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Bravo Zulu: My Search to Save Classic Warbirds
Vanessa Leising
Yagen’s charming debut charts the course of his life’s work in finding and restoring vintage warplanes to their original, air-worthy conditions. With an impressive collection of over 70 antique warbirds from WWI and WWII, stored at the Military Aviation Museum founded by Yagen in Virginia Beach, this volume spotlights 19 of his most beloved aircraft. Throughout the carefully detailed pages, readers will find stunning photographs of these airplanes in action as well as concise accounts of their history, including their often painstaking journeys to flight-ready restoration.

Acknowledging the difference between restoring an antique airplane for display purposes and making it flyable is the essence of Yagen’s legacy—he believes these warbirds “cannot be fully appreciated unless you see them where they belong: in the air.” This is a privilege he offers readers, alongside an extensive photograph collection of each airplane both on the ground and in flight. With an eye for accuracy, Yagen also details the specs of each aircraft and their individual careers, from original manufacturing to post-war use. One such plane, the Supermarine Spitfire MK IXE, fought in 100 combat missions and later served as an attraction in a children’s playground before Yagen added it to his inventory.

Through Yagen’s intriguing accounts, readers gain a cockpit perspective of history. This is the locus of Yagen’s passion: to him, these warbirds are “more than just metal, fabric, and wood. They are time machines that provide a tangible link” to such a pivotal time in the twentieth century. Aviation enthusiasts, WWI and WWII history buffs, and lovers of airplane restoration will delight in this catalog, as visually stimulating as it is rich in detail about the history, mechanics, and reconstruction of these legendary aircraft. Yagen’s expensive, arduous pursuit in bringing “these historic warbirds back to life” comes alive in these pages and gives readers a chance to imagine flying like “an ace of aces, Prince of the Skies.”

Takeaway: A passionate chronicle of restoring vintage warplanes to flyable condition, with vivid photographs.

Great for fans of: Nicholas A. Veronico’s Hidden Warbirds, and David Mondey’s British Aircraft of World War II.

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

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Orcas Forever
Marie-Paule Mahoney
Mahoney’s inspired decision to focus on an orca family reunion provides middle-grade readers with an immediate connection to the gentle, intelligent marine mammals wrongly called “killer whales.” Orcas Forever is a hopeful sequel to Whale of Wonder (2020), which follows the real-life journey of Tahlequah J35, who swam for 1,000 miles while carrying her emaciated newborn in a display of grief that brought global attention to the environmental factors decimating the orca population. Orcas Forever charts another extraordinary interaction. Now a matriarch of her extended family unit (known as the J pod), Tahlequah returns home to the Salish Sea to meet up with the other Southern Resident orcas.

Using scientific observations as her starting point, Mahoney depicts the reunion of the J, K and L pods as a joyous and raucous celebration of their return from the Pacific Ocean to their home base in the Salish Sea (bordered by Washington State and British Columbia). The exquisite illustrations of Ginger Triplett are especially important during this meeting of the pods, as she can take a moment that might sound menacing—orcas displaying their six foot high dorsal fins in what looks like a standoff—and turns it instead into a rousing celebration of movement, with swirling water cresting into white.

Triplett renders the orcas’ emotional life without anthropomorphism, inviting young readers into an luminous realm of seaweed and jellyfish, where sunbeams create glowing shafts, followed by a scene of orcas exuberantly leaping from the water to dance in the sunlight, their massive bodies briefly, seemingly weightless. Wildlife nonfiction with a strong current of empathy is Mahoney’s forte, and her orca books have a particular urgency. Presenting orcas as inherently social creatures, with sophisticated systems of communication and navigation, Mahoney makes a heartfelt plea for their preservation, and for a healthy ecosystem where all underwater life can thrive.

Takeaway: This rousing tale of orca families makes compassionate environmentalism hit home.

Great for fans of: Amanda Abler’s The Spirit of Springer, Sharon Mentyka’s Chasing at the Surface, and Rosanne Parry’s A Whale of the Wild.

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

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Harrowing Roses
Barbara Cooper
Cooper’s debut combines mystery and romance as it follows a young woman searching for her missing cousin at her family’s country estate. After being abandoned by her father, 22-year-old Dana and her mother return to his family’s estate to visit, only to discover her younger cousin, Debra Lee, has been missing for two days—and the police seem unable to help. Dana takes it upon herself to search for Debra Lee, in the process enlisting the help of the enigmatic Henry, a young man staying on the outskirts of the estate near the cabin of her lover, Jonathan. But despite Henry’s willingness to assist, Dana soon discovers that all is not as it seems with her mysterious assistant.

