broken up; she’s investigating her sister’s disappearance; and now she has to scrape her new, highly unwilling partner, Finnegan Black, out of yet another bar and sober him up. Former police officer Finn is no lover of Otherkin–he blames them for another disappearance, his fiancée’s. Now, thanks to Maeve, he’s saddled with Alex as his new partner/boss, and he couldn’t be more upset. Yet the pair manage to come to a detente when a former coworker of Alex’s goes missing, and a Daemonkin artifact that should never have been in our world escapes.

Crisp prose and fascinating world building set The Black Mark apart. Save for rare instances of an info dump, the peculiarities of this fantastical Seattle and its Otherkin community (the Seattle PD’s occult division employs witches) are teased out as the story unfolds, offering a glimpse into a world much like this one–yet not. Intriguing secondary characters–Nikki and Dr. Hammersmith, in particular–add depth and provide perfect foundations upon which the main characters can develop.

Those leads, though, are promising but less assured in this first volume than the world around them. Both Alex and Finn are flawed, complex people with intricately detailed back stories and motivations. Yet it feels as though some pieces of crucial information are missing–how Alex developed her investigative skills and how Finn deals with his alcoholism, for example. Small hints are dropped about Alex’s background, but a fuller accounting would likely help connect readers more strongly to this intriguing lead. Still, this memorable debut marks the arrival of a strong new voice in the genre.

Takeaway: This promising urban fantasy debut boasts strong world building and promising characters.

Great for fans of: BR Kingsolver, Seana Kelly, Annette Marie.

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

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Barking at the Moon: A Story of Life, Love, and Kibble
Tracy Beckerman
Beckerman’s brief, charming memoir shares the story of Riley, a Flat-Coated Retriever and “one-dog wrecking ball,” and his impact on the family of Beckerman, creator of the syndicated humor column Lost in Suburbia. The story opens with Beckerman taking a plunge familiar to many suburban families: getting a puppy. Riley, nicknamed ‘Mellow Yellow,’ by the breeder, turns out to be anything but mellow. The puppy eats everything–socks, upholstery–and the situation is made even more complicated by the addition of a lizard, chinchilla, and multiple fish named Larry.

Like many mothers, Beckerman is ultimately left to take care of this menagerie, and in this comic and tender account she touchingly considers what it means to have a dog and a family. Any pet lover will recognize the challenges–vet bills, urine where one does not wish there to be urine, fleas, “award-winning gas,” attempts to put a dog on a diet–and also the joys. Nothing of outsize consequence happens in this everyday story–Riley never rescues anyone from a well–and readers not fascinated by pets might wonder if much new is being said here about animal-human bonds, but the affection between the dog and his family is palpable and engaging. Beckerman is a skilled writer who paints a vivid picture of Riley and her family in crisp, memorable sentences and anecdotes that build to well-crafted punchlines.

Her thesis is fairly straightforward: We love our dogs. They love us. Sometimes they drive us crazy. Their journey towards mortality is a faster-paced version of our own. As in some parenting memoirs, moments that seem particularly resonant to the author can at times feel familiar to the reader, though Beckerman elevates the material by writing frankly about the difficult emotions that come with life transitions, such as realizing children eventually will turn to sources other than their parents for comfort. Readers who relish pet memories will be more than satisfied by Beckerman, who pulls off this shaggy dog story with aplomb.

Takeaway: Dog lovers will find laughs and heart in this suburban puppy tale.

Great for fans of: Lauren Fern Watt’s Gizelle’s Bucket List, Julie Klam’s You Had Me at Woof.

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

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SONG OF THE NILE
Hannah Fielding
The latest historical romance from Fielding, author of the Andalucían Nights series and more, finds Aida El Masri, having spent World War II working as a nurse in England, returning home to her native Egypt to take up the long-neglected management of her family’s estate. Almost immediately she finds herself confronted with the expectation that she’ll fulfill an understanding between her late father and their neighbor to marry the neighbor’s son, Phares Pharaony. Though Phares is a successful surgeon, Aida can’t see herself agreeing to marry into the family that she suspects is responsible for the death of her father. She refuses, he gives aggressive chase, and that chase gets upended when Aida is abducted by a Bedouin prince whom she comes to find enticing.

Not just set in the past, Song of the Nile indulges in assumptions and relationship dynamics that many readers will believe should have been left there. After Aida’s initial rejection, Phares continues to turn up in pursuit of her, behaving possessively and frequently grabbing, touching, and kissing her despite her expressed refusal of consent. “You refuse me and yet your body does not,” he eventually tells her, and moments later she embraces him, “inviting his assault.” Aida, meanwhile, inevitably is enticed by the harem-owning Bedouin prince who has kidnapped her, reminding herself that he’s “A barbarian cloaked in a deceptive coat of civilisation.”

