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THE LOVE FIELD: A Spiritual Therapy Guide To Help You Heal and Liberate Yourself From Psychic Pain, Emotional Dependency, And Fearful Living
ELENA MORARU
Moraru debuts with an upbeat take on overcoming fear and despair by redefining unconditional love, which she terms the “Love Field” and emphasizes must revolve around a relationship with God: “...nothing, absolutely nothing, can bring me complete freedom, fulfillment, unconditional love, and peace except my relationship with God.” She goes to great lengths to dissect what love really means and settles on it being an achievement of “peace, joy, and freedom” in a non-judgmental, safe space–a concept that may sound abstract but becomes more crystallized as the guide advances.

Moraru shares her own challenges in finding unconditional love and reflects on the need to master it personally before being capable of giving it to others. To that end, she contends that a deep relationship with God is the first step, promoting “the idea that God is all we are,” and she urges readers to practice forgiveness while staying focused on the present moment (the guide lays out meditation techniques as a way to achieve this). Her strong yet unorthodox Christian faith plays a crucial role throughout, though she makes clear that she does not subscribe to any particular dogma. While touching on organized religion’s tendency to instill fear, she asserts that fear and love cannot exist at the same time, identifying them as “opposite realities” and encouraging readers to put aside any activities that spark fearful thinking–including time spent watching television or engaging in social media.

Readers may find some of Moraru’s suggestions unconventional, such as her encouragement to stop any current psychotherapy in favor of trying hypnosis or her assertion that depression and sickness are just illusions covering up a “perfect[ly] healthy spiritual being,” but her intent is clearly to help others achieve serenity, evident in her proposal that “the purpose of everything is love and harmony.” Moraru’s writing will be most helpful for Christian readers who enjoy thoughtfully reflecting on complex spiritual topics.

Takeaway: An exploration of the peace of unconditional love, based on a relationship with God.

Great for fans of: Ruth Chou Simons’s When Strivings Cease Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au’s God’s Unconditional Love.

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

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The Last Stop
Patricia Street
Street’s debut is a heartrending chronicle of her son’s addiction, which rocked their family for over a decade and eventually ended in tragedy. David, the product of what Street describes as “an average suburban family,” had a penchant for testing limits beginning in his early years, but she characterizes him as “an adorable and inquisitive child.” Red flags started to appear after David’s serious foot injury on the job at age 15, when he was administered morphine to cope with the pain of several surgeries. His substance use spiraled from that point, starting with alcohol, and eventually bloomed into a full-blown heroin addiction.

Although she powerfully outlines the course of David’s addiction so readers can grasp its devastation, Street offers more than a conventional life history. Her desire to help families recognize warning signs early is evident throughout, as she highlights the behaviors she missed alongside her exhaustive efforts to help, and she never shies away from recounting even the most shameful aspects of addiction—or the pain it causes loved ones. Heartbreaking stories include David stealing valuables from his family to sell for cash, becoming physically dangerous, and his rocky relationship with wife Circe, a fellow addict, who contributed to his multiple relapses.

Though there are moments of hope, readers take heed: Street offers a brutally honest look at the harsh reality of addiction. David transforms from a promising young adult into an emaciated addict, plagued with life-threatening physical illnesses all stemming from his constant needle use. Street shares what worked, what failed, and what she wishes she had done, in candid language that will be equal parts sobering and useful for families facing similar circumstances. She also honors David’s goal of being an author by sharing his writing (including the rough draft of a novel she discovered after his death) that illuminates his agony, as he records “the words come from the despair inside me.”

Takeaway: A mother’s devastating story, chronicling the ravages of addiction.

Great for fans of: David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life.

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

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A Very Strange Party On Bangy-Bong
Ashlyn Moss and Peter C. Hare
Moss and Hare debut with a zany, otherworldly story that, just like its title promises, recounts an offbeat party in the land of Bangy-Bong, where witch-like creatures called Wichlees enjoy a merry and capricious life. They play games called Catch-Ball and Flick-the-Honker, take copious tea breaks, and their favorite weather happens on any day that’s particularly smelly. The story centers on a group of three friends, led by WartyConk, who is named for a large wart on her nose that also serves as “a sort of primary point of intense, yet gentle, sort of ‘X marks the spot’ fixture.”