Readers will be swept into the tension and feel as if they are walking the wetlands alongside Dana, and Cooper’s evocative narrative sets a swift pace for the story. The characterization is strong even as the cast has been crafted to keep readers guessing. Henry, mercurial and ruled by his otherworldly intuition, is certain that Dana solicited him because she believes in his supernatural powers, and he is rewarded when his abilities lead him to Debra Lee. But just as Dana is drawn to Henry, she and readers both will wonder how he found Debra Lee so easily—and if he is using his psychic abilities to manipulate her.

Though Dana’s relationships with both Jonathan and Henry deserve more attention to detail, Cooper’s deliberate ambivalence towards the minutiae will compel readers to fill in the gaps, upping the intensity behind the characters’ motives and the real reason for Debra Lee’s disappearance. Cooper’s skill with suspense powers the novel and readers will relish the edgy undercurrent pulsing throughout the pages. Cooper’s capable intertwining of Henry’s psychic manifestations and his desire to control Dana immerses readers in a gripping and inventive thriller.

Takeaway: The tense story of a woman searching for her cousin falling under a mystery helper’s spell.

Great for fans of: L.T. Ryan and Brian Shea’s Drift, Georgina Cross’s The Missing Woman.

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

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Klippe the Viking
Bjorn Fyrre
Klippe, a young viking, doesn’t feel that she belongs—she can’t keep up at school, she doesn’t understand the other kids’ jokes, and she can’t play the games. But in this simple yet powerful story, Klippe soon makes friends and enjoys important realizations about herself and her peers along her journey to self confidence. Readers will find a friend in Klippe in Fyrre’s (Jern the Viking) empathetic story of a shy girl who grows to realize her own strengths beyond her preconceived limitations. Full of heart and understanding, Klippe the Viking is a straightforward reminder that everyone has strengths, and the best of friends are the ones who highlight those qualities for you to discover.

Self-growth and recognizing one’s strengths is not a simple topic to tackle in a narrative for young people, but Fyrre’s story does so capably, though the dialogue veers between the casual (“Wow, that was amazing”) and the curiously formal (“I do not understand it either”), often with uncertain punctuation, especially periods in place of commas, that gives the characters’ short utterances a sense of stiff finality. Adults reading out loud can work around this, but young readers feeling out the rules of English dialogue may be confused.

Nevertheless, watching a character face disappointment and perceived ostracization and then put the emotional puzzle pieces together to figure out more about themselves is a beneficial tool for children. Kini’s charming digital illustrations show the playful, frustrated, and joyful side of Klippe and her diverse array of Viking friends, imbuing the story with emotional clarity and urgency—all while conjuring a northland forest of vibrant greens, lush red flowers, and irresistible waterfalls. Best suited as one tool within a larger social emotional toolbox, Klippe the Viking brings big ideas to the forefront, leaving room for discussion with an adult.

Takeaway: Shy or quieter kids will find encouragement in this young Viking’s journey to self-confidence.

Great for fans of: Kelly Cunnane’s Chirchir Is Singing, Dashka Slater’s The Antlered Ship.

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

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Hmong Reverse Appliqué: Cultural Meaning and Significance.
Linda A. Gerdner
Gerdner (Ethnicity and the Dementias), an expert in family caregiving issues in persons with dementia and especially Alzheimer’s, illuminates the history and culture of the textile art of the Hmong people in this beautifully designed study. Directed towards an audience familiar with needlework but not necessarily with the Hmong peoples, the book presents a series of striking handmade pieces, with eye-opening discussions of the symbolism of nature, family life, and spiritual beliefs woven into each. She opens by introducing the Hmong people’s history, their heritage prior to the devastating Secret War, and how the Hmong people have preserved their heritage through their artwork. Readers looking for a reverse appliqué how-to should note the subtitle; Gerdner’s emphasis is cultural, with Hmong Reverse Appliqué reading both like an academic survey and the catalog to a first-rate exhibition.

