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The Malachi Covenant
Dee Kelly Jr.
In this riveting historical thriller, biblical archeologists, hired guns for the Russian mob, and the Vatican are scrambling to get their hands on the ancient relic of Saint Nicholas, purportedly a “manifestation of God’s majesty” believed to have uncanny healing powers. Maggie Shepherd and her mentor, Professor Sizel Bruscoli, are tasked with retrieving the relic for the Vatican as a peace offering to end a millennia-spanning conflict between the Eastern and Western Catholic Church. Maggie has faith, but Bruscoli is a skeptic who often “jumps on” Maggie for letting religion “interfere” with her work, though a surprise diagnosis and a series of dreams will test the professor’s certainty. Complicating matters: Maggie and her team aren’t the only ones on the chase. Malachi Popov is on a mission to recover the relic at the behest of a dying Russian mob boss, who believes it will heal him.

Kelly pens an intricate historical adventure that spans millennia as he weaves in factual details of Nicholas' life in historical flashbacks and exciting travelogue elements as Maggie and Malachi touch down in Rome, Bari, and Moscow in search of answers. No one is safe in Kelly's narrative, and readers who appreciate a blend of archaeological exploration, mysteries of faith, and international chases will find much to enjoy, never quite knowing who to trust. Kelly escalates the tension as more interested parties are revealed, a host of secrets and lies face exposure, and Bruscoli faces the possibility of the miraculous.

Rich in culture, themes of belief, and the grand implications of its relic, The Malachi Covenant exemplifies its genre, blending brisk plotting, action-packed sequences, and jolting betrayals with thoughtful spiritual inquiry, keeping the suspense potent up to a satisfying conclusion. Fans of historical fiction with biblical context and globe trotting adventure will be engaged and immersed in this intricately woven story with larger than life characters.

Takeaway: Memorable thriller of the hunt for a relic and possible miracles.

Comparable Titles: Gary McAvoy; Raymond Khoury.

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

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Mirror Tree
AnneMarie Mazotti Gouveia
Gouveia delivers a fanciful fantasy for young readers, the second in her Drifters Realm series (after Drifters Realm). In the realm, Roe is a Life Giver from Paradise Farm, working with other gifted teens to thwart the evil Zane’s determination to destroy their peaceful way of life—something her father went to his death to protect. Determined to preserve their valued way of life, triplets Roe (who is a Life Giver), Ori (a Sorcerer), Tora (a Storm Catcher), and their older brother, Theo (who spends most of the book as the Lion) join with others to defeat their evil uncle, Zane, who is determined to consolidate power for his nefarious purposes. To make matters even worse, Zane used one of the menacing Guardians years earlier to raise Tora as his own daughter rather than his late brother—before Tora truly knew her own identity.

The series blends surprising magic with emotional resonance and an emphasis on "the collective strengths ... of friends and family" to accomplish great things. Magical backpacks, a clever and appealing invention, provide power to the valiant teens, who each have different but complementary powers—or so they believe, until one teen attempts to steal someone else’s special gift, something that the evil Zane is determined to acquire for himself. Secrets, mysteries, and surprises abound, some seeded in the earlier entry, though Gouveia does a fine job of succinctly summarizing the relevant plot points from book one.

In some instances, paragraphs are so long as to be visually intimidating, especially for a middle-grade audience. However, the skillful world-building, bursts of inventive magic, well-drawn characters, and touchingly realized relationships will make readers forgive that, even as she ends on a tantalizing cliffhanger. Lovely paintings by Branislav Sosic punctuate the chapters, bringing the author’s world-building to breathtaking life. A host of compelling supporting characters, especially Emma (formerly known as the Ghost of Ruin) and brave Hao, add depth. Those who enjoy inventive school-age fantasy will devour Gouveia’s engaging tale.

Takeaway: Vividly imagined fantasy with an appealing magic and life-bringing heroes.

Comparable Titles: Christina Wallace’s The Light Keeper, Anna Garnet’s The Seasons.

