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The Orphanage By The Lake: A Captivating Psychological Crime Thriller With A Twist
Daniel G. Miller
Struggling New York PI Hazel Cho lands a big case: demanding client Madeline Hemsley offers a huge fee to Hazel if she can find her young goddaughter, who recently disappeared from an upstate orphanage. But Hazel quickly finds she won't earn her fee easily. Not only is her new client secretive, but she's given Hazel a short deadline. Hazel jumps into the case, which includes the quirky orphanage staff and a strangely reticent local police department. Meanwhile, she fights her own uncertainties, as she copes with her traditional Korean family—and a case that soon becomes very twisty.

Miller (author of The Tree of Knowledge series) has created a delightful new PI with Hazel, who is smart and savvy—and yet human and emotional in a refreshing change from the usual hardboiled shamus. She has a weakness for handsome men and even though she's brave, she almost falls apart trying to buy a new dress. It's fascinating to watch Hazel gradually figure out that one missing girl may be the tip of the iceberg in a ghastly conspiracy. In fact, readers should be warned that the crimes are horrific, going at times almost over the top. Hazel may be sweet, but the story edges toward the gothic.

Still, as the plot unfolds, it will be hard for readers who are open to that darkness to put down the book, as Miller is an expert in ratcheting up the tension and deftly scattering red herrings. He's also given Hazel an equally interesting cast of supporting characters, such as her ditzy but loyal roommate Kenny. Perfectly well-limned is Hazel's increasingly difficult client Madeline: although she starts as a stock character, Hazel shrewdly digs deep, and when she finds the truth about her client, it's heartbreaking. Miller ties together all the loose ends, leaving readers hoping to meet Hazel in a future adventure, so they can cheer her on to another success.

Takeaway: Chilling, deftly plotted mystery series kickoff.

Comparable Titles: Helen Fields, Sam Holland.

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

Helen Bonaparte
Sarah D'Stair
Blending literary suspense, travelogue, and a spirit of uneasy eroticism, D'Stair (author of One Year of Desire) plumbs the heart and needs of a bored academic, Helen Bonaparte, on a restless tour of Italy she's undertaken to get out of her rut at home. But Helen can't stand the giggling girls and impassioned teachers on the tour and is fully prepared to mope her way through until she meets the tour guide, Marieke. Helen immediately forms an obsessive, strange, and poetic attachment to the beautiful young woman, an attachment whose unsettling qualities are echoed in the novel’s references to suspense master Patricia Highsmith, as Helen imagines an Italy “infused with Highsmith's pulse” and the rich details of the author’s world: “a hand resting on a hotel door, a pulled trigger,” and more.

The evocatively named Helen is still mostly sullen on the trip, except with a vivacious man named Richard, who becomes her travel buddy. Wrapped up in her own narrative, Helen continues to fixate on the details of Marieke's beauty, even as she's reminded of her partner, Marcel, and children at home. As she plunges deeper into fantasy, the narrative alternates between first- and third-person, suggesting a protagonist getting swept away. Soon, after a charged scene before Michelango's David, Helen surreptitiously takes a bite of food with Marieke's fork, just to have a "chance to feel her tongue." Things get increasingly weird as Helen takes advantage of being in Marieke's room to put her toothbrush in her mouth as well as leave her scent—a scene that jolts.

Helen Bonaparte brings poetic vigor to Helen’s imaginings and occasional pushing of boundaries, deftly mingling desire, tension, and the feeling that things could go very wrong. This is a full-bodied, sumptuously written, always perceptive study of yearning for something more, as Helen works through a moment of existential crisis, eager for connection. D'Stair’s prose startles, dazzles, informs, and pleases.

Takeaway: An academic’s obsession plunges her Italian tour into charged erotic suspense.

Comparable Titles: Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, Madeline Stevens’s Devotion.