The photographs and images take precedence over the text, though each appliqué piece is described in detail, from the type of stitchwork and the fabric choices made to the symbolism of the shapes within the pieces. All images of the embroidery and of the Hmong people are clear and bright, with additional close-up images for important detail work, like decorative borders or intentional “mistakes” sewn within each piece to “let the spirit out of the work.” Gerdner often presents patterns in groups, highlighting individual approaches to motifs like X-shaped crosses or “cucumber seeds.”

Gerdner’s research into Hmong craftsmanship and culture is impressive, and she occasionally weaves in stories from her own travels and experiences with the Hmong stitchers, which add a welcome personal touch to the subject matter. While the descriptions of individual works can, by necessity, be repetitive, even casual readers with an interest in textile art will find the book gorgeous and informative. Ultimately, the Hmong peoples’ craftsmanship and resilience is reflected with respect, care, and insight.

Takeaway: These handmade creations from the Hmong peoples will inspire anyone interested in textile art.

Great for fans of: Clare Hunter’s Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle; Johanna Amos & Lisa Binkley’s Stitching the Self: Identity and the Needle Arts, Claire Wellesley-Smith’s Resilient Stitch: Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art.

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

Click here for more about Hmong Reverse Appliqué
The Moment of Menace
Joe Rothstein
Rothstein draws on his experience as a political strategist and media manager to craft a political thriller of epic scale, his third in the series that kicked off with The Latina President: And The Conspiracy to Destroy Her. This entry picks up the story of the charismatic and resilient President of the United States of America—Isabella Tennyson or “Tenny”— as she puts forth a bold “Peace and Security” agenda whose centerpiece is a global disarmament treaty … all as she navigates a formidable group of conspirators who threaten to dismantle American democracy in order to further their own agendas.

What truly makes the narrative compelling are the strong female characters and the general diversity imagined by Rothstein in his fictional representation of American politics. Tenny, now in her third book, is a memorable and inspiring creation, rising again to the occasion even as she faces potential danger: the story begins with a series of high-profile political assassinations meted out by the covert global organization The Salvation Project, whose members argue that the world’s great powers have failed to act against matters such as climate change and environmental degradation. Tenny and her top officials and aides work together to squash a conspiracy that’s targeting them, while bucking conventional political wisdom by drafting a manifesto to change the world for the better—and protect a melting Arctic—through more peaceful means.

Rothstein’s interest in and respect for the Arctic, especially the beliefs and culture of Alaska’s Iñupiat, bring welcome gravity to a story often caught up in complex political matters–a story that ultimately is optimistic about the possibility of effective change emerging from leaders working within the system. The fast pace means that the details of specific issues—and some backstories and motivations—don’t get fully fleshed out. Still, with concise prose, rousing speeches, and extensive geopolitical knowledge, Rothstein weaves a compelling, idealistic thriller.

Takeaway: This sharply written political thriller finds a Latina president leading boldly and facing a conspiracy.

Great for fans of: Tom Rosenstiel’s The Days to Come, Nicolle Wallace’s 18 Acres.

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

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Clifford's War: Without End
J. Denison Reed
In the explosive second installment of the Clifford’s War series, Reed crafts another gripping and fast paced crime-and-intelligence thriller that plunges readers back into the world of P.I. Clifford Dee and his close knit team of investigators, as a nation-shaking murder leads them to uncover a criminal conspiracy fuelled by military and political interests. Along the way, Dee and his team face ruthless enemies, repeated assassination attempts, political corruption, and attempts to malign their legitimacy through false criminal charges. Still, nothing gets in the way of his team’s efforts to uncover what’s truly happening and bring the conspirators to justice.

The plot is quickly set in motion as Dee and his team are hired by a woman to spy on her senator husband, whom she believes is involved in an extramarital affair. While working the case, Sara and Daniel—two of the four members of Dee’s team—are shocked to witness the senator’s murder. Reed doesn’t let up on the jolts, as a series of political assassinations follow, including the murder of a former CIA agent who is Dee’s close associate. Meanwhile, Bailey, the IT expert, uncovers something sinister while investigating a second case, one concerning a rapper’s original music being leaked to another more famous musician. With strong pacing and clever revelations, these seemingly disparate elements come together seamlessly to form a complex and surprising—yet still believable—nexus of criminal activities.

