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Alessia in Atlantis: The Jellyfish Jailbreak
Nathalie Laine
This second book of Laine’s Alessia in Atlantis series picks up on another under-the-sea school year for 12-year-old Alessia and her friends—and a new/old threat to their beloved Lost City. Haunted by visions of her fugitive mother, the “Instigator” of the New Current rebellion who in The Forbidden Vial proved eager to steal Alessia’s burgeononing empath and mind control powers, Alessia struggles to balance her life, navigate those powers, and possibly save Atlantis. It’s enough to make a young woman exclaim “Holy Triton”—and that’s before she and her friends must break into a notorious prison.

Laine deftly balances setting up an atmosphere of mounting tension throughout the undersea realm with the sense of inviting familiarity that keeps readers returning to a fantasy world. Alessia remains kind and inquisitive but showcases her moxie from the start, with the telling, funny scene of manipulating a bully. To give a central protagonist mind control powers is a bold choice, as it’s one of the more “sinister” powers to give to a hero, one that invites temptation, especially as she seeks to master her abilities and resolve what she euphemastically tells a sea-bishop is her “family matter.”

The novel’s length invites readers to immerse themselves in this surprising undewwater realm, and Laine’s continual inventiveness (mermonkeys, nereid newscasters, clamshell beds) freshens up the magic-school storytelling. Narrative momentum at first is inconsistent, as Alessia goes from her life with her landfaring stepfather back to Atlantis, meeting old and new friends and fearing her mother’s return. But Laine understands how deeply series readers invest in these relationships, and her plotting, once the story really gets going, continually upends expectations, making clever use of illusion and mind control magic, and eventually challenging Alessia to work with a most unexpected ally to face a threat bigger even than the New Current. Lovers of the genre will find this worth the plunge.

Takeaway: The epic continuation of an Atlantean magic school adventure centers surprise and mounting tension.

Great for fans of: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Z Brewer’s Chronicles of Vladimir Tod series.

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

COURAGEOUS INVITATIONS : HOW TO BE YOUR BEST AND SUCCEED THROUGH SELF-DISRUPTION
Dr Jefferson Yu-Jen Chen, Anne Duggan
Chen and Duggan offer followers a promise to help “find your motivations and identify what it will take to ignite your passion” in this thorough and intensive debut. Using a fluid definition of purpose, they emphasize that success isn’t always dependent on crafting over-the-top goals, but rather on uncovering the meaning behind them … and working to create value above all else. The authors cover the basics—including the importance of positive self-talk, different decision-making approaches, and how to break down the unhelpful identities we develop that stymie our growth—and elevate the text with in-depth, real-world examples alongside abundant worksheets and hands-on exercises.

The scope is extensive, drawing from historical constructs behind the hunt for meaning, plus thinkers like Aristotle and Confucius, and expanding to contemporary examples of entrepreneurial success, such as Steve Jobs’s marketing of Apple as not just a new product, but a new identity. The authors delve into the more difficult-to-answer questions that come with the territory, specifically how to combat the growing selfishness they identify as a worldwide problem. Offering up “strategic selfishness” as an alternative, they suggest prioritizing your best interests while aligning those interests with the wellbeing of others, using the golden standard of Jante Law—cultural norms in Nordic countries that highlight “sacrificing a little bit of one’s self-interest for the common good”—as a benchmark model.

Readers will find plenty of practical counsel here, most notably the user-friendly exercises that range from loose journaling prompts to structured application of the book’s concepts—and QR codes to access online resources. Creative suggestions, like “ampersand thinking” (avoiding the binary thought processes based on “or” in favor of the more inclusive “and”), balance the more technical business tips. Ultimately, readers will find this guide a helpful starting point to “gather your inner advisors around you, point your GPS satellites into the unknown and press ‘go’.”

Takeaway: A practical how-to on finding your purpose and passion, in business and life.

Great for fans of: Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, Vincent A. Santiago’s Finding Your Purpose in Life.

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

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One Giant Leap
Ben Gartner
The hero adrift in Gartner’s tense and thoughtful middle-grade space odyssey floats between lofty expectation and grounding reality before taking his first big step toward adulthood. When 12-year-old Finley Ridley Scott receives the Package of Destiny, he’s surprised that the StellarKid Project acceptance letter was delivered by snail mail. After all, it was sent by Axis Space, the private space travel and tourism company that created this innovative program, which will transport exceptional 10 to 15-year-olds to the International Space Station, and Gateway, their base orbiting Earth’s moon. Fin feels like he’s won the lottery, but the journey itself proves more endurance test than pleasure trip.