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

Click here for more about Helen Bonaparte
JC Bratton's Things That Go Bump in the Night, Volume One: Urban Legends
JC Bratton
This collection from young adult horror author Bratton, the start of a series called Urban Legends, abounds with nods to classic horror and campfire lore, with tales touching on Bloody Mary and “the witching hour,” victims who look almost exactly the same, creepy intersections between the waking and dream worlds, and that feeling that “It’s been so cold in the house, as if there was something there.” Bratton spices these quartet of stories with elements from distant cultures and entwines the narratives with care, crafting a one-book metaverse of interwoven horrors that manages to feel fresh and modern, despite its comforting—or is that chilling?— familiarity.

Each story is a disquieting bite, but the book is an eerie and satisfying feast. Young readers will quickly come to sympathize and identify with the characters, as the narratives unfold with the shivery urgency of stories whispered by kids at slumber parties: shortly after their graduation, Jamie Patterson and her high school sweetheart Mark, the protagonists of the previously published first entry, have a jolting encounter with what might be the ghost of missing freshman Mary Montgomery—a possible visitation that definitely causes an all-too-real car crash that left Jamie in a walking boot. Stuck missing a family vacation to Hawaii, Jamie seems to see the ghost again on her doorbell camera.

Another character, Alex, is lonely and reeling after the loss of her father and a sudden divorce. She finds the perfect man at last…buried in the same mausoleum building as her dad. But she can see him in her dreams, which become an unsafe hunting ground for a demon who causes parasomnia, flickering still-life images that can be captured with new technology. These brisk, chatty stories strike a perfect balance between the serious and scary with welcome moments of levity. Age appropriate yet always compelling, this collection will allow young readers to cut their teeth on horror stories.

Takeaway: These memorable YA horror stories stir real shivers.

Comparable Titles: Calvin Demmer’s Dark Celebrations, Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories You Can Tell in the Dark.

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

Quantum Mechanics, Cancer, and Scientific Silos: A Simple Introduction to Baffling Mysteries
ME Riordan, MD, PhD
Physician-scientist Riordan, writing under a pen name, explores the complexities of quantum mechanics while recounting stories of the scientific silos he experienced in the realm of his professional cancer research. In the process, he lays out possibilities for alternatives to the mainstream quantum mechanical theory—both “shadow waves,” which he considers as merely something “to have some fun and encourage you to keep asking questions,” and “pilot wave theory,” which he terms a “serious and legitimate competitor to quantum mechanics.” Overall, Riordan sees the current interpretation of quantum mechanics as “ugly” and encourages readers to consider other options for explaining how our world works.

Riordan (author of Destined to Recover) defines complex concepts simply, using a minimum of math aided by several diagrams, making his material more accessible for those readers without advanced scientific backgrounds. His skepticism about traditional quantum mechanics is evident throughout, as he urges readers “to address the complexity and ugliness of quantum mechanics head on, but then to look for the hidden beauty underneath, the waves” and cautions against traditional viewpoints that paint the Copenhagen Interpretation as unified and complete. When exploring alternatives, Riordan expertly delves into how silos have created problems and barriers in his own field of cancer research, though he advises at the same time to “not lose sight of the essential value of silo-based research.”

Riordan covers a great deal of ground in a relatively short amount of space, addressing the aesthetic appeal of straightforward physical models in graspable terms and raising interesting questions about how to judge conventional physics theories, all while highlighting the social dynamics and principles that guide scientific research. Though Riordan’s writing structure can feel disjointed at times, his passion for the field is apparent. The abundance of further reading material included at the end of each chapter rounds out this provocative guide.

Takeaway: Provocative guide examining the mysteries of quantum mechanics.

Comparable Titles: Lee Smolin’s Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, Leonard Susskind and Art Friedman’s Quantum Mechanics.