Despite the tension and high stakes, the camaraderie and engaging banter among Dee’s team keeps the novel feeling human, and even hardened FBI agents have moments of vulnerability. Getting readers to care about the characters, of course, also serves to ramp up the suspense, especially when those Dee cares about face danger themselves—and he seems helpless to save them. Though sometimes a touch wordy, the action is clear and hard edged.

Takeaway: A well crafted, fast paced action thriller blending detective, espionage, and political genres.

Great for fans of: David Baldacci, William Tyree.

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

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Together We Decide: An Essential Guide for Making Good Group Decisions
Craig Freshley
The significance of collaboration and good group decisions is the central theme of this practical-minded guidebook to what it takes to find success in teams, boards, organizations, and other groups, public and private. A professional meeting facilitator, Freshley draws from his professional experiences to offer his insight into the many benefits of group decisions made through collaboration and cooperation, offering not just guidance on achieving group aims but also adjusting one’s thinking. Making the case that a good group decision is an investment in social equity, he urges readers to shift their focus from an individualistic perspective toward the good of the greater world and community. Though Freshley emphasizes examples of collaboration in workspaces, he also digs into global problems like climate change and the potential positive impact that good group decision making among nations and their citizens could have on the climate crisis.

Freshley’s approach is as much inspiring as it is thought-provoking. Through a variety of anecdotes, he encourages contemplation of the causes and consequences of readers’ actions—and how these actions affect others. Freshley dives deep into the question of why it’s difficult for individuals to make good group decisions, suggesting that this is because “the peace standard is really hard.” He offers the potent example of people preferring to quarrel with their neighbor rather than talk about a problem, driving home the point that a good group decision would benefit both the individual and the neighbor. After all, he notes, “it’s not us versus them, it’s just us.”

An engaging and informative read, Together We Decide is not just for leaders and managers, but for any individual who has a desire to contribute positively to their group, community, or team. Though repetitive at certain points, one can look past it because of the strong message Freshley is trying to communicate through these reiterations—the idea of togetherness.

Takeaway: This thought-provoking guidebook to effective collaboration gently challenges readers to think outside themselves.

Great for fans of: Cass R. Sunstein and Reid Hastie’s Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter, Steven Johnson’s Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most.

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

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Alpha Buddies Land
Donna M. Rink
At the end of the rainbow, Rink’s “Alpha Buddies”—cheery, anthropomorphized alphabet letters with big emotive eyes and ribbon-laced sneakers—meet to blow balloons (in the case of blue, bashful “Buddy B”), jump rope while telling jokes (that’s “Joker J”), and a host of other alliterative activities. The buddies romp in a vibrant fantasyland of palm trees and castles and verdant green, quick-stepping (that’s “Q-Tee”) or rocking out on guitar (meet “Red R”) and even, when alphabetically appropriate, crying, like “Cutie Pie C.” But the mood is mostly buoyant as Rink tours readers through the ABCs and introduces 26 Alpha Buddies, all “friends forever” who hold hands in Alpha Buddies Land—and also, as a closing photo of stuffed Alpha Buddies characters suggests, join together into words.

The fun of Rink’s first Alpha Buddies books comes not just from the beaming letter characters or the bright, inventive digital backdrops that are choc-a-bloc with endearing suns, fish, elephants, horses, and lacey-eyelashed hearts. That’s all memorable, of course, but what’s most powerfully engaging is the way the book’s alphabetical structure, allotting one text page and one full-page illustration for each letter, invites young readers to imagine along about the next letter’s activity or character name. Rink is generous in the number of elements included in each spread, so readers guessing kitten, kite, or kiss for K (full name: Kala K) will feel rewarded.

That spirit of playful abundance even enlivens the pages given to the alphabet’s final three letters, perennially linked, in alpha-books, to xylophones, yaks, and zebras. The X, Y, and Z pages likely won’t be favorites like U’s—“Ulla U” gets a unicorn, an umbrella, and the cutest smile in the book—but they exemplify Rink’s approach. Even when young readers have a good idea of what’s coming, Alpha Buddies Land gives them more than they might expect, with an emphasis on the darling. Even the vulture hanging out at a volcano is cute as a bug.

Takeaway: This lively alphabet book introduces 26 darling and inventive letter-based characters.

Great for fans of: Alethea Kontis’s AlphaOops, Maira Kalman’s What Pete Ate.