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

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One Icy Night: 30th Anniversary of the '94 Delta Ice Storm Edition: A Rook Thriller
W.A. Pepper
In this heart-stopping thriller from Pepper (author of You Will Know Vengeance), 20-year-old Ruth “Rook” Kellum goes from running from the law to running for her life in a history-making ice storm in the Mississippi Delta. In despair over her Gramma’s heart attack and lack of insurance, Ruth takes the advice of a friend and steals a dying woman’s insurance. This one bad choice leads to others, eventually bringing her to a small-town bar in Mississippi—alone with the bartender, sheriff, and a guy from town, Riley—as the storm comes in, closing roads. From there, things get increasingly scarier and weirder for Rook, with the source of danger not always clear and Rook regularly relying on her Gramma’s “Sit-Rep” training to assess each situation quickly and help her make it out alive.

Never letting readers stop to breathe, Pepper paces the story relentlessly, never allowing a slow moment. There’s always something happening, usually something shocking, as every character Rook comes into contact with is suspicious in some way, with Pepper leaving readers, like Rook, to wonder who can be trusted. But even as Rook regularly ends up in wild situations, going from one immediately to the next, Pepper keeps the escalating perils down to Earth enough to be believable. Adding to the suspense, each chapter often changes time periods (from “last year” to “then” and to “now”), with each section offering its own urgent mini cliffhangers.

As the title suggests, miserable, cold, icy weather is a constant. Pulling from his own experiences of the real-life Delta Ice Storm in 1994, Pepper conjures a chilly sense of terror, showcasing the real dangers of the storm, from icy roads and pelting ice to tree limbs–and then entire trees–raining down everywhere, smashing into homes and cutting off electricity. One Icy Night’s frightening exploration of the perils of both mother nature and human nature will keep readers quickly turning pages.

Takeaway: Non-stop thriller of one woman’s attempt to survive a Mississippi Delta ice storm.

Comparable Titles: Luanne Rice’s Last Night, Alice Feeney’s Rock Paper Scissors.

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

Max's War: The Story of a Ritchie Boy
Libby Fischer Hellmann
This intense and suspenseful historical thriller continues Hellmann’s Revolutions Sagas series (which includes A Bend in the River) with another story of global conflict and courage. In 1933, German Jew Maximillian Steiner, only 13 years old, witnesses antisemitism on the rise in his country, with more and more Jews leaving public school education and opting to finish their studies in the synagogue school. When Max’s father is taken into “protective custody” by the Gestapo, the Steiner family decides to escape to Holland and start life anew. However, their dream is short lived when Germany invades in 1940, and Max is forced to leave his parents and migrate to the United States. In Chicago, Max focuses on a single objective: “killing Nazis.” He enlists in the Army, participating in several missions in the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and England.

Hellmann’s extensive research is apparent throughout this gripping novel that dramatizes the fascinating history of the Ritchie Boys, who were mostly immigrants from Germany and Austria trained to interrogate German POWs and gather intelligence to help further Allied efforts. Max’s personal struggles with love, family, and friendship also are pivotal. His perception of home is broken because of his continuous displacement, but his determination to survive stems from this loss of home and family. “You must do everything in your power to survive,” his mother tells him before they separate, and throughout Max’s War that urgent charge sees him through every obstacle and attack.

Action is crisp and clear, and the touch of romance has an appropriately desperate edge, a welcome reprieve as Max faces the worst of humanity and at times suffers anguish over the impact of his choices. A page-turning reminder of the horrors of fascism, Hellmann’s novel informs as its story surges ahead, through tragedies and breathless escapes, and the personal cost of vengeance. This thriller will resonate with history enthusiasts but also anyone seeking stories about standing up against hate.

Takeaway: Urgent thriller of a Jewish refugee taking on the Nazis with the Ritchie Boys.

Comparable Titles: Linda Kass’s A Ritchie Boy, Bruce Henderson’s Sons and Soldiers.