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

Lost Grove: Part One
Charlotte Zang and Alex Knudsen
Zang and Knudsen’s spellbinding and unsettling paranormal mystery, set in the enigmatic small town of Lost Grove, opens with a classic jolt: a lifeless body, in this case that of college student Sarah Elizabeth Graham, casting a shadow of unease over the tight-knit community. Sergeant Seth Wolfe, a seasoned homicide detective returning to his hometown to care for his ailing father, takes the reins of the case, navigating the twists and turns of an investigation that gets deeply under the skin. The narrative shifts between Wolfe’s shocking discoveries and the fervor within the local school, where gossip and conspiracy theories run rampant among students, especially young Nettie, who believes she’s seen a monster she calls the “Green Man” and whose missing brother’s surprise return proves not to be a cause of celebration. Nettie’s suspicions point toward the town’s “renowned” and mysterious Orbriallis Institute.

Zang and Knudsen infuse the investigation with intrigue by crafting diverse characters with idiosyncrasies, secrets, and mysterious pasts. Wolfe's intimate knowledge of the townsfolk aids his interrogations, yet his detachment prompts him to even consider Sarah's parents as possible suspects. Within the confines of the small town, the narrative achieves an expansive feel, prompting readers to wonder whether it's the town shaping its inhabitants or the people’s natures shaping the town itself. Surprises abound: Story Palmer, the town librarian, is also a witch, while Mary has an eating disorder that compels her to consume blood, and the Graff twins may be telepathic.

The authors deftly cultivate a sense of claustrophobia as they suggest the residents' concealed truths. Dialogue is crisp, though some descriptive passages edge toward wordy. As the first in a duology, this entry leaves readers with more questions than answers, but it’s the many tantalizing portents, clues, and seeming impossibility that makes Lost Grove shine. Balancing the central story and a myriad of characters with finesse, the authors expertly set the stage for a gripping conclusion.

Takeaway: Unsettling and surprising paranormal mystery in an enigmatic small town.

Comparable Titles: Marion Myles’s No Time for Goodbye, Mary Stone’s Shadow’s Hostage.

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

Click here for more about Lost Grove
Spirit Guides on Speed Dial: A Pragmatic Approach to Getting What You Want
Jules Apollo
Apollo provides practical yet satisfying steps to accessing spirit guides in this approachable debut. She begins with common myths related to working with spirit guides, such as needing special equipment (incense, singing bowls, etc.) or requiring a quiet place with uninterrupted time, encouraging readers to use their imaginations “to create a relationship with your guides that allows you to ask for and receive guidance.” Her writing is all-embracing, emphasizing the love that comes from spirit guides, and she urges readers to recognize their own worth as the first step in a journey to “[tap] into the wisdom that is literally standing right next to us.”

To demystify the concept of spirit guides, Apollo begins by answering some of the common questions she’s received from clients and students throughout her professional experience. Those questions range from how to physically sense spirit guides to understanding their counsel—all elements that Apollo cautions “[take] time, energy, intention, and focus... the same with any deep friendship or relationship.” The instruction starts with basic strategies, including the importance of deep breathing, how to create a safe space, and more, and Apollo incorporates handy tools like scripts and a rundown of “good spiritual manners” to kickstart the process. In the end, she weaves the guide’s nuggets of wisdom into a template that readers can customize to fit their own spiritual journeys.

For those struggling with self-doubt, Apollo encourages that “working with your guides should feel normal and comforting, not make you nervous,” reassuring followers that “your guides are never mean, insulting, or cross with you.” Though the scripts and hands-on techniques are particularly helpful, Apollo also addresses broader topics, including dreams, grief and loss, and strategies for cultivating a better world. The approach is versatile, aimed at helping readers experience a deeper life and “the confidence and clarity to detach more quickly from whatever holds you back.”

Takeaway: A gentle, practical approach to accessing spirit guides.

Comparable Titles: Liliane Fortna’s Winks from Above, Sonia Choquette’s Ask Your Guides.