Fin’s opening utterance (“I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space”) sets the tone. It’s the self-aware, slightly mocking voice of a narrator trying to make sense of the relentless swirl of physical and emotional stimuli. Spinning in space, Fin methodically breaks down the horrors while facing an existential loneliness. But when Gartner employs the record scratch time-stop technique, he does more than simply flash back to how Fin reached this pivotal moment. He shows that Fin’s isolation is illusory: this resourceful kid is part of a tight-knit team and a continuum of explorers. As in his time-travel series The Eye of Ra, Gartner uses his research skills to pack One Giant Leap with scientific and historical detail (along with some surprising gross-out factoids).

That will entice space enthusiasts, but Fin’s struggle to confront the internal fears masked by his external bravery will also resonate with young readers. Traveling in space means employing your strengths while confronting your vulnerabilities, and Gartner focuses on the duality of fragility and resilience. One Giant Leap provides a vivid first-person account of space travel in all its terrifying glory precisely because it comes from someone who hasn’t yet learned how to filter his unabashed wonderment.

Takeaway: This exciting science fiction adventure is geared to readers looking to push their boundaries.

Great for fans of: Stuart Gibbs’s Space Case, Jennifer L. Holm’s The Lion of Mars, and Katie Slivensky’s The Countdown Conspiracy.

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

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Ask Yourself This: Ultimate Life Lessons From And For My Girlfriends (The Friendship Series)
Shari Leid
Leid (Make Your Mess Your Message) continues her Friendship series with this warmly styled guide that challenges readers to complete 60-days of journaling to “change [your] life by changing [your] mindset.” She pegs journaling as “the best self-coaching tool available,” a conviction that forms the basis of the book, as she weaves together vignettes from her girlfriends with her own written reflections. The work tackles childhood through the adult years, and even briefly touching on life beyond death, as Leid interviews a variety of women and shares their thoughts on her structured journaling prompts.

Each interview is built around a thought-provoking question, and Leid includes the casual and the profound in the women’s responses: from jotting down their desired headstones to asking more difficult questions—like “What are you most scared of losing?”—the writing is up-close and personal, reflective of a compassionate author who firmly believes in her work. Leid never shies away from sharing the most intimate details of her own life, including early struggles to form a sense of belonging: a Korean orphan adopted by Japanese American parents, Leid explores the wrongful detainment of her parents in an internment camp during the Second World War, and her father’s subsequent efforts to raise her independent of strong cultural ties. However, she celebrates her past as a stepping stone throughout the book, detailing how she has learned to create new traditions for her family and sharing the path to finding a “unique and worthy place in the world.”

Readers won’t need to be seasoned journalers to gain rewards from Leid’s prompts, questions, and insights. The life lessons are wide-ranging and emphatic, covering relevant topics like relinquishing the fear of judgment, taking risks to avoid stagnancy, and choosing a career that combines skill with passion, among others. For those who relish journaling, Leid includes space for readers to craft their own responses to each question as well.

Takeaway: A passionate, hands-on journaling challenge designed specifically for women.

Great for fans of: GG Renee Hill’s Self-Care Check-In, Ellen Warner’s The Second Half.

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

Vignettes from the Landed Gentry - Outlandish Tales from the Trailer Park: Pandemic Bedtime Stories
Rondi Springer
Springer debuts with a dark collection of stories detailing her time as an RV park owner during the COVID-19 pandemic, delving into the policy changes, such as a state-wide eviction moratorium, that changed her role—“I now am a landlord, rather than a transient park host”—and sharing her insights into the “fears [that] have altered the landscape” of humanity post-pandemic. With tongue-in-cheek writing, she admits to cynicism about the position she found herself in, but also shares some glimmering moments of hope amid the disheartenment—and addresses the wider questions of how to combat the universal problems of loneliness and loss of mutual respect.