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

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Welcome to My Garden: A Father’s Gift of Reflections, Life Lessons, and Advice
Brian Murray
In this inspirational memoir/self-help guide, author Murray (Crushing It in Apartments and Commercial Real Estate) shares life lessons for his four children, personal reflections, and a wealth of wisdom, tips, and guidance gathered throughout his career and personal journey. Filled with anecdotes and things he wants his children—and readers—to take with them, Welcome to My Garden is a touching open letter from one generation to the next, revealing insights (“how powerful it can be to free yourself of the assumptions and constraints imposed by the world around you”) discovered in both the business world and Kathmandu (“to open yourself up … and experience true connection with others can be a deeply fulfilling experience”), as Murray writes directly to his audience with a candid consideration of his successes, setbacks, discoveries, and transformative experiences.

Equally encouraging and motivational, Murray explores the harvest that comes from the “seeds” one plants in their own life and the way they take root and bloom over time. Emphasizing the importance of being a creator, taking risks, expressing gratitude, and facing life's biggest obstacles or goals "a single step" at a time, Murray makes the case that discovering one’s own path starts with discovering one’s own heart, urging readers to always trust in yourself, be yourself, and "do what feels right.” “Who can provide you with the best advice?” he asks. “Yourself.” Anecdotes are blended with practical advice, such as three illuminating things to consider when delaying gratification by working hard to achieve long-term goals.

Each chapter ends with a section entitled "What Do I Want For You?” in which Murray both reinforces key takeaways and touchingly underscores why they matter. While this work originated as a guide through life for his children, Welcome to My Garden will resonate and offer clear-eyed, practical lessons for any readers entering into a new phase of life, whether it be a new job, college, or taking steps toward becoming an entrepreneur.

Takeaway: A father’s wise, touching guidance on being yourself and finding success.

Comparable Titles: Charlotte Pence's Where You Go, Richard Reed’s If I Could Tell You Just One Thing.

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

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The Engineer's Mechanic
L. K. Wintur
Set a century from now, an age of superstorms and a sun that “reigns absolute” and burns “its way down into the roots of everything,” this gripping sci-fi adventure debut, the start of the Meticity Series, unfolds in the domed metropolis of MetiCity-6. There Ren, a gifted mechanic with unparalleled engineering skills, emerges from the shadows of orphanhood to challenge the oppressive rule of MetiCorp, the overpowering force within the city, in a story of espionage, O-racing, giant-insect arena combat, and above all else unlikely friendships, with many bold “dome heads,” the prized proptype droid K-2, and enough other winning personalities to build a series upon.

Wintur, a pseudonym for collaborators identified only as Lando and Kori, engages with a familiar, YA-tinged blend of dystopia, rebellion, and rousing heroes. The domed metropolis’s cultures and dangers, Ren's extraordinary abilities, and the discovery of a sinister truth all create a strong foundation for an immersive, polished thriller. The dialogue sparkles, with each of the strong supporting cast representing a fascinating culture or backgrounds—including Jardinerans, who “have a separate evolutionary tree from modern humans, completely unique”—as the heroes collaborate, crack jokes, face wild challenges, and face some awkward moments of flirtation.

The story surges ahead even as it introduces its surprising future, drawing a contrast between virtual and all-too-real worlds, and between the intricacies of MetiCity-6, city of flybikes, high rises, and even a castle, with the harsh Outskirtz beyond its dome. Readers can expect a lively, exciting time as the story weaves through these inventive, oppressive environments. While Ren’s engineer’s-view of the world’s nuts-and-bolts is memorable, and developments involving “brainwave syncs” have an intriguing and uncanny edge, the briskness of storytelling may leave readers wanting a deeper exploration of the characters’ backgrounds, motivations, and struggles, which could add a bit more heft and urgency. Still, this is a slick, promising start, bursting with memorable characters, setpieces, and ideas.

Takeaway: Exciting SF-series starter of a domed dystopian city and an engineer’s revolt.