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

Click here for more about Spirit Guides on Speed Dial
The Easter Bear
Michelle Keyes
An unconventional bear nurtures extraordinary dreams in this fanciful children’s debut by Keyes. Finn is not your ordinary bear; he may sound and smell like one, but, unlike his peers, he prefers very un-bear-like activities. While his friends fish, eat honey, and pick berries, Finn spends his time devouring chocolate bars and painting dazzling pictures with berry juice. And, when his school teacher asks what he wants to be when he grows up, Finn’s answer is decidedly offbeat: “I want to be the Easter Bunny” he declares. After all, he would rather hide fish than eat them, and his painting skills are out of this world—all very important talents for an Easter bunny.

Of course, Finn’s dream nets him some nasty feedback from his friends, who are convinced he’ll never make it: “Bears can’t be the Easter Bunny. It just isn’t done” they tease. But Finn won’t be deterred, and, with the loving support of his parents, he sets about honing his hare skills so he can pass the daunting Easter Bunny Exam. Given his towering physique compared to other Easter bunnies, Finn has his work cut out for him—and spends his winter practicing essential Easter bunny abilities, like basket weaving and dainty hopping. Where he truly shines, though, is in his eye-popping Easter egg designs, when he transforms “plain, boring eggs into something magical.”

Maris evokes the perfect whimsy with delicate watercolor illustrations that showcase the animals’ expressive eyes and the story’s intricate backgrounds—especially Finn’s splendorous renderings of colorful Easter eggs. Younger readers will be entertained by the smaller, humorous details, like Finn’s creative new jellybean flavor, Honey-Salmon Surprise. The ending is satisfyingly happy, allowing Finn his moment in the spotlight while recreating the Easter bunny standard in a fun, engaging way. This is a delightful holiday treat with a noteworthy message.

Takeaway: An unusual bear chases big dreams in this charming Easter tale.

Comparable Titles: Lily Jacobs’s The Littlest Bunny in North Carolina, Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin.

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

Click here for more about The Easter Bear
Getaway Death: Lily Rock Mystery Book One
Bonnie Hardy
Hardy (author of A Doula to Die For) kicks off her Lily Rock series with this charming cozy mystery. Between jobs and fresh off of a painful breakup with her rock-star boyfriend, Olivia Greer accepts her high school friend Marla Osbourne’s invitation to stay with her in charming Lily Rock, California, a few hours from Los Angeles. From the start, the trip seems ill-fated: Olivia nearly loses her life on a hairpin mountain road (and is saved by local architect Michael Bellemare, who, it could be argued, almost pushed her car over the cliff). When she gets to Marla’s home, she finds her friend dead in her garden of anaphylactic shock—with an EpiPen that has been tossed into the bushes by the presumed murderer.

Hardy’s small mountain town seems uber charming on the surface, and the milieu and dialogue both are vividly realized, but a dark undercurrent courses beneath Olivia’s interactions with nearly all the townspeople—making it almost impossible for her to know who to trust, except for the darling Mayor Maguire, an intuitive Labradoodle, who steals every scene he’s in. Hardy deftly keeps readers guessing, with sparkling characterization and teasingly plausible possible motives: is the lecherous Dr. May the culprit? Michael, the architect who designed Marla’s house? Librarian Meadow, who Olivia overhears admitting she drugged Olivia? Or even Meadow’s daughter, with whom Olivia feels an immediate connection?

Hardy does a masterful job of drawing red herrings throughout, skillfully keeping readers uncertain until the final page is turned—with a particularly surprising twist that ties Olivia to the town and bodes well for the series to follow. A few editing mistakes distract, but readers will forgive Hardy based on the strengths of her plotting and excellent cast of characters. Fans of cozy mysteries will want to return to Lily Rock and its eccentric but mostly harmless group of residents often.

Takeaway: This cozy mystery will reel readers in for a rollicking ride.

Comparable Titles: Jana DeLeon, Mary Higgins Clark.