While readers who enjoy absurdist themes and gross-out humor will find this journey exciting and comical, those who favor a more logical story structure may at times feel a bit lost, as the narrative jumps quickly from scene to scene with minimal introduction to the strange new world readers find themselves in. The Wichlees use bat poop and farts to flavor their stew, and at one point they hilariously help exfoliate a giant slug, who makes a sound “like a symphony of a blend of a cats’ purr and some squeaky car brakes squealing.”

The story’s unusual and lively setting steals the spotlight and comes loaded with peculiar characters and activities: cats carry briefcases and pigeons deliver the mail, while the Wichlees revel in team sports where the rules are made up as they go and prepare for the Tueslethrump feastival by cooking their specialty, slug slime goulash. Moss’s dreamlike and at times psychedelic illustrations engross readers in the Wichlees’ extraordinary world, using deep, rich colors to depict WartyConk and her friends doing all their favorite things–like smiling while riding giant flies as the sun gently sets behind them and enjoying a celebration dance under the moonlight. This wacky fantasy offers readers open to nonsense and gross outs an entertaining escape.

Takeaway: In this zany tale, witch-like creatures enjoy a playful life filled with dragons, giant flies and slugs, and games.

Great for fans of: William Pène du Bois’s Otto and the Magic Potatoes, Rebecca Colby’s It’s Raining Bats & Frogs.

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

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Field Trust Project: 200 Epigrams/poems of Relationship Mystical and Otherwise
Pamela Church
“The nervous system of the world is doing a crazy buzzing,” Church writes in one of the 200 epigrams, poems, and quick-hit insights offered in this inspirational collection. “May this electric buzz call us awake,” she adds, before urging the awoken to perform the good work of generating buzz themselves: “We sing our songs,” she argues, “and the world changes its tune.” Field Trust Project is all about changing the world’s tune, one heart, mind, and insight at a time, celebrating love, embracing possibility, promising “expressive and real” presence in the moment, and acknowledging our individual complexity. “I want resonance of this in my nervous system,” she declares, in a bite-sized entry cheering “Happiness and joy on a splendid day,” the expression of the wish and the commemoration of the day’s pleasures serving as steps toward achieving that wish.

In the often casual language of messages from a friend or notes to yourself, Church offers exhortations for readers to “use what you have” and “train the heart like a warrior” but also many incidental observations and affirmations, sometimes acknowledging her own challenges, sometimes expressing comfort and pleasure in habits like visiting a park or finding joy in being yourself: “I am that person who stops in their tracks in front of you pointing exclaiming about the beauty all around,” she writes. The entries are quick and unfussy, even when making bold recommendations for change; they could be described, in her own words, as exploring the “synapse between self and God.”

The book often reads just like that: a friend who searches each day for enlightenment and points out the wonders and insights she hits on each day, from a painting at Detroit’s Institute of Arts to a reminder that, for all the “complex systems theory or something like that” that others might rely on to explain human behavior, what matters most is still love—"Bringing it home and belonging.” Playful, unpolished, sometimes wise and sometimes witty, Church’s micro essays and verses reward contemplation.

Takeaway: Brief, intriguing, inspirational thoughts and verses from a spiritual seeker.

Great for fans of: Benjamin W. Decker’s Daily Mindfulness: 365 Exercises to Deepen Your Practice and Find Peace, Sue Patton Thoele’s The Woman's Book of Strength.

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

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Soulstealer: Steven (Book 2)
Shane Boulware
Boulware continues his urban fantasy series with the polished second book in his Soulstealer saga. Steven follows dynamic protagonist Steven Carpenter in a battle against an ancient evil in order to save humanity. Steven is a member of the Ordo Solis, an organization created by the Catholic Church to fight a demon who inhabits a human host and gobbles up souls. Alongside a group of allies, Steven faces this terror while fighting through the political and legislative red-tape imposed by various organizations, including the United Nations. He must use his prowess to survive while convincing society of the grave danger lying in wait.

While categorized as urban fantasy, and featuring a classic clash involving cults and demonic powers, the novel tilts into religious and political thriller territory, with institutional conspiracies, an interest in Templars and the histories of the Crusades, and much in-depth diplomatic tug-and-pull as Steven and his allies try to secure political legitimacy for the Ordo Solis. Readers expecting traditional urban fantasy may feel that material takes too much page time away from the exciting battle between Steven and the Soulstealer. However, Boulware’s well-developed characters and skillful establishing of context and stakes keep the material dynamic and clear, even for readers who haven’t read the first book.