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

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The Lucky Hermit Crab and Her Swirly New Shell
Janice S. C. Petrie
Petrie’s unique, upbeat picture book helps children explore how to gracefully let go of what is not meant for them as they grow up. The story follows a young hermit crab who has become too big for her shell and must find a new one to protect her soft, squishy tail from predators. One day she discovers the most “strikingly wonderful shell in the world,” which is adorned with colorful barnacles and anemones and stands out because of its swirly pattern. The crab knows she is lucky for having found the shell and loves to show it off—but soon she grows again, and she must make another difficult decision.

Because childhood is a time of such rapid change, kids will relate to the hermit crab’s plight—and while they may initially be rooting for her to keep her standout shell, they will likely soon recognize that letting it go is the only way for her to continue to grow and stay safe. Importantly, in Petrie’s empathetic book the crab is never shamed or criticized for wanting to hang on to her old home, which makes the message more accessible. The story also includes plenty of facts about hermit crabs and other sea creatures, which will appeal to both curious kids and adults.

Detailed and colorful, Petrie’s illustrations cleverly bring this story to life and allow kids to feel a sense of compassion for the hermit crab, which may be an unfamiliar creature to many. With long, pointy legs and antennae-like eyes, the crab is shown hiding from predators and scuttling along the ocean floor in a too-small shell before finding her lovely new one, surrounded by rocks, seaweed, and a trio of colorful fish. With her rhyming prose and obvious love of sea life, Petrie has created a playful and exciting underwater world that children will be eager to revisit.

Takeaway: In this upbeat picture book a hermit crab helps children explore how to let go and grow.

Great for fans of: Catherine Leblanc’s Too Big or Too Small, Barney Saltzberg’s Chengdu Can Do.

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

It's Alive!
Julian David Stone
Stone’s polished nod to old Hollywood whisks readers back in time for a thrilling look at the filmmaking world of 1931, in the unsettled aftermath of the sound revolution. With only three days until production starts on the classic horror film Frankenstein, chaos stirs and threatens to shut down the project. Fiction and truth swirl together as Stone (The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl) digs into the backstage drama between Junior Laemmle, head of movie production at Universal Studios, and his father, Carl Laemmle, Sr., the studio's founder. As tension between these moguls grows, casting for Frankenstein’s monster hits a snag, leaving Junior scrambling to find a leading man while assuaging his father’s growing doubts about the film’s viability.

Stone’s crisp writing highlights the compelling turmoil between Junior and his father. Junior desperately wants to shift Universal Pictures into the future with compelling new films, while Carl seems rooted in the past and struggles to grasp his son’s vision. While this dynamic plays out in briskly paced scenes powered by crack dialogue, Stone also explores the lives and ambitions of a pair of creature-feature greats: Bela Lugosi’s ego as an established actor is skillfully contrasted with Boris Karloff’s struggles as an up-and-coming star. The fascinating glimpse into these actors’ lives highlights a delightful narrative for film buffs.

As in his previous novel, Stone demonstrates a clear dedication to and knowledge of cinema and Los Angeles itself, and his love and expertise for the milieu—and for the minds of actors and producers and studio heads—radiates from the pages. Stars like Mae Clarke and Clara Bow make cameos, while movies like The Jazz Singer and Murders in the Rue Morgue get special shoutouts, the details piecing together to form a dynamic tapestry of the movie business in an era of tumult. Classic Hollywood film buffs and historical fiction fans will enjoy this fascinating tale revolving around the passions and persistence it took to bring life to one of the movies’ greatest monsters.

Takeaway: A compelling novel of old Hollywood, Universal Pictures, and the 1931 Frankenstein film.

Great for fans of: Stewart O'Nan’s West of Sunset, Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in the Heavens.

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

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Taken Away
Russ Thompson
Thompson (Torn) continues his Finding Forward series with the heart-rending story of Miles, a 15-year-old whose life is upended when his father is sentenced to prison. After accepting money from his boss in exchange for burning down the restaurant he works in, Miles’s father receives a long prison sentence—made worse by the fact that a fireman was seriously injured during the fire. Miles, already struggling in school, is heartbroken and can’t figure out where to turn with his father gone. When he sees his dreams of making the basketball team going up in smoke along with his family life, Miles has to find the personal strength to keep moving forward

Though Taken Away takes on challenging topics, Thompson does so with grace, eliciting both Miles’s emotional torment and eventual comeback in relatable and poignant language. As Miles walks readers through his fears of failure and immense grief, there are glimmering moments of hope that will inspire: his basketball coach never fails to deliver uplifting messages at just the right time (“You can do anything if you set your mind to it and work hard”), and Miles’s extra work in school eventually pays off. When he finally gets back on the team, he’s learned not to give up—even after failing to make the winning shot in his first game, a lesson that will resonate with readers facing their own natural self-doubt.