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

Click here for more about Getaway Death
String Theories: Tips, Challenges, and Reflections for the Lifelong Guitarist
Adam Levy and Ethan Sherman
Guitarists Levy (author of Play the Right Stuff) and Sherman (whose upcoming 2024 instrumental bluegrass album Passages sounds as warm as it is dazzling) share a wealth of practical tips, musical challenges, and wise reflections for guitarists eager to grow in their art. Writing with the inviting tones of skilled coaches who happen to be fans themselves, the authors offer inspiring guidance about what makes a guitarist “good” in the first place (“a good guitarist makes real music, reliably”), practical first principles of technique (“Every aspect … should be in the service of your musical goals”), general tips for how to grow musically (one clarifying section: “Four Ways to Play Outside, Inside”), and technical pointers like why it’s helpful to “map the fretboard using the circle of 4ths.”

Key to the book’s utility: its continual freshness and its applicability to serious guitar players of varying skill levels over time. Levy and Sherman understand that even the most accomplished musicians must continually learn, grow, and experiment, so each of the tips and challenges collected here (from “Be Your Own Jam Buddy” to “Play Nicely in a Trio” and beyond) have been crafted to be revisited over days, weeks, and years. The lessons blend the technical, practical, and conceptual with bigger-picture advice (“Learn what you love, until you get sick of it. Then learn something else you love”), recommendations of well-selected recordings and books, and on-point insights picked up from the authors’ mentors.

While there’s much here to expand the horizons of beginners, the authors assume their readers are already dedicated to guitar—don’t expect introductory lessons. Instead, String Theories offers a wealth of hard-won knowledge about practicing, transcribing, memorizing tunes, playing professionally, and more. Anecdotes from recording sessions—including the time Levy had to record a trio album twice in one day—fascinate. With heart and originality, this compact volume shares two the fruits of lifetimes’ worth of artistry.

Takeaway: Fresh, wise, practical guidance for playing guitar over a lifetime.

Comparable Titles: Mick Goodrick’s The Advancing Guitarist, Ted Greene’s Chord Chemistry.

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

Click here for more about String Theories
Juno's Song
Michael Kelley
The third searching, spiritual adventure in a trilogy, Juno’s Song finds protagonist Sean Byron McQueen, professor and author, in a post-singularity near-future of robots, AIs, holo-chats, heart-sync tech, VR pod lives, and straight-up magic, now recognized as a science. Even more exciting: humanity stands on the precipice of ascension, as the date of September 9, 2036, approaches—the date that aliens (or “ALFs”) “back in 2026 had promised to make significant contact with earthlings.” After the deadly cosmic adventures of the previous book (The Devil’s Calling), Sean is in hiding on the Irish coast, attended to by a robo-manservant and contemplating the possibility of his companionable friendship with novelist Molly blooming into something more. In a vision a decade after her apparent death, Sean’s brilliant wife, M, encourages him to write a new novel, also titled Juno’s Song, in honor of their “trail-blazing spiritual master” daughter.

As the World Tribunal prepares for the arrival of the aliens, Sean awaits the all-clear from Interpol to resume a somewhat public life, who expect that his enemies will stop hunting him after a change of leadership transpires in Russia. Readers of the previous books will surmise that villains Dick and Samantha aren’t through with him yet, and they’ll be right at home with this entry’s ruminative approach and pacing. Much of the novel unfolds as a series of rich, wide-ranging colloquies between Sean and a host of fascinating figures—Molly, Juno, a mysterious billionaire in a Scottish castle—on topics both earthly and cosmic, especially how to greet the aliens, a subject of fierce controversy.

Tension picks up with an NDA and surprise confrontations and hints that the temptress assassin Samantha may still be on the hunt, but readers eager for the easy thrills of first-contact and dystopian future stories should know that Kelley's interest remains in the transcendent, the poetic, the connections between people and something beyond us, and—even more than before—the very act of breathing.