Steven’s excitement at teaming up with a professor who calls vaguely described legislation concerning gender and pronouns a “mask of evil” is certain to alienate many contemporary readers, and Boulware’s choice to block out vowels in profanity with asterisks is curious, as the words themselves still bloom fully in the reader’s minds. Readers onboard with these choices will find that Boulware keeps things moving, his compact prose style exemplified by short, quick chapters and to-the-point scenecraft, and that Steven’s battle to save the world is pivoted well against his desire to save the love of his life, creating well-balanced tension that keeps the pages turning.

Takeaway: A religious thriller with a splash of urban fantasy, ancient orders, and a clash between good and evil.

Great for fans of: Joseph Nassise, C.S. Johnson.

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

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The Elephant Graveyard: a Moby Dick for Elephants
Boman Desai
The prolific Desai (Portrait of a Woman Madly in Love) weaves themes of racism and alienation with circus life and the trade of ivory and slaves into an ambitious tale set in mid-20th-century Ohio. Sixteen-year-old Daniel 'Spike' Bailey, the narrator, opens by candidly sharing his ghostly state and his sin: “Let me speak plainly. I am what you’d call a spook... I hate to confess it... I killed a man — accidentally...” From there, he recounts how the circus shaped his family, the great toll that this mesmerizing yet harsh life has taken on all of them, and digs into their unexpected ties to the de Bleu family.

Desai's exuberance for elephants and circuses shines through the affluence of curious trivia he infuses into the narrative. He illuminates the dark side of the sparkling mid-century circus world–the complete lack of care for human and animal lives for the sake of others profit and entertainment - and offers a new perspective on it by linking it to the intertwined bloody trades of slaves and ivory that have cost Africa, and the world, so much for the sake of filling some pockets.

The stunning and often changing background, the paranormal elements, the big cast and even bigger drama, contribute to an atmosphere of mystery and operatic scope and feeling. But this abundance comes, at times, at the expense of depth, especially of motive and character. Some readers will be alienated by Desai's frank usage of racial slurs. Nevertheless, Desai strongly captures the milieu, both its dusty grandeur and its horrors, as well as a deep yearning to belong that almost anyone can relate to: “...certainly for Siri who was family but needed to be among his own kind as well (elephants as much as other Indians),” and the confusion and hurt disconnection can bring. Readers fascinated by the circus, elephants, and social issues will find much of interest here.

Takeaway: An intricate tale about human greed prejudices, and the need to belong.

Great for fans of: Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Sanjena Sathian’s Gold Diggers.

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

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Sins of the Tribe
Mark A. Salter
The title and opening pages of Salter’s assured, engaging debut suggest that this story of two brothers, Wally and Henry, getting the chance to play for one of the most storied of college football teams will turn toward the tragic. It will, heartbreakingly, but football fans—and any fiction readers fascinated by the choices and challenges facing young American men—will likely find the journey arresting. Eager to get away from the father who adopted them, our protagonist Wally—a not-especially talented player—leaps at the chance to go to Florida’s Bastille University with his adopted brother Henry, a savant of a kicker whose undiagnosed mental issues demand Wally’s care. Wally’s not expected to play much, but he does make the team, setting the ball for Henry to kick and doing all he can to protect his brother from the world. Meanwhile, a magazine reporter suspects there’s dark secrets at Bastille, possibly hidden by its celebrated coach.

Salter proves adept at crafting a persuasive depiction of the college football life: the long bus trips, luxury apartments, and grueling practices offset by hours of weed and videogames. He’s especially good at the raucous camaraderie among the players, plus the thrill and terror of being jeered by thousands at away games. Eventually, the young players face tragedies, both surprising and perhaps inevitable, as Wally finds himself on the outs with the program over the kind of abuses that ruin real people’s lives—abuses that a nationally renowned championship football program would prefer to cover up.

Salter’s strong feeling for character, conflict, and compelling scenes keep the pages of this long novel turning, and his depiction of life inside the bubble of high-stakes college sports is compelling and mostly convincing. The tension mounts slowly, as Salter’s as invested in the texture of life as he is in suspense; readers open to a slow-burn with vivid, drawn-from-life detail will be rewarded.