Readers looking for an uplifting account of RV park life will likely be jolted by Springer’s thinly veiled distaste for the seedy underworld to long-term RV living. In “Chelsea,” she recounts a mother of two who accidentally sets her RV on fire with the family inside while spending early morning hours using drugs in the women’s restroom, and in “You Are the Worst” readers get a taste of RV park domestic disputes: “stop fighting in a metal box, we all can hear you” Springer writes, as she compares her surroundings to a COPS show. Characterizing her business as equally dangerous and comical, Springer wastes no time in dishing about the ins and outs of managing angry, “entitled” customers, particularly the men who look down on her and disregard her problem solving simply because she’s a woman.

Despite a few laughs—Springer describes how a 300 square foot RV combined with conflict and alcohol is a recipe for disaster and shares her rules for a calm environment, such as “Don’t take a swing at me when I tell you staying here is not a good fit”—this is not a feel-good selection. Readers should come prepared to glimpse the tragic and heart wrenching side of addiction, trauma, and life in general.

Takeaway: An unstinting and sometimes comic look at the ugly side to RV park living.

Great for fans of: Larry MacDonald’s RV Oopsies, Michael Hankins’s Ordinary Average Guy.

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

Loved So Much It Hurts: Purpose in the Pain
Rebecca Olmstead
Olmstead’s memoir is framed by poignant confessions detailing her fight against cancer and growth in Christian faith along the way. That faith forms the bedrock, and her medical battles are framed against the backdrop of her expanding trust in God. Olmstead unmasks the ugly truth of cancer treatments, surgeries, and evaluations, alongside family rifts that give way to heartbreak in the midst, eliciting a painful reality that will strike emotional chords with both Christians and non-believers. Drawing comfort from her Bible, Olmstead focuses her energy on her relationship with God, contemplating her ability to weather the storm: “I wondered if He’d chosen the right warrior for this particular battle.”

Readers will follow Olmstead’s diagnosis and treatments chronologically, and she offers intimate glimpses into her personal life in the process, including a second-chance marriage with a devout husband and court battles with her ex-husband that result in estrangement from her older children. Even in the darkest of moments, Olmstead never loses sight of her faith, admirably choosing gratitude over resentment. Her husband, Chuck, plays a supportive and loving role that bolsters that theme of gratitude, allowing a celebration of caregivers throughout the voyage as well, and the inclusion of their CarePage entries during the ordeal will resonate with readers. For those who savor devotional formats, Olmstead kicks off several of those entries with “today’s promise,” a Bible verse to study and reflect on, relating those insights back to her own experiences.

There are plenty of surprises here, too—none more so than Olmstead’s follow-up, “Life After Cancer,” that details not only her unconventional recovery (and baffling medical results) but also the life-changing health developments she attributes to her faith in God, as she writes that “the true miracle wasn’t what He did with the tumor, but what He did with my heart.”

Takeaway: A heartfelt Christian journey offering hope in the midst of suffering.

Great for fans of: John M. Perkins’s Count It All Joy, Abbot Oscar Joseph’s Memoirs of a Christian Healer.

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

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Singing the Voice of God: The Song
Lyn Brighid O'Doran
In O’Doran’s provocative post-apocalyptic sci-fi debut, “the Song of the universe is sung on the single note of B flat, 57 octaves below middle C.” Only Earth’s cetaceans know the song, and they’re willing to share it, only if “those who walk on dry land” would be willing to listen. Unfortunately, a radical new Christian sect has spread throughout the now-impoverished world, and one of its core tenets is that animals exist only as labor or food sources; even pet animals are banned in America’s thinly veiled theocracy . The knowledge that sea mammals are intelligent enough to have their own religion would bring humanity to its knees, but two Catholic researchers believe the disclosure of this truth is crucial for the survival of life on Earth.

In addition to being an entertaining, fast-paced adventure, Singing the Voice of God serves as a provocative warning of the consequences of anthropocentrism for all of Earth’s inhabitants. As animal scientists Kate, a covert Catholic nun, and Liam, a discredited Catholic priest, join forces by way of government order at a military research facility in the Northwest, discovering how to communicate directly with a wild dolphin who laments the loss of its song in captivity, the story challenges readers to examine their own beliefs on the de facto hierarchy of species. Scenes in which they hatch a plan to escape the center, dolphin in tow, and collect their own data in the open seas stir page-turning tension.