Comparable Titles:Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember, Chandler Klang Smith’s The Sky Is Yours.

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

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Spillage
Michael Gross
Gross’s lively debut takes a dip into the chaos of 1970s New York, when “those twin evils, inflation and depression, worked their ever-nastier magic on the streets” and the papers’ “daily dose of robbery, rape, rioting, arson, assassination, suicide, infanticide, and homicide” is enough to jolt East Village news-junkie Eliot from his habit. In Gross’s vivid imagining, the city’s last flicker of hope hinges on its World Series-bound Yankees, led by the “season-long heroics” of rookie star Nick “The Swan” Spillage. But even baseball’s not immune from the city’s travails, as the diabolical revolutionary group Satanic Vanguard kidnaps Mayor Lightly at a “Save the Cities” rally and threatens further violence, entangling a young couple (Joan and Elliot) and even The Swan himself.

This saga of urbane comic deviltry unfolds at a fast pace, with disjointed scenes and multiple characters crossing paths at several junctions heightening the boisterous New York-ness of the narrative. Gross masterfully employs the character arcs of Joan and Elliot to paint a rich picture of 1960s counterculture stalwarts—they tripped at Woodstock and have busked as a folk duo on the subway—facing the hard 1970s hangover. Joan’s obsession with The Swan leads her to strike a Faustian deal, setting the stage for a twisty love story intertwined with a search for identity as Joan and Elliot both face crises of the soul.

Gross’s potent blend of garbage strike-era New York portraiture, brisk comic dialogue (“Satan’s not so scary. He just don’t conform to bourgeois norms”), yellow-tabloid press accounts, earnest belief in baseball, and incisive socio-cultural and political explorations power a wild story rich with wicked humor but also a sense of humane street poetry. At its core, Spillage is an ornate portrait of New York, still vital at its lowest ebb: its politics, its neighborhoods, its diversity, and the abiding belief of the Flatbush Faithful. This is a crackerjack novel of love and self discovery that echoes themes of resilience and of redemption.

Takeaway: Faustian comedy of 1970s New York, the counterculture, and the Yankees.

Comparable Titles: Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel.

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

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Two Degrees: A Climate Change Novel
William Michael Ried
Ried (author of Five Ferries) masterfully weaves a compelling thriller that confronts climate change, corporate greed, and the preservation of the planet. The narrative unfolds with gripping intensity as it delves into the life of Daniel Lazaro, an attorney entangled with a questionable employer and the Big Oil Institute. Daniel is blinded by the pursuit of profits without regard for environmental damage, and his own infidelity risking his marriage.

Tragedy tears Daniel’s world apart when the Guadalupe river floods and rips through his family home stealing away his wife Bree and daughter Annabelle to a watery death. Remorse, guilt, and sorrow traumatizes Daniel so deeply he can barely look at a glass of water without being haunted by the ghosts of his actions. Reeling from these events, he seeks psychiatric help while awakening to the humanitarian efforts of Anthro, a subversive environmental protection group. Anthro challenges the established order of the corrupt oil business Daniel had so faithfully served. Led by Eco and Verde, their discreet clandestine activities permeate Daniel’s consciousness, opening his eyes to the suffering his actions caused to his family, and the entire planet. His soul-searching journey is slow and methodical as he realizes he has already lost his world.

He tries to earn his way into Anthro through small tasks he must diligently fulfill. Working through the chaos of giving up his life and income, his actions threaten those who mentored him yet he realizes there is no going back. Ried exposes the harsh reality of sexist and misogynistic mentalities, the looming threat of global warming, and the formidable power of lobbyists, attorneys, and unscrupulous politicians. Against this persuasively disheartening backdrop, Two Degrees combines suspense, environmental activism, and personal redemption. Daniel’s challenge captivates the reader, prompting reflection on the real-world implications of our choices, leaving no doubt that the ongoing battle to preserve our planet for future generations is in our hands.

Takeaway: Searing thriller of an attorney, big oil, and the planet’s climate tipping point.