Takeaway: This vividly told story of college football pits brothers against institutional abuses.

Great for fans of: Emily Nemens’s The Cactus League, Albert Samaha’s Never Ran, Never Will.

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

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THE ROAD TAKEN: Men, Motorcycles and Me
Linda Dodwell
This inspiring debut describes one woman’s transformation from insecure to boldly optimistic, even in the face of heartrending failure. Linda Dodwell was born during the dark days of World War II, into a self-described “apocalyptic world” in which nothing was guaranteed. As she poignantly writes, “My life tumbled out like a sack of rocks on a chaotic path that turned and twisted, endlessly marked by exhilarating triumphs and sobering defeats.” Against this backdrop, she takes readers on a breathless ride through the ups and downs of her life, charting the development of–and discovery of–her reservoirs of inner strength.

Dodwell’s rocky relationships with men often form the backbone of the story: her U.S. Marine father was usually absent; she ended her marriage after a long road of conflict and frankly recounted incidents in which both sought satisfaction outside the marriage; and, later, the man she thought would be her companion for life changed irrevocably after a traumatic head injury from a motorcycle accident. These setbacks don’t slow her down, however, as she speeds ahead to discover her true potential—and becomes “the Linda [she] always wanted to be.” Readers will immediately recognize her wanderlust, which she attributes to a childhood move from California to New Jersey, and be staggered by the sheer amount of traveling she has accomplished, most of which took place on the back of her true love, the motorcycle.

In fact, motorcycles become somewhat of a metaphor for Dodwell’s unpredictable path and are a major contributing factor to her happiness, despite the upheavals happening throughout her life. She also gives readers glimpses of her artistic side (she graduated from The San Francisco Art Institute and refers to herself as a “serial restorer”) and her passion for women’s rights, including a rousing interaction with Gloria Steinem. The takeaway is Dodwell’s circuitous path of self-discovery and her eventual realization that she can “take on whatever comes next.”

Takeaway: An uplifting account of personal transformation, motorcycle road trips, and overcoming.

Great for fans of: Kathryn Schulz’s Lost & Found, Ayelet Tsabari’s The Art of Leaving.

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

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Emotional Magnetism: How to Communicate to Ignite Connection in Your Relationships
Sandy Gerber
Communications expert Gerber (Woman of Worth: Defining Mom Success) powerfully lays out the importance of communication skills and how to use them effectively in this smart and sensitive work. Key to Gerber’s philosophy are four “emotional magnets”— safety, achievement, value, and experience–that correspond to the emotional needs that “magnetize” people, motivating them through life while also making it easier to engage and connect with them. She urges readers to understand these, in themselves and in others, while mastering key elements of successful communication, no matter the emotional magnet involved, such as empathy, authenticity, knowing yourself and how your behavior affects others, and maintaining a positive regard for others, which means stirring feelings of respect by focusing on others and taking their situations seriously.

Gerber demonstrates empathy herself–and a keen sense of her readers' needs–as she explains and explores the emotional magnets, identifying the characteristics, motivating factors, and challenges (which she calls “speed bumps”) associated with each. For example, people whose magnet is “safety”’ are driven by security, control, health, family, and ease of the path–they tend, she writes, to avoid spontaneity. Gerber tempers concerns about generalization by noting that a person’s emotional magnet can shift over time, that we’re all individuals, and that it’s important to pay attention to behavior over time for a fuller understanding of what drives someone.

Writing with a positive spin throughout, Gerber shares her original advice and formulations along with stories from her own experience and practical-minded tools, like a quiz that allows readers to identify their primary and secondary emotional magnets, or steps toward meeting one’s own emotional needs and appealing to others’. “When you speak to people’s emotional needs, not only will you be heard and understood, you’ll also be able to understand what people truly want—and how to deliver it,” she writes. This slim, savvy guide actually delivers on that lofty promise, offering a clear route to deep, effective improvement of communication skills.

Takeaway: Gerber’s straightforward, inviting guide will transform communication skills and relationships.

Great for fans of: Kathleen Edelman’s I Said This, You Heard That, Kate Murphy’s You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters.