Neither Kate nor Liam, for different reasons, can engage in physical touch, but their friendship and eventual romance develop regardless on the emotional and spiritual plane, along with their mutual reverence for the animal kingdom and its mysteries. O’Doran’s story also encourages readers to envision a future where humanity cherishes nature as indigenous cultures have for millennia—and to consider whether our non-human cohabitants can “think wonderful, self-aware thoughts,” and worship a spiritual entity.

Takeaway: A page-turner where Catholic scientists in a ravaged America communicate with dolphins.

Great for fans of: Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin

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

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A World on the Island's Edge: Book I of the Golden Dolphin
Matthew Rudd Reynolds
Reynolds introduces readers to twelve-year-old Andi Johnston in the first of the Golden Dolphin series. Andi and her twin brother, Artie, live with their grandmother in the pleasant seaside town of Grey Cove, but when their grandmother grows ill, and their future living situation uncertain, Andi vows to do whatever it takes to keep her small family together for as long as possible. Enter Lux, a magical golden dolphin able to communicate telepathically with Andi. Their friendship is instantaneous, and with Lux at her side, Andi’s pulled into a fantastical mystery that transcends space and time—and may just be the ticket to saving her family.

Fantasy fans will appreciate the whimsical nature of this middle-grade quest, though some events could use more buildup. Reynolds opens with an earthquake that kickstarts Andi’s mystical connection with Lux, a friendship that, despite its abrupt beginning, forms the basis of Andi’s endeavor to save her family. Andi’s loyalty to her brother and grandmother are endearing, particularly for such a young character, and Lux—who loses his mother in the first pages, a tragedy he has in common with Andi, whose mother has disappeared—provides her with the support she craves: when Andi dives into the ocean to meet Lux, her thoughts echo “She was not alone. She would never be alone again.”

Readers should come prepared for mature content, as themes of child physical abuse and neglect are woven throughout, but the heart of this adventure is a warm story of family, loss, and resilience. Lux’s protectiveness fills an aching need for Andi, who wants nothing more than a safe place for her family to exist, and those readers charmed by their imaginative friendship, and the book’s winning combination of magic and science fiction, will be pleased with the suspense-laden ending that promises more adventures to come.

Takeaway: A fantasy-filled tale of friendship that transcends time and space.

Great for fans of: Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series.

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

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Map of a Soundless Clock: Book II of The Golden Dolphin
Matthew Rudd Reynolds
Reynolds’s second action-packed young adult fantasy in the Golden Dolphin series, after A World on the Island’s Edge, follows Andi and her magical dolphin, Lux, as they travel the universe with the ship Kronos on a hunt for the crew’s lost family members. After navigating through a wormhole into the edge of a black hole, the Kronos was rescued by Andi and Lux—but the other ships traveling with them were left behind. Now tasked with finding the way back, Andi must depend on Lux to guide the way, but the deeper they search, the greater their questions, all pointing to a bigger purpose for “the Golden One and his Keeper.”

Friendships and families are paramount, including Andi’s onboard team comprised of her twin brother, Artie, and best friend Jubal, and her deep bond with Lux will resonate with animal lovers. But as Andi and her posse grow closer, so do Andi and the ship’s captain—as well as the crew desperate to rescue their lost loved ones (or their descendants, given the ship’s time warp that places their missing friends and family millions of years in the past). Readers will be swept up into Andi’s intense desire to reunite the crew with their relatives, even as she and Lux learn the boundaries of their connection and explore how far their relationship can truly take them.

The Kronos—a ship built for the sea but navigating space—is just the beginning of Reynolds’s creativity. Calypso, the ship’s selkie navigator, is transported through tubes of magical water and possesses a special touch, while Lux’s telepathic communication and space jumping skills set him apart. Reynolds elaborates on that message of honoring different abilities, exploring through a range of human to alien characters the need for collaboration to survive—a timely message for contemporary readers.

Takeaway: A thrilling mission through space with a girl, her magic dolphin, and their friends.

Great for fans of: Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass; Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars.