Takeaway: Richly thoughtful novel of first contact and transcendence in 2036.

Comparable Titles: David Michie, Sachin Kaushik.

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

Click here for more about Juno's Song
Alycat and the Sunday Scaries
Alysson Foti Bourque
Bourque continues her Alycat series (after Alycat and the Sleepover Saturday) with an upbeat tale that teaches younger readers how to conquer their worry. This time around it’s Sunday, and Alycat is fearful of the Monday looming just around the corner. At her mother's prompting, she decides some down time with her friends is just the ticket to take her mind off “the Mondayest Monday ever.” While playing with her pals, Alycat learns she’s not the only one who experiences fear, realizing, as she helps her friends overcome their anxiety with the right mindset, that the start of a new week may not be as terrible as she expects.

Bourque sets a light tone while emphasizing realistic concerns of younger readers, and her bright cast of relatable characters drives home a host of different ways to work through fear. Alycat’s friends each struggle with their own issues—Kit is scared to ride her new, bigger bike, and Spotty is afraid he’ll fall off the treehouse ladder—until the group bands together to problem solve. Before long, Kit’s mastered her pedaling skills and Spotty’s safely on the ground again. Alycat's big personality and problem-solving initiative will captivate readers as the furry feline helps her friends while learning a valuable life lesson herself, sparking opportunities for readers to reframe their own fears and use them as motivation instead.

Civati showcases Alycat and her pals playing, collaborating, and vanquishing their fears with bright, eye-catching illustrations that bring a lighthearted edge to the story’s more serious elements, and the group’s camaraderie—and positive message on just how far kindness can go to help others—forms the perfect canvas for elementary aged children. Bonus content on how to create a successful lemonade stand, including several pointers on building confidence to attract consumers, rounds out this inspirational story.

Takeaway: A lively group of feline friends overcome their fears by working together.

Comparable Titles: Ellie Hattie and Eric Barclay’s Monday is a FUN DAY!, Teresa Porcella's Wild Week.

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

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The Millionaire: A Maureen Gould Legal Thriller
Keenan Powell
Powell's second Maureen Gould thriller (after Implied Consent) packs a wallop. Trial lawyer Gould now represents Tony Paredes, a young man accused of murdering his abusive childhood chess coach, Oscar Wenderholm. Despite a successful prior trial against his coach, Tony and Maureen faced an overturned verdict due to a technicality; now under arrest on suspicion of Oscar’s murder, Tony is imprisoned and brutally beaten, giving Maureen added incentive to save him. Meanwhile, Maureen's own difficult childhood rears its ugly head, making the case exponentially more taxing.

A parallel plotline finds charming car salesman Rick Stevens being groomed for a California state senate position, while his handlers worry about his connection to Oscar. Through Stevens's story, Powell skillfully delivers a character both contemptible and pathetic, and the tale only becomes more intense, effectively—and grimly—evolving into true tragedy. Powell’s courtroom scenes and backdoor maneuverings are as realistic as they are gripping, guaranteeing a white-knuckle ride for readers. The plot moves quickly, but Powell devotes extra attention to character; Maureen especially comes across beautifully, as someone who has managed to create a happy life for herself despite her disturbing childhood.

Though there’s plenty of sweetness in Maureen’s story, this is not a cozy read. The crimes are appalling, and Powell spares no details, recounting Maureen’s troubled past in raw, heartbreaking tones alongside the gritty minutia of Stevens’s sordid existence. Maureen struggles with her estranged father and wages war with herself about which dark family secrets to share with her daughter—personal tensions that Powell cleverly reflects in Tony’s trial, granting this mystery a refreshingly holistic view rarely found in legal thrillers. Even relatively minor characters are nicely fleshed out, and all get their just deserts in a wind-up that is both surprising and satisfying, leaving readers to eagerly await Maureen's next case.

Takeaway: A lawyer defends a man wrongly accused of murder while facing her own childhood demons.