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

For the Hurt of My People: Original Conservatism and Better, Simpler Healthcare
Joseph Q. Jarvis, MD, MSPH
Calling healthcare “the sentinel political issue of our time,” Jarvis, a practicing physician of over 35 years, has seen firsthand the “expensive mess” that is American healthcare—and also how the toxic mess that is American politics prevents significant, commonsensical change. Hence this urgent call for “better, simpler, and therefore cheaper care guaranteed for everyone without cost at the point of medical service,” a vision he notes is not at all a “wild-eyed, radical” idea. He takes pains to differentiate this “cooperative health-care system” in which taxes finance care from the boogeyman of “socialism,” arguing that Americans already pay enough in taxes “to finance medically necessary care for every resident in our country without any out-of-pocket costs” and dismantling the myth that “market forces are effective in distributing medicine and surgery.”

With inviting clarity and persuasive power, Jarvis outlines the pricey absurdities of American healthcare and insurance, drawing on case studies and personal experience, making the case that both the public’s health and wealth would benefit from a system that puts patients above profit. He makes this argument as an “original” American conservative, one who acknowledges that a government role in “organizing unity, justice, peace, security, welfare, and freedom” reflects conservative, constitutional values. His vision of a state-based non-profit system calls for no new appropriations.

A devout Christian who heeds “the call of Jesus of Nazareth for us to visit ‘the least’ of our brothers and sisters,” Jarvis laments how both major American political parties are in thrall to corporate interests and calls for an effort across the political spectrum to reform the corruption that has made contemporary healthcare such a reliable source of profits—but not health. “Malice and mischief” have divided us, he argues, but this compact, inspiring, results-minded treatise dares to suggest something too rare: hope that’s not naïve.

Takeaway: A rousing call, from a Christian doctor, for a state-based nonprofit healthcare system.

Great for fans of: Marty Makary’s The Price We Pay, Peter Valenzuela’s Doc-Related.

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

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I and the Other: A Wicked Inquiry
Joe Nalven
As its title suggests, Nalven’s “wicked inquiry” into questions of race, ethnicity, difference, and perception in contemporary society delves deeply into the “metaphysics of self” while calling for a greater understanding of the “I” and the “Other.” He kicks his impassioned treatise off with the urgent question such terms suggest: “Am I the Other?” Calling the “I” (or self) that, among many other things, shapes our individual perceptions “a useful fiction,” Nalven challenges readers to accept that “Society and culture may impose demands on us to view the Other with a particular lens” and to question whether our perceived gender identities, ethnic identities, class identities, and more are “a trap, springboard, gift, or albatross.” We know the world through fictions, he argues, and he endeavors to expose and challenge them.

This is heady material, proudly unbound by orthodoxies and written in a searching, allusive style, as Nalven draws on thinkers and writers like Rumi, Augustine, Schopenhauer, Huxley, and Carlos Castaneda, plus his own experiences and observations in a career and education that has always blended the philosophical with the practicalities of anthropology and urban policy. He unveils what he calls the “psychology of the self” in rich, sometimes playful prose that can at times be demanding for lay readers to keep up with, though there’s drama in his anecdotes, such as the ones asking students in his anthropology courses “What have you done to combat racism?”

In several appendices, drawn from opinion pieces published in the early 2020s, Nalven’s assailing of orthodoxies extends to ideas about systemic racism, the 1619 Project from the New York Times, and the “path” of the government addressing “grievances attributed to racism.” Nalven prefers the path of Candace Owens and Glenn Loury, of “ridding ourselves individually of a slave mentality.” This material is much easier for lay readers to argue with, as he makes his case in more down-to-Earth language than in the book’s main body.

Takeaway: A challenging treatise on the concepts of self and otherness, especially with issues of difference.

Great for fans of: Robert L. Woodson Sr., Werner J. Krieglstein’s A New Philosophy of the Other.

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

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Fostering Love: A Glimpse into Foster Care
Kathleen M Paydo, RN
Veteran foster parent Paydo offers a window into the everyday life of the foster care system in this thoughtful debut, writing that “fifty percent of newly licensed foster parents quit after the first year of service.” Drawing on her experience with over 135 foster placements, Paydo admits the struggles involved and offers tried and true tips for success, emphasizing throughout that effective foster families must be adaptable, loving, and communicative to build healthy habits in the lives of their foster children. In acknowledgment of the job’s difficulties, Paydo declares relationship building is the crux: “not once in our foster-care career did we take care of a child completely unassisted by others.”