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

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The Quadrant Conspiracy: The Plot to Kill FDR
James H Lewis
Lewis (Novak's Mission) pairs meticulous research on World War II, global politics, and Canadian history with a deeply humane character study that evaluates the costs of war beyond the battlefield. He extrapolates some unusual events that happened around a wartime visit from U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and spins a story about a German assassination plot. The story spans the tenuous moments in 1942 and 1943 when things were just starting to turn in the Allies' favor against the fascist Axis powers. It follows the intersection of four characters: Brandon Armitage, a disabled Canadian veteran who becomes a guard at a prisoner-of-war camp; his wife Margie, who is estranged from Brandon; Jörg Schumacher, a clever POW who is drawn into sinister plans; and FDR himself, whose fragile health but sharp mind is emphasized as he negotiates with foreign leaders and dreams of a better world.

While the historical material fascinates, it’s the memorable characters that power the story. Brandon's own repressed trauma as a former prisoner-of-war hurts his marriage with Margie, who resents him for not keeping their sons from enlisting, while Margie's narrative of seeking independence and eventually coming to terms with Brandon is the emotional heart, reflecting the ways in which war shatters lives away from the field of battle. Schumacher is not a dedicated Nazi, but threats to his family rope him into the assassination plot.

The eventual convergence of the three men leads in some unusual directions, as Brandon shows mercy to Schumacher. While the pacing is slow at the beginning of the book, the time Lewis spends on his characters pays off when the pace picks up and the reader is fully invested. The result is a thrilling example of historical fiction that's grounded in fact but never forgets that it's the characters who ultimately drive history.

Takeaway: Fans of World War II thrillers will delight in Lewis’s research and characterization.

Great for fans of: William Martin’s December '41, Howard Blum’s Night of the Assassins.

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

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Sparks of Wisdom: From Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz
Rabbi Yacov Barber
Barber’s rich second collection of writings and teachings from 18th century Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz continues the project of offering the English world its first translations of the work of the storied Kabbalist, but with an inviting twist. This time, demonstrating that it’s erroneous to believe that “the teachings of our great rabbis do not speak and address the issues that we face in the twenty-first century,” the material is arranged for reader accessibility, by topics (alphabetically ordered chapter titles include perennial concerns like “Conflict,” “Honesty,” “Marriage,” and “Punishment”), with Barber taking what he calls “the liberty” to translate with an eye for the “spirit of the ideas” rather than the direct literal translations of the earlier work, while also offering quick, clarifying commentary about how those ideas apply to contemporary life.

The result is illuminating and engaging, a user-friendly collection that’s no less profound than its predecessor but significantly more suited to browsing—and more welcoming to non-expert readers eager to make a connection to one of the great experts on Jewish law. This new approach means the language here is less rich, but Barber’s distillations of the rabbi’s teaching on topics like circumcision preserves the richness and power of the original writing, in prose that’s scrupulously clear and precise: “If Abraham and his descendants needed to be circumcised to reach perfection, why were they not born circumcised? God wanted man to play an active role in bringing himself and the world to a level of perfection.”

Barber’s helpful additions, clearly marked in italics, continue that spirit of lucidity, at times going beyond explanations to offer compelling fresh examples, surprising connections (he draws on Mark Twain in the excellent chapter on Israel), and of-our-age advice, when he notes, sensibly, in the chapter on “Fear” that some debilitating fears need to be treated by professionals. This second collection is companionable, often challenging in its ideas but always rewarding and never obscure.

Takeaway: An inviting collection of insights and teachings from a great 18th century rabbi, freshly translated into English.

Great for fans of: Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz’s Pearls of Wisdom, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

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

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Lulu the Beaver
Bethany Gano
Bashful and prone to daydreaming, Lulu the beaver often finds herself mesmerized by the forest’s lullaby and transported to “la-la land,” where she shares her secret: “I want to be an artist...but I feel stuck being a beaver.” Lulu’s inner voice whispers that beavers aren’t artists, they “chomp trees and build lodges,” but with the help of a few friends, and advice from a kindly stranger, Lulu finds the courage to embrace her biggest dreams in this uplifting and heartwarming tale. Gano’s evocative text, combined with her dynamic and multihued mixed media illustrations, make for an immersive and atmospheric reading experience.

The idea of feeling trapped in an identity—that people (or animals, in Lulu and her friends’ cases) are boxed in by others’ expectations—is a complicated subject to tackle, but Gano handles it deftly, allowing Lulu a leisurely route to self-acceptance while providing supportive friends who help her along the way. The book finds its footing in the message that self-doubt is normal, able to be resolved with a little dose of hope combined with a can-do attitude, and Gano manages a lighthearted, fun tone throughout, with kid-friendly examples like Buttercup and Oscar, two fish who like to play soccer.