Comparable Titles: Ryan Steck’s Fields of Fire, Feargus O’Connor Greenwood’s 180 Degrees.

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

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Generation Hope: How Inclusive Economics Can Help Us All Thrive
Arunjay Katakam
Upbeat but clear-eyed about the challenges of climate change, wealth inequality, and an increasingly “feudal” economy where “nobility has been replaced by billionaires, vassals by white-collar corporate employees, and villeins and serfs by blue-collar workers,” this impassioned call for change from Katakam (author of The Power of Micro Money Transfers) urges readers toward a shift in mindsets about money, regulation, and our connectedness to others. “We need holistic change that revamps our current economic system, curtails emissions of greenhouse gasses, and rethinks the way we educate our kids,” Katakam writes, while offering both compelling examples of the possibilities and ample evidence of how, since Reagan and Thatcher, the world has seen “a massive shift in global wealth” where “everyone but the upper-income households have suffered significantly.”

Katakam writes with buoyant spirits despite the grim realities he exhaustively outlines. A capitalist who rejects socialism in favor of an inclusive economics that “prioritize[s] inclusive growth and social justice,” he calls for individual and societal change, making the case that the former, as seen in “conscious” consumers embracing “abundance mindset”s and a spirit of interconnectedness, will spur the latter. Rather than tear down current systems, he advocates for improving, regulating, and restoring an inclusive version of the capitalism that once “drove innovation, created products and services for the good of society, reduced poverty, increased the standard of living, and made a modest profit along the way.”

This inclusive capitalism—embracing growth, participation, opportunity, stability, and sustainability rather than “superprofits”—might strike readers as fanciful, but Katakam argues with persuasive power that the very act of imagining it, and manifesting it on an individual basis, is the crucial first step to making change. The book is nonpartisan, as quick to quote David Brooks as Robert Reich, and at times rambles, but Katakam’s critique is as unstinting as his belief in positive change is inspiring.

Takeaway: Impassioned call for an inclusive economy that leaves no person or planet behind.

Comparable Titles: Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac’s The Future We Choose, Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy.

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

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Mr. Mouthful and the Monkeynappers
Lisa K Pelto
Kimble continues his Mr. Mouthful series (after Mr. Mouthful Learns His Lesson) with this rollicking romp of adventure, excitement, and, above all, the pleasure of learning unusual words. This time, Mr. Mouthful, “our favorite fancy-pants,” is moseying through town with his sidekick, a pet monkey named Dupree, in an effort to show off their spiffy new threads—an admirable pastime, to be sure. The flashy pair soon attracts oodles of attention, garnering them their own retinue of admirers, but when a soccer game gone awry puts Dupree in harm’s way, Mr. Mouthful and his entourage must come together for a daring rescue.

Young readers will revel in Kimble’s evocative language as Mr. Mouthful expresses himself in the most fanciful terms possible. When a pothole threatens their walk, he cautions Dupree “Such a perilous situation! For your personal safety and comfort, take heed,” and when Dupree breaks out into a dance, Mr. Mouthful sings “Disport, disport. Strut your stuff.” The neighborhood kids who can’t get enough of the pair make merry in their own way, though accidents abound as they lag behind: an open paint can becomes a tripping hazard (“a most unfortunate outcome,” according to the story’s star), and when the children join in the chase to rescue Dupree from the local ne’er-do-wells, a bike crash stops them in their tracks.

Just as Kimble delivers loads of effusive entertainment, Bell’s sprightly illustrations—showcasing the characters as they stumble, dance, and scamper after Mr. Mouthful—overflow with subtle amusement. A pair of thieves kidnapping Dupree sport underwear emblazoned with hearts, the “youth brigade” saves the day with juice box projectiles, and Mr. Mouthful’s green bowtie and matching plaid pants steal the spotlight. In the end, Dupree’s rescue leaves Mr. Mouthful a bit tongue-tied, as he thanks the youngsters with his least extravagant speech yet: “Thank you, kids. You saved my pal.”