Structured from the bottom up, this guide first lays out the practicalities of foster care—including the different licenses available, levels of need, and specialized services like fostering medically fragile children—and later builds up to the ins and outs of advocacy within the larger foster system. Paydo works hard to break down misconceptions surrounding foster care, particularly its negative stereotypes in popular media, and stresses the need to dispel these myths to children who are placed in foster homes. She views her role as a conduit for healing and highlights the importance of compassion, all while recognizing that foster parents cannot meet every need of every child—a sentiment that leads to her insistence they learn to balance relationships with their own biological children as well.

Paydo’s empathy will resonate with readers, especially when she shares heartfelt stories of the many children her family has fostered over the years. Foster parenting is never easy, though, and Paydo doesn’t sugarcoat its trials. Her exhortation that all foster children be treated “with an enormous amount of respect and sincere kindness” sets the tone, and the tools she offers will give foster parents and children alike stepping stones for success.

Takeaway: A veteran foster parent dispenses valuable tools of the trade.

Great for fans of: Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter and Kristin Berry’s Keep the Doors Open.

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

One Last Song for My Father: A Son's Memoir
Edwin Fontánez
In this passionate memoir, children’s author and illustrator Edwin Fontánez (The Illuminated Forest) paints a moving portrait of a father-son bond that endures restrictive cultural mores and the devastating effects of senile dementia. Growing up in Cataño and Palos Blancos, Puerto Rico, Fontánez struggles to come to terms with the two contradictory aspects of his father’s personality: the jovial, party-going music lover and the inebriated man with whom his mother is forced to beg for money to pay the grocery bill. These two opposing halves elicit ambivalence in Fontánez, who delves into his buried animosity alongside feelings of guilt at “abandoning” his parents to follow his artistic talents on the faraway U.S. mainland.

The elder Fontánez comes across as a stereotypical man of his times—hardworking and reserved at home, while unable (or unwilling) to express affection for his son. The lack of emotional connection between the two affects Fontánez’s self-esteem, as he doubts his father’s love and resents his excessive drinking and shabby treatment of his mother. Intriguingly, Fontánez also explores how outdated ideas of masculinity may have played a role in his own development as an adult man as well as in his paternal relationship.

Fontánez accentuates the complexities and layered nuances of the father-son bond, and the narrative is enhanced by his love for family and for his hometown. His poetic prose pulls readers into the verdant landscape of rural Puerto Rico, peopled with honest, hardworking folk, and included photographs offer a more intimate glimpse into Fontánez’s story. The episodic, non-linear structure of the book brings the characters—his parents, grandparents, aunt, and sister—into sharp relief, and Fontánez excels at evoking the slower and more fulfilling tempo of rural life in this impressive offering.

Takeaway: A moving, evocative memoir that highlights father-son dynamics.

Great for fans of: And When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison, Father and Son by Edmund Gosse.

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

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Flying Fillies: The Sky's the Limit
Flying Fillies
Hui’s captivating debut portrays America’s early involvement in World War II and introduces middle school readers to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) who served in noncombat missions during the war. Dawn Springfield, a twelve-year-old who fantasizes about being a fearsome cowgirl, is leaving her hometown of Chicago for rural Sweetwater, Texas, a move that will bring her closer to the adventure she craves—and just a few short months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she will cross paths with her feisty aunt Georgia, a groundbreaking volunteer transport pilot in the British Royal Air Force.

Dawn idolizes her aunt, who is every bit a glamorous 1940s fly girl, and when they meet up at the Texas air base, where Georgia and her squad must prove their abilities to skeptical military men, Dawn gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see history in the making. It’s not all roses for Dawn, though, as she must face the reality of learning to care for and ride a tempestuous filly while being exposed to tragedies that evoke thoughts of her own mortality. Meanwhile, Georgia—confident that she can complete her rigorous WASP training program—realizes the immense opportunity she has to break barriers for women around the world. Hui cleverly contrasts Georgia’s breezy banter and free-spiritedness with the grounded Dawn, who trudges through the mire of early adolescence, eventually gifting each with an appreciation for the other’s worldview.