Thompson deliberately leaves the ending with loose ends to allow readers the opportunity to meld the story to their own experiences, though he deposits a hint of optimism that things may work out ok for Miles after all. Regardless, readers will be left with the knowledge that life can be tough, but giving up will only make it worse—and the solid advice that “Sometimes people seem hard on the outside. But that’s not how they are on the inside.”

Takeaway: The inspiring story of a teenage boy picking up the pieces after his father goes to prison.

Great for fans of: Ali Benjamin’s The Thing About Jellyfish, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

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

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Half Notes from Berlin
B.V. Glants
Glants’s beautifully written historical debut explores themes of identity and resistance at the start of Hitler’s regime. Fifteen-year-old Hans attends school in Berlin and sings in the city’s prestigious Youth Choir. His placid world changes when his history teacher appears in class in a brown shirt, yells “Heil, Hitler!” and proceeds to coach the students in Nazi propaganda. Hans’s friends join the Hitler Youth and begin mercilessly taunting Rebecca, a defiant Jewish student to whom Hans is drawn. When Hans learns his mother’s family has kept its own heritage a secret, and that he is half-Jewish, he’s thrust between two worlds, facing great danger and terrible choices.

Hans narrates from old age in 2021, but the bulk of his story takes place over the course of a few weeks in 1933, as the novel’s taut timeframe underscores the speed with which radical nationalism took root in Germany. With his friends pressuring him to demonstrate his patriotism, Hans stalls, choosing a dangerous path—a secret relationship with Rebecca. After the mysterious disappearance of a school official, Hans gets swept up in a book burning and a Hitler Youth initiation ceremony and must decide whether to defy his peers or follow them, becoming “the one that does nothing” to resist.

The leads are skillfully and vividly drawn, especially Hans and Rebecca, whose dialogue brims with both tenderness and tension. As history encircles him, Hans’s inner struggle feels palpable, and the mob mentality he attempts to fend off rings true. By the end of the story, all citizens must fill out a “racial form” declaring whether they are Aryan—and while Hans’s mother’s career is jeopardized, his father turns a profit buying the business of a Jew fleeing the country. Present-day Hans inserts brief, chilling notes on what eventually happens to the characters, and their gripping stories will stick with readers long after the last page.

Takeaway: The gripping story of a german teen, at the start of the Nazi regime, discovering he’s half-Jewish.

Great for fans of: Ben Elton’s Two Brothers, Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

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

Click here for more about Half Notes from Berlin
The Birth of Adam
Paul Brown
“Brace yourself,” advises the first words of the first letter in this pained yet hopeful epistolary novel, which finds Brown, the neuroscientist author of the Notes from a Dying Planet series, returning to his urgent subject, imminent ecological collapse. That suggestion applies to readers, who are in for an illuminating but harrowing ride, and to humanity itself, which Brown persuasively suggests is living on the brink after having done “nothing to avert the developing catastrophes of overpopulation, mass extinction, and global warming (which we called ‘OMG’).” That advice is directed, though, from a mother to her son, as The Birth of Adam collects heady missives that Laura, a neuroscientist herself, and a quartet of her lovers send to her son, Adam, from a grim possible future of eco-catastrophes and governments who take no steps to halt the planet’s destruction.

“It was perfectly clear how humans had reached this state of affairs, and it was perfectly clear how it was all going to end up,” writes Simon, one of the lovers. Blending personal narrative, dystopian speculative fiction, and the explanatory clarity of a first-rate science essayist, Simon’s lengthy letter exemplifies Brown’s project: it doesn’t just imagine a fallen future, it does the work to show how humanity got there, with special attention paid to the workings of the brain.

“Essentially,” Simon notes, after a dazzling passage digging into the neuroscience of Trumpism, “they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.” The letters comprising the novel teems with insights about consciousness, the brain, AI, the environment, and life itself, plus incisive jokes, jolting revelations and connections, and flashes of love, pain, and deeply human earthiness: “I was a pelvis man. And she had a pelvis to die for,” notes David. While the lovers’ accounts of their relationships at times are touching, readers should not expect traditional plotting and pacing. These are scientists’ pained, illuminating meditations.