Comparable Titles: Scott Turow, Michael Connelly.

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

Click here for more about The Millionaire
On Madera Creek
Rachel Goss
Goss’s crime thriller, set just after the end of the Second World War, centers on the intersecting paths of Natasha Baranov, a Soviet spy who is ushering Russian operatives across the Texas border into the United States, and Imogene Park, a young woman inadvertently caught in Baranov’s web. After she’s befriended by Baranov, Imogene’s quickly taken in by the older woman, but their relationship goes south when Imogene discovers Natasha’s dark side—and ends up testifying against her in court. Though the two start off on opposing sides, circumstances reunite them throughout the novel, culminating in their united effort to thwart larger Russian espionage.

This second installment in Goss’s Science, History, and Espionage series (after Driven by Conscience) is fast paced and propelled by constant action. Whether it’s Natasha’s revenge-driven stalking of Imogene, Imogene’s efforts to escape her troubles by enlisting as a wrangler on a Texas ranch, or the uncovering of a dangerous Russian spy ring, there’s never a dull moment. Adding to the intrigue is the intricate web of lies and espionage spun by Goss’s characters, resulting in a breakneck race to determine who, if anyone, can be trusted. Goss punctuates the plot with romance, though the story’s setting—US borderlands fraught with danger—steals the spotlight with starkly beautiful descriptions of the Texas and New Mexico landscape: “Nestled against the canyon wall, the adobe lodge appeared to blend into the cliff, much as the ancient dwellings had done.”

Despite the novel’s gripping premise, Goss’s abundance of murder, espionage, and twisty dealings, all driven by a young, inexperienced woman at their forefront, swamp the story in places, leading Goss’s characters into staggering situations that will require a satisfying stretch of imagination for readers. The romance takes a backseat to the action, but readers who relish Cold War intrigue and dizzying action will find much to embrace here.

Takeaway: Cold War intrigue combines with unbridled action in this breakneck thriller.

Comparable Titles: Kerry Chaput’s Daughter of the Shadows, Stephanie Marie Thornton’s A Most Clever Girl.

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

Click here for more about On Madera Creek
Refuge
Bill VanPatten
This beautifully told, of-the-moment novel from VanPatten (author of Sometimes You Just Know) finds hope in heartbreak when a pair of tragedies bring together an uncle and niece who unexpectedly find themselves able to help each other heal. Six months after losing his husband, David, to cancer, Jesse Pérez and his son, Matthew, are still learning to carry on. Their doorbell rings late one night, and Jesse’s 15-year-old niece, Gloria, stands on their doorstep, asking for help. She’s been raped, has become pregnant, and has left Texas and her judgemental parents to come to California, where abortion is legal—and, as Jesse tells them, a minor doesn’t need parental permission. “You probably think I’m just a teenager,” she says. “But I know how to research things. I know how to find out about my rights.”

VanPatten broaches difficult subjects with respect, empathy, and apparent ease. Jesse has already long been disowned by the same Texas family for being gay, called nothing less than “a disciple of the devil.” VanPatten, a humane and thoughtful writer, makes clear that Gloria and Jesse’s family (and their Everlasting Word Evangelical Church) and that most of the other Texans whom the protagonists must deal with do not at all agree with the extremes of that church or the political decisions that have resulted in Gloria being viewed as criminal.

From page one readers will be drawn into these lives and the warm community surrounding them. VanPatten makes it easy for readers to feel the often-conflicting emotions that come with complicated families. As the Texas family retaliates, Jesse, the only person that Gloria has left, must also consider how every choice will affect his son with autism, including the pressing question of how to move on after David’s death. Through VanPatten’s rich characterization and assured storytelling, readers will be moved by these convincing, relatable characters and how they handle everything thrown their way—and still live to love.

Takeaway: Moving story of facing religious extremism and Texas abortion laws.

Comparable Titles: S.E. Green’s The Family, Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is.