Hui—who has experience teaching kids to embrace their full potential through her creation of the animated series Xiaolin Showdown—uses Dawn’s love of horses as an apt metaphor for challenging conventions and defying the odds in her choice to nickname her aunt’s crew the “Flying Fillies,” and young readers will pick up on Dawn’s resolve for her own future early on. Determination and perseverance are fundamental themes throughout this historical tale, and readers of every age will be enthralled.

Takeaway: Heroic women take flight in this World War II novel centered on the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Great for fans of: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War That Saved My Life; P. O’Connell Pearson’s Fly Girls.

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

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Living in Two Worlds: A Memoir
Vivian M. Pisano
A deliciously intimate memoir centered on illuminating the friction between two disparate worlds, Pisano’s debut opens with a delicately rendered portrait of her parents—her resolute, education-minded American mother and her charismatic Chilean father, a botany student who takes her mother back to Chile as soon as they are married. Pisano poignantly recalls her home country of Chile in conflicting terms—“beauty in such a serene and tumultuous landscape”—that in some ways mirror her mother’s inner turmoil upon her own arrival in an unfamiliar country, and those conflicting feelings are crystallized when Pisano (and her mother) return to California several years later, fracturing Pisano’s once singular world in two.

Pisano transforms the routine into memorable portrayals of daily life on the agricultural farm owned by her paternal grandparents in central Chile, and later, in the Californian suburb of Sacramento, where she lives with her grandmother on her mother’s side, a “lively, active [woman] with a no-nonsense attitude.” The contrast builds slowly and steadily but avoids the dramatic, leaving readers with fleeting impressions and ripples of unrest—“I was now the other, from a faraway, little-known, foreign, underdeveloped country”—and a subtle way of conveying both the rupture between Chile and the US as well as that between childhood and adolescence.

The crux of this memoir is Pisano’s silent and often strained relationship with her mother. Somewhere during the journey, Pisano starts blaming her mother for the removal from her native Chile, where she “belonged to a community and a large extended family,” and exposing her to an unknown environment where she desperately tries to blend in while feeling shame at what makes her so different. As their relationship transforms, Pisano works to assert her own identity, but always returns to the sentiment that “belonging feels foreign to me.” Backmatter includes family photographs for added intimacy.

Takeaway: A rewarding mother-daughter memoir about a girl’s search for belonging.

Great for fans of: Funny In Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas, In The Country We Love by Michelle Burford and Diane Guerrero.

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

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You Will Know Vengeance: A Tanto Thriller
W. A. Pepper
Pepper dives deep into the shadowy world of cybersecurity in this violent and claustrophobic debut, following Tanto—a computer hacker sentenced to a grim private prison—as he’s forced to work on secret projects for national security. Tanto wants nothing more than peace for his fellow inmates, but the sadistic Warden Cyfib and brutal fellow inmate Barca are standing in his way. When he’s ordered to implement an especially dangerous program, christened Gakunodo, Tanto realizes his time is running short and desperately tries every move he knows to trick the system and plan his getaway.

Readers will relish the ins and outs of Pepper’s well-crafted dystopian prison society, swarming with cutthroat miscreants who will stop at nothing to dominate, and he cleverly sets the stage with a forbidding yet oddly alluring world defined by casual violence: "I…twist both of his thumbs until they pop like Bubble Wrap." The warden's office is known as the Cube of Death, and Cyfib makes a point to treat prisoners as the “dogs” he believes they are, leaving Tanto—who tries to maintain sanity by adhering to Bushido Code virtues as a last-ditch effort at morality—little recourse in his fight to survive.

Pepper’s true talent is in scene development, and his pages are permeated with dark, gloomy tones. He prefaces the novel with a trigger warning that should not be taken lightly, but there are glimmers of hope: Tanto’s bond with fellow prisoners Quidlee and AldenSong is rich with authentic banter and layers a human touch over the displays of brutality. There are times when this story becomes overly technical (Pepper provides a glossary of tech jargon to help), and the violence strains credulity toward the end, but readers will be absorbed until the very last page and find themselves eagerly anticipating the promised sequel.

Takeaway: Inmate hackers, sadistic bullies, and brutality fuel this violent thriller.

Great for fans of: Patricia Highsmith, Brett Easton Ellis

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

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