The most passionate love story in this romance is with historical Egypt. Fielding’s descriptions of the setting are detailed and lovingly rendered, at times overtaking the plot in importance. Readers will be swept away by enchantment with the desert and the culture of life along the Nile, but that beauty only makes the arrogant brutality of Phares all the more stark and shocking. This is a lovely exploration of a bygone time in a stunning land, but contemporary readers should be aware that the male hero doesn’t take no for an answer.

Takeaway: An old-school romance centered on an alpha male who sweeps an objecting heroine onto his steed.

Great for fans of: Lauren Smith’s Wicked Designs, Maya Banks’s In Bed with a Highlander.

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

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The Dark Side of Memory: Uruguay’s Disappeared Children and the Families who Never Stopped Searching
Tessa Bridal
In a meticulous chronicle that innovatively blends fact and fiction, Bridal (River of Painted Birds) brings to light the tragic story of Uruguayan children who disappeared during the turbulent years of the country’s military dictatorship--and the search for justice in more recent years. Bridal, a celebrated fiction writer who was twenty years old when her family chose to immigrate to the United States, lays bare how, during the Cold War years, democracies in Latin America failed one after another and turned into dictatorships. When Argentina's democracy failed, too, many Uruguayans who had sought refuge there disappeared in the hands of paramilitary forces. Approximately twenty Uruguayan children are estimated among the uncertain number of these detenidos desaparecidos (the “detained disappeared”).

When democracy returned to Uruguay 1985, many with power wished to just leave the past behind, and the new government actively worked against any efforts to face the truth. Writing in “the hope that if people knew and understood what had happened and why, the mistakes of the past would not be repeated,” Bridal interweaves the personal with the geopolitical into a densely detailed narrative that centers around four different searches for disappeared children. She has created scenes, such as closed-door meetings among admirals and ambassadors, or a confrontation between a woman and the man responsible for her granddaughter’s abduction, through extensive interviews and research, connecting the tragedies in Uruguay with U.S. foreign policy. Though at times the narrative is convoluted, the stories she brings are searingly compelling and moving.

“They say that forgetting is the dark side of memory,” she writes, and though it might be easier to forget, Bridal argues that the price of doing so is much too high. Her recount viscerally explores the long-term repercussions of tyranny, violence and broken identities, and the grave questions it uncovers will leave readers with greuling food for thought.

Takeaway: A fascinating, ultimately hopeful account of the quest for justice for “disappeared” Uruguayan children.

Great for fans of: Marguerite Guzman Bouvard’s Revolutionizing Motherhood: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Gabriel Gatti’s Surviving Forced Disappearance in Argentina and Uruguay.

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

Click here for more about The Dark Side of Memory
The Zima Confession
IAIN M RODGERS
In 1977 Glasgow, young Socialist radical Richard Slater makes a long-term commitment to help foment a revolution in Britain—a promise that will eventually define him. Some 35 years later, he's a tired mid level computer programmer, fixing financial software around the world alienated but not above enjoying some of the spoils of capitalism. He hasn't forgotten his commitment, and he’s certain that in his position he could do real damage, but when a contact who recently urged Richard to “wake up” dies of an apparent suicide, Richard finds himself in a nightmare world where he can't trust anyone, not that contact, his mysterious handler Weber, or a sex worker named Melanie.

Rodgers sets his characters on a series of Kafkaesque espionage stages that illuminate the grimmer aspects of security services: intelligence officers discuss the death of a colleague, who had suffered an apparent mental break, with quotes from Sartre and John Lennon; Richard wanders the grotesque decadence of a high-end brothel, with "curving shapes that lent themselves to being occupied by panther-like females.” The main plot threads and the motives of the many characters can be hard to follow, and there's a bit of deus ex machina in the resolution. However, the individual scenes neatly highlight Richard, trying to remain connected to his long-dormant idealism.

Indeed, the book works especially well as a character study, as Richard gradually integrates his past and present. We learn about the hardscrabble family background that formed his politics and see how he has long been battling his disconnection from people. The pathos of his life becomes clear in a meeting with Melanie, where his reaction is less about desire than an end to his loneliness, and he "expected her to behave with more decorum," even though she is a professional rather than his girlfriend. In the end, this spy thriller’s power comes from its story of one man's quest to discover who he is.

Takeaway: Fans of spy thrillers and revolutionary politics will revel in this twisty tale of a man caught between intelligence agencies.

Great for fans of: Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Len Deighton.

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

Click here for more about The Zima Confession

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