Takeaway: Charming adventures with a “fancy-pants” and his pet monkey.

Comparable Titles: Hudson Talbott’s A Walk in the Words, Anya Glazer’s Thesaurus Has a Secret.

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

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Earthly Vessels
David T. Isaak
This inspired literary fantasy offers an audacious blend of science, metaphysics, romance, cult weirdness, and the rich textures of American life over the upheavals of the second half of the 20th century, years made even more bumptious, here, by astral assassins and other uncanny inventions. As the1960s crash to an end, Arby Keeling is conceived under most unusual circumstances when his mother, a nomadic hippie, falls in with The Children of Pan, a cult searching for the perfect vessel. Later, adult Arby’s nomadic life as a geologist is upended by a devastating phone call from his mother. Flying back home, he meets Elaina, a woman whose eyes never open, and forges an instant connection. Amid much chaos involving bomings, Elaina reveals to Arby that she has a special power—a “Talent”—just as he discovers that he does, too. As he falls in with Elaina and her motley crew of "people of our kind,” Arby learns more about his destiny, his power, and the enemy that seeks to harm him and everyone he loves.

Isaak crafts a riveting contemporary urban fantasy with inventive world building, rich language, crisp dialogue, and out-of-this-world but entirely believable characters. Featuring mages, giants, and astral planes, Arby's heroic journey is an intricate adventure that explores growth, destiny, and acceptance of things one can not control in life. As Arby learns more about his allies, their powers, and the potential evil he must face, he must place faith in himself and learn to trust those around him as he prepares for a battle with an enemy that could mean life or death for the physical world.

Isaak smartly updates classic hero's journey tales for the complexities of real life, as spunk, awkward Arby believes, in a relatable way, that he is anything but a hero. This genre-blending story, published posthumously, captivates as Isaak weaves readers in and out of the physical planes and rewards them with surprises, insights, and scintillating prose.

Takeaway: Smart, surprising literary fantasy of cults, “Talents,” and an unlikely hero.

Comparable Titles: Aleatha Romig's Into the Light, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

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

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When Knowing Comes
Kelly Green
Attorney Green draws on her legal experience in this emotionally rich narrative about one man’s quest for justice as a survivor of child sexual abuse. In 2019, after California changed its laws to enable childhood sexual abuse victims to sue on old claims, attorney Atticus “Ace” Elbridge contacts Robbie Santos, his childhood soccer teammate, to tell him that he can now sue the Athletic Association for Young Americans (AAYA), the organization that ran their soccer club and was responsible for Robbie being raped by an assistant coach. Through use of a dual timeline, Green alternates between the 2019 trial where Ace represents Robbie in his suit against AAYA and 1998, when Robbie’s dreams of being a soccer star were stalled after his coach’s nephew sexually assaulted him and his team was disbanded.

Green adds authenticity to the depiction of the trial, legal procedural elements and the advice Ace gives to Robbie about the potentially painful nature of his testimony. With the focus on coaching and the nature of the relationship between a coach and a child team member, the author is spot-on, not only with the element of vulnerability as a potential for abuse, but the prevalence of sexual abuse in sports.

As the author establishes the timeline for the incidences of abuse, she intersperses these horrific incidents with the believable reactions of the parents when faced with the idea that their children were harmed, from disbelief to horror that their child was a victim. With incisive empathy, Green explores cycles of trauma, as one of the elements that acts to compel the plotline forward is the suggestion that a significant event in the past of Ace’s father, Steve, led to his possible alcoholism, fractured relationship with Ace’s mother, and to Steve’s inability to cope with either. This debut is distinguished by both Green’s legal acuity and clear-eyed humanity.

Takeaway: Emotional story of childhood sexual abuse and a quest for justice years later

Comparable Titles: Kate Walbert’s His Favorites, Vikki Petraitis’s The Unbelieved.