Gano’s illustrations, crafted with a variety of media and photographed textures, create a rich and imaginative backdrop to Lulu’s journey, perfectly suited to her artistic and expressive inner world. Rhyming text shimmies its way into the narrative when Lulu slides into la-la land, a small but moving detail that lends the work an appealing sparkle. Gano treats her audience with respect, allowing room for their intuition to guide the story’s lessons, and younger readers plagued by self-doubt—as well as those who are decisively creative—will find this path to confidence and daring to live your wildest dreams encouraging.

Takeaway: This endearing tale of a timid beaver drives home the power of self-acceptance.

Great for fans of: David Shannon’s A Bad Case of Stripes; Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s Spoon.

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

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Sister Liberty
Gregory Hill
Hill (East of Denver) opens the first volume in his Stables Family Chronicles series with the birth of Caution Irrational Stables, the story’s narrator, in the middle of his mother’s onstage fiddle performance. Caution goes on to recount his family history, beginning with ancestral patriarch, Arthur Pascal Lestables, and his murder of local ne’er-do-well Henri Deplouc—which results in his execution and leaves his wife, Annie, and son, Auguste, to face the town alone. Once Annie realizes they’re staring down a dead end, she jumps ship with Euphemie, Henri’s former wife and Annie’s soon-to-be lover.

Despite the odds being stacked against them, Annie and Euphemie eventually realize their dream of escaping to America, thanks to a fateful run-in with a group of Solemnites—a “family” who pride themselves on being “kind without joy” and offer them sanctuary, in hopes of their religious conversion in exchange. As the Lestables try to make a new life for themselves in America among the Solemnite community, young Auguste quotes his father’s philosophical rantings to the acolytes and his newest friend, Pansy, while his mother and Euphemie develop a clandestine love affair. Meanwhile, a rumored three-eared bear begins wreaking havoc on the locals while an upcoming religious festival sets the groundwork for what can only be described as an explosive debate.

Hill’s revelation of youthful curiosity winds throughout, illustrated by Auguste’s tender age, the young-at-heart Annie and Euphemie, and the characters’ hopeful trek to a new start. The narrative is both whimsical and entertaining, even as it crescendos to a shocking conclusion, while Hill offers unsentimental free-falls into the show-must-go-on mood of its characters: “they all partook of the thick air of a tragic winter’s evening” is the general response as the central cast turns away from the finale’s events to embark on yet another new voyage.

Takeaway: Polished characters and satirical musings complete this 19th-century American celebration.

Great for fans of: Christopher Buckley’s The Judge Hunter; Isabel Miller’s Patience & Sarah.

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

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Let's Be Frank: A Daughter's Tribute to Her Father, The Media Mogul You've Never Heard of
Frank Biondi and Jane Biondi Munna
Media mogul Frank Biondi and his daughter, Jane Biondi Munna, recount his professional years as the CEO of heavyweights like HBO, Universal, and Viacom over a 40-year career span in this fascinating memoir. Biondi began penning his story when diagnosed with stage-four cancer, a battle he sadly lost in 2019, prompting his daughter to take up the mantle and complete his unfinished work. Drawing from anecdotes and interviews with Biondi and other major players, Munna puts the finishing touches on a dynamic life in the entertainment and media industry.

The narrative unfolds as more of an oral history than a memoir, covering everything from Biondi’s first stint as an investment banker for one of the earliest emerging cable networks to being hired—and eventually fired—as the CEO of the sprawling media empire that was Viacom. The end result is an anecdotal, and highly entertaining, peek into the innards of a glamorous industry, alongside a spotlight of the man driving many of the financial and business forces behind it. Munna acknowledges the bulk of Biondi’s recollections take place during the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s—a world away from today’s media—but points out that the underlying challenges are eerily similar.

Several chapters are built around Biondi—or Munna’s—learning moments, such as Biondi’s ambition to “do the right thing whether or not anyone was watching,” which feels pedantic in places, but the subject matter quickly reverts to more entertaining line-ups. The stories of Biondi’s work on well-known films—think Star Wars, When Harry Met Sally, Forrest Gump, and more—is absorbing, with amusing tidbits like Biondi’s marketing ideas for the hit movie Babe: “We could roll out Babe roller coasters at Universal Theme Park, Babe stuffed animals, Babe lunch boxes.” Hollywood fans, and those interested in the business behind it, will give this a standing ovation.