Takeaway: Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Paul Auster’s In the Country of Last Things.

Great for fans of: Illuminating letters from future scientists about how humanity let the Earth collapse.

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

Click here for more about The Birth of Adam
Herding the Wind
Richard Layh
Layh draws on his thirty-plus years of experience working on Wall Street in his debut novel, as a widower remembers the romance with his high school girlfriend several decades before. When Wall Street trader Democedes “Dee” Felico meets Mary Jo Barnes, the potential new sales assistant at his firm, he is astounded at how much she looks like Beatrice “Bea” Sharpe, the girl who left him heartbroken when he was just 22. Meanwhile, back when Dee fell for Bea, their passion-filled relationship was intense and mutually satisfying despite Bea’s somewhat mercurial nature and Dee’s stress-filled life working in finance while still attending college. But their romance ended abruptly when Bea took off for San Francisco to see her parents.

Layh’s understanding of the cutthroat nature of working as a trader imbues the novel with intense realism, as his characters work their deals, speak their insider language, their thoughts shaped by their business. (“You know how traders are—always looking over their shoulders,” one character observes.)” His New York City pulses with traders’ competitiveness, but also jazz, romance, possibility, and the ups and downs of recent history. The story weaves through recent decades, carefully linking the events of Dee’s personal life to the bumptious era of the Vietnam War (“Vietnam… was a violent cartoon; an indoor/outdoor musical, sloshed in harsh Van Gogh colors, conducted by a spastic corpse”) and the dark days following September 11, 2001.

Readers will be drawn to the intense, intriguing plotline of the similarities between Mary Jo and Bea as well as Dee’s electric reflections on the evolution of his relationship with Bea amid the turmoil in their lives all those years back. Though Dee’s work involves concepts that may be unfamiliar to readers, what matters is always clear, and Layh’s expertly paced depiction of a city, an industry, and a man over decades is convincing and touching as it surges toward its magnetic ending.

Takeaway: A widowed Wall Street trader recalls the girl who broke his heart decades ago in this intense New York novel.

Great for fans of: Randy Susan Meyers’s The Widow of Wall Street, Gary Helms’s Doubled Down: A Novel of Wall Street in the 1970s.

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

Click here for more about Herding the Wind
Hands Down
Tom Figel
Set among Iowa’s vividly evoked “flat farms and lines of windbreak trees” and “corn-rich fields and warm grassy smells,” Figel’s rangy, engaging 1960s-set debut novel centers on an ambitious Hawkeye named Dennis Spuhn, a young Marine fresh out of Vietnam and determined to open his own restaurant chain in his home state, but boasts an expansive cast of compelling local color. That includes a high-school wrestling champion turned holy man with divine healing powers; an artist desperate to escape her sister’s shadow; a copy editor discovering her ill health; and a womanizing vagabond with a penchant for traveling on his hands. Remarkably, Figel’s pleasantly paced story connects the lot of them, tying everything together by the time the story reaches its final pages—and the Missouri River dividing Iowa from Nebraska.

Hands Down pairs its story of coming-of-age in a time of societal upheaval with a series of character-rich vignettes worthy of Donald Harrington, all with a healthy dose of history thrown in as the tale unspools. As the war in Vietnam escalates, a group of draft dodgers has taken up residence on the outskirts of a small Iowa town; local politics complicate everything, of course, as does a bullying powerhouse of a lawyer and a developer’s plan for “small and shabby” housing.

Figel’s style is fast-paced and to the point, though the point, here, is usually his desire to catch the full blush of a moment, the drift of characters’ minds, the comic tenor of their talk, the ways things truly work, and how the sky on a sunny afternoon eventually yields a “great horizon of pink and orange.” Those moments and characters are the key to this journey of a novel, as Figel, adept at arcs and human surprises, brings rare empathy and understanding to the trials and triumphs of his people. The connections between them, when revealed, may elicit a-ha!s from readers.

Takeaway: This vivid novel of Iowa in the tumultuous 1960s bursts with empathy and character.

Great for fans of: Ken Babbs’s Cronies, Donald Harington.

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

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