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

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Captain Sparky and the Pool Pirates
T. E. Antonino
Fourth-grader Sparky is struggling with writer’s block for her English story assignment, and, worse yet, she still hasn’t learned how to swim, a serious problem given her affinity for visiting the local pool. While she frets about being stuck in the baby pool forever, her mom offers some sage advice: “Only fish, pirates, or a hippopotamus need to worry about being able to swim.” That wisdom kindles creativity for Sparky, and the minute her mother turns her back, three pirates—Gobble, Bobble, and Wobble—explode out of the pool drain and offer to train her in nothing less than the art of piracy.

That premise and Sparky’s rich imagination will wow young readers in this rollicking adventure from Antonino (author of (ShBeep the Unique Sheep), as the hero sets sail to encounter rough seas, savage enemies, new friends, and delightful place names. When Sparky makes a deal with her pirate pals—in exchange for learning how to become a pirate herself, she’ll teach them nice manners—her creative juices really start flowing. Before long, she has a fun-filled story ready to present to her English class, and fans will enjoy hearing the tale alongside Sparky’s classmates. As Sparky—and the pirates—sally forth into the water pipes at the pool, she learns exciting new pirate tricks and words along the way—like why a williwaw can help move a ship in the right direction, or just how dangerous landlubber fever can be.

The group eventually run aground on Jerky Turkey Island, headed by King Fry, a larger-than-life turkey sporting a crown who threatens to peck holes in their ship, but even that doesn’t stop Sparky’s thirst for adventure. Readers will cheer when an unlikely rescue by a baby sea hippopotamus saves the day, prompting Sparky’s English teacher to declare “that was one wonderful story.” Antonino includes black and white sketches throughout that add to the merriment, making this a rousing good time for young readers.

Takeaway: Pirates, imagination, and rollicking good times combine in this high seas adventure.

Comparable Titles: Peter Bently’s Captain Jack and the Pirates, Melody J. Bremen’s The Boy Who Painted the World.

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

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Titan's Tears
Chad Lester
Set before and after a singularity that, at first, no one cares about or even much notice, this captivating science fiction novel from Lester (author of the story collection Continum) offers a surprising and resonant story of technological advancements, the bonds of family, born and found, and most urgently the ways tech and power can change humanity. Belle is a young woman stuck in her small Alaska hometown until she receives a life-changing job opportunity working for Sophia Eccleston of the world famous tech company, Eccleston Evolution. Upon meeting the 70 year old woman—who doesn't “look a day over twenty”—Belle is tasked with being a caregiver to Sophia’s eight-year-old daughter, Juno, who’s hidden away from a world Belle worries soon will be aflame. Meanwhile, Seth Johnson is a hardworking warehouse worker until a life altering accident and machines put him out of work and a devastating tragedy befalls his family after a work accident results in chemicals in his system.

Told through the narratives of Belle, Sophia, and Seth, Titan’s Tears conjures a near-future where miraculous breakthroughs, like deliverybots and cloned mammoths, quickly are regarded as mundane. The story builds to a crescendo with climatic tension and a plot line that intricately weaves each character’s lives together, eventually bringing them to Eccleston’s remote island of ancient beasts, bleeding-edge wonders, and literal “murder-machines.” The mysteries and suspense entice, while Lester digs deeper than simple thrills, capturing the textures of life in this future.

Especially provocative: through journal entries, readers learn more about Sophia as she reflects on curing diseases such as Parkinson's, her heart-breaking relationship with a previous business partner, Lucas, and her vision for a brand new beginning. Lester deftly ties it all together into a layered, eerie puzzle. Fans of ensemble narratives and thoughtful thrillers with truly jolting twists will relish this trio’s journey into a stranger, newer world—and this novel that, as it looks forward, playfully engages with some SF classics of the past.

Takeaway: Eerie, deftly envisioned near-future thriller of life in the singularity.

Comparable Titles: Nick Harkaway, Charles Stross.