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

Click here for more about Refuge
Lack of Moral Fibre
Helena P. Schrader
In her Bridge to Tomorrow series, novelist and World War II historian Schrader (author of Where Eagles Never Flew) explores, celebrates, and dramatizes the complexities of one of the key global triumphs of the 20th century: the Berlin Airlift and the uniting of western powers to counter the Soviet Union in the divided German city in 1948 and 1949. With Lack of Moral Fibre, Schrader again brings life to the Royal Air Force, this time examining the effect of war on the men who must fight it, and digging into the history and implications of this brisk novel’s title. In November of 1943, at the height of the war, Pilot Officer Christopher “Kit” Moran finds himself at his breaking point the day after witnessing his best friend’s death. Moran refuses to fly another op and is sent to an NYDN Centre—that stands for “Not Yet Diagnosed Nervous”—where medical professionals strive to understand whether men like Moran need psychiatric treatment or whether they warrant the designation LMF for their “lack of moral fibre.”

Moran knows being branded an LMF “would be interpreted as proof of his fundamental inferiority.” LMFs were stripped of their medals, reassigned to infantry or menial work, and guaranteed to face problems finding employment later. To his surprise, talking to a therapist doesn’t “make things worse,” and Moran begins to discuss his feelings of inferiority. Schrader is sensitive to the trauma and pressures Moran faces, and insights and breakthroughs throughout prove moving, especially when Moran is asked “Isn’t it true that the only way in which you have failed is in not living up to your own expectations?”

The result is a humane and gripping tale of what war costs, a novel alive with telling detail and welcome nuance about its era and the history of PTSD treatment. It’s also a lesson in rest and gentleness. Hard to put down, Lack of Moral Fibre shines a welcome light on trauma, recovery, heroism, and “feeling inferior.”

Takeaway: Moving short novel of a shattered RAF pilot refusing to fly again.

Comparable Titles: Len Deighton’s Bomber, Leslie Mann’s And Some Fell on Stony Ground.

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

Click here for more about Lack of Moral Fibre
Succeeding as a Solopreneur: Six Keys to Taking the Leap, Winning Clients, and Building Wealth
Liz J. Steblay
“Dig deep into your personal strength. Be resilient—figure out a way through, then push until you get through” writes consultant Steblay as she guides readers on taking the plunge into self-employment. Drawing on her own experience as a single mother trying to balance work and a personal life, she shares six keys to building a successful business in this user friendly debut, ranging from broad-scale guidance on conquering “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” to tailored advice on finding new clients, effectively pricing services, and deciphering those often harder-to-grasp self-employment stumbling blocks like taxes and insurance. Steblay’s staunch belief in self-employment as “the best career because you have the flexibility to live your life however you want” forms the backbone throughout.

Steblay elevates her material with several informative illustrations, particularly those that spell out technical tips, including how to conquer LinkedIn layouts or understanding retirement contribution limits. Much of her advice is targeted toward career consultants more so than entry level professionals, though she does include some introductory material (choosing an appropriate business structure and a quick rundown of applicable permits and licenses stand out). Her myriad personal examples of working with clients and helping connect consultants with companies in need of their expertise ground the guide’s advice.

For readers partial to hands-on counsel, Steblay includes various pointers and exercises to spark inspiration, including a set of questions to help professionals avoid common self-employment mistakes and a breakdown of useful apps and programs designed to streamline business planning and execution. Steblay’s keys to success can be strategically applied at any level, whether focusing on her tried-and-true methods to grow business, steps to building productive websites, or suggestions on mastering the confidence needed to achieve professional dreams. Ultimately, her straightforward advice empowers readers to “keep going,” no matter what, as she promises, “You’ll eventually gain momentum, and things will get easier.”

Takeaway: Self-employment guide featuring hands-on tools and straightforward advice.

Comparable Titles: Michael Zipursky’s Consulting Success, Richard Newton’s The Freelance Consultant.

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

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