Takeaway: An insider’s view of the business—and glamor—driving Hollywood.

Great for fans of: A Story Lately Told by Anjelica Huston; What Just Happened? by Art Linson.

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

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Pericles and Aspasia: A Story of Ancient Greece
Yvonne Korshak
The fiction debut of Korshak, a professor at Adelphi University, brings vital life to the golden age of Athens, in a story rich with character, romance, striking historical detail, and spirited public debate on topics foundational to our civilization. The novel centers, as the title suggests, on Pericles, the Athenian statesman and orator known for his democratic values and championing of learning, and his Aspasia, the courtesan whom Pericles will risk his position and reputation to love. “Look at the company he keeps, they’ll say of you,” the great sculptor Phidias says to Pericles, “whores, philosophers and sculptors.” But Korshak makes clear, in memorable scenes, that this supportive partnership didn’t just bring them comfort, happiness, and a child: it shaped history.

Epic-length as well as the kick-off to a longer series, Pericles and Aspasia offers rousing speeches, naval battles, passionate embraces, rebellion, and political intrigue as Pericles strives to hold together the allied cities of the Athenian League. But Korshak sets her novel apart through its lively evocation of the civic life, art, culture, and gossip that make cities great. The pages pulse with talk that’s alternately philosophical, lofty, witty, and dishy. Early on, flirting with Aspasia, Pericles ruminates on how a recent comic play called him “our cucumber-headed Zeus.” Much later, he’ll ask “So, Aspasia, since you’ve read Antigone, do you think Sophocles means the autocratic Creon to be me?”

This immersion in Athenian life will thrill readers fascinated with the grain of lives far removed from our own—but still concerned with similar pressing issues of justice and governance. Historic notables (Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Hippodamus) never make mere cameos: they inveigh, debate, even—especially in the case of that ol’ gadfly Socrates—joke. “I could prove you’re more expert, but by winning the argument, I’d lose it,” he says, drawing a clear line from 5th century B.C. to Shakespeare’s clowns to Groucho Marx.

Takeaway: A stellar, epic-length evocation of the golden age of Athens, rich with historical insight.

Great for fans of: Christian Meier’s Athens: A Portrait of the City in its Golden Age, Mary Renault.

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

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She Had Been A Tomboy: Raising A Transgender Child, A Mother's Journey
Sandra Bowman
Debut author Bowman tackles gender identity and her child’s transgender experience in this brutally honest memoir. Born Grant, Bowman’s child experiences crippling depression, anxiety, and phobias until she transitions to Grace in her twenties. Bowman is unabashedly frank about the journey that led to her daughter’s transformation, and many parents of trans children will likely identify with the experience. Bowman’s main focus is on the time Grace struggled to become her true self. “He is my son,” she muses as the memoir begins, “This is as clear as day. And for still two decades moving forward she will remain hidden from me.”

This is as much Bowman’s story as it is her daughter’s. Bowman openly chronicles her own confused emotions and overwhelming love for a child she’s working to understand and parent responsibly. That struggle is reflected in her language, as she often uses “Grant” and “he,” rather than “Grace” and “she,” while trying to navigate unfamiliar topography. Bowman is also forthright about her relationship with her youngest, Parker, who understandably felt neglected during Grace’s journey. Her candid approach lays bare her family’s choices—and opens them to potential criticism, as when she and husband Robert follow the advice of their psychologist to enforce “tough love” by consigning Grace to the streets after several years of trying to motivate her to action, in an effort to teach her self-sufficiency.

Bowman is a talented writer, channeling her pain and confusion with compelling prose. She pulls no punches, longing to understand her child but untested in how to move forward—and Grace’s emotions during the process of reclaiming her true identity are heartbreaking for anyone to witness, especially parents. Bowman’s feelings of inadequacy will ring true for parents of children everywhere, and her experience will provide guideposts for other parents navigating similar roads.

Takeaway: An unfiltered memoir of a family’s transgender journey.

Great for fans of: Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt; She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan.

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

Click here for more about She Had Been A Tomboy

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