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

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Voices Echo
Linda Lee Graham
A refusal to shy away from the horrors of the past adds urgency to the climactic third entry in Graham’s saga of young Britons emigrating to the Americas—especially Philadelphia—just after the Revolutionary War. This volume, following Voices Whisper, finds Liam Brock, the orphaned Scot, now just a test away from being a Philly lawyer. His thoughts, however, are as always on women, specifically Rhiannon Ross, now married to an old wealthy plantation owner, Albert, who has spirited her away to Jamaica and can’t bring himself to visit her bed at night. At the Fain Hill plantation, Rhiannon quails at the “harsh human suffering” of slavery, and she yearns to be useful, even visiting the understaffed “hothouse” to try to help tend to ill slaves. Her heart, though, is in Philly, Liam, and the inn that she has, through some complex financial cleverness, trusted Liam to secure for her, in the hope that one day she can get Albert to settle there.

Complicating matters, of course, are the horrors of slavery. Rhiannon’s interventions when slaves face cruel punishments tend to make matters worse, she exhibits grace for Albert’s out-of-wedlock son and his enslaved mother, and as hints of a revolt rock Jamaica as surely as the earthquakes, Rhiannon’s feelings for Fain Hill are complicated, and not just because of the centipedes. Liam, meanwhile, is soon en route to Jamaica as chaperone to a prickly young woman (“Even her curls appeared tightly wound,” Graham writes). His real mission, of course,is to see Rhiannon. One delicious twist: rather than find the young man, an abolitionist, a threat, Albert hires him on.

Graham spins the tale with brisk, engaging prose, palpable longing, and a strong sense of intrigue and gathering dread. The novel builds to inevitable but surprising tragedies but also a satisfying ending that does not diminish the weight of the history. Like Rhiannon, Graham abounds in grace, with even that tightly wound young woman proving, in the end, a compelling and nuanced creation.

Takeaway:Humane historical novel of love, law, and the horrors of slavery in the Americas.

Comparable Titles: Natasha Boyd’s The Indigo Girl, Sarah Lark’s Island of a Thousand Springs.

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

Click here for more about Voices Echo
The Andronaut's Journey: A daring space adventure. A divided starship crew. A clash between organic and artificial intelligence.
Daryl L. Scott
In this provocative SF adventure, humans and advanced AI must work together to save Earth from the catastrophic damage of climate change. State-of-the-art Andronaut Zaylen is the first autonomous android designed for deep space exploration. With a human crew at the helm, Zaylen and his team must traverse a volatile alien planet and secure Tridisiom, an isotope with the ability to restore Earth. Tensions rise over the crew’s divided attitude toward dependance on AI, all as Zaylen wrestles with his growing need for acceptance from his human colleagues. Meanwhile, Earth’s fate rests in the ability of man and machine bridging a partnership, but embracing new complex technology proves more challenging than anticipated.

Scott creates fast-paced action that volleys between efforts to save Earth, protect the lives of the crew from various unforeseen perils, and, for Zalen, understand an android’s place within human society. Scott employs this repetitive pattern to build empathy between readers and the Andronaut by providing Zaylen ample nail-biting opportunities to prove his importance to humanity. Shocking twists keep readers engaged while Scott quickly escalates the tension between humans and AI. On the page, a palpable divide grows with some characters embracing the impressive tech abilities presented by Zaylen and others expressing their fearful and suspicious concerns of the Andronaut’s enhanced skills. Zaylen serves as a compelling catalyst to incisive and in-depth debates revolving around the complexities of machines’ integration into civilization.

Scott’s passion regarding innovative technological advancements shines through the narrative and sparks meaningful questions readers will feel compelled to investigate long after the final page. Several intriguing topics are explored such as will humanity eventually be replaced by androids and what if androids develop the ability to reject their code and go rogue? Readers interested in exploring the role of AI integrating with humanity will enjoy this compelling story.

Takeaway: A provocative adventure diving into AI’s role in human civilization.

Comparable Titles: Tony Laplume’s Sapo Saga, Martha Wells’s Murderbot Diaries.

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

Click here for more about The Andronaut's Journey
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