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Paris, Part Time
Lisa Baker Morgan
Morgan’s evocative memoir recounts a seven-year journey of rediscovery, beginning in 2006 when she survived a near-fatal illness in a Monegasque hospital. The former Los Angeles litigator and divorced mother of two small girls went to culinary school, taught, and worked as a private chef and blogger. She vowed to move to Paris, though her custody agreement required that she also maintain a home in Los Angeles, and created a home for herself and her girls by renovating a small Parisian apartment. The memoir delves into her travels throughout France, recounting how they inspired recipes, and her relationships—both romantic and platonic—with a series of often remarkable men.

Morgan sprinkles in italicized French words and phrases liberally and without translation, leaving readers to comprehend them from context (“Ahead of le goûter and fin de la semaine traffic, I arrive at the notaire’s office on Rue du Louvre at exactly 3:50 p.m. Je l’ai fait!”). Her black-and-white and color photos of people, places, and delicious foods, presented in two multi-page sections, are gorgeous even on their own, but readers might wish for them to be integrated into the text. However, these are small issues in a genuinely inspirational story of hard work, redefining one’s life, and adapting to changing circumstances.

Readers will savor the descriptions of gustatory delights, often comical and frustrating cultural differences, and language barriers. Morgan writes expressively but never in a flowery way, effectively conveying her purchase, design, and rehabilitation of a Parisian apartment. The book also revolves around motherhood often done long distance, and gives insight into a chef’s creative process while developing recipes in a tiny kitchen. Intimate writing, restaurant-quality recipes, and well-composed photographs result in a delightful memoir that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Takeaway: This memoir of becoming a chef and moving to Paris is recommended for Francophiles, foodies, and women of all ages.

Great for fans of Eloisa James’s Paris in Love, Elizabeth Bard, David Lebovitz, Frances Mayes.

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

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Sector Rotation: 21 Strategies
Tony pow
Chinese American investor Pow updates his lively, information-packed guide, originally published in 2014 and now in its fifth edition, to discuss how current global issues, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, have affected sector rotation, a theory of stock market trading patterns. From the outset, Pow demonstrates complete confidence in his 21 strategies in sector rotation, which include market timing (don’t buy stock when the market is plunging, no matter what pundits say) and momentum investing (in his case, buying five stocks based on momentum metrics and selling them within a month). Throughout the book, he earnestly attempts to convince readers that his financial methods beat those of every other financial guru.

After asking readers to evaluate their own comfort and skill with investing, Pow helpfully provides a chart advising which chapters a beginner, intermediate, or expert investor should read and which they can skip. But though he makes a valiant attempt at keeping explanations simple, Pow often drifts into complicated topics and assumes the reader already has a working knowledge of them (“If it is vastly overbought (RSI(14) > 70) and the volume is low, it could mean that there are no buyers for the ETF”). The pages are confusingly peppered with random photographs as well as more useful charts.

Pow’s advice is worth considering, but there are a number of distracting errors peppered throughout the book. Preempting critique, Pow notes the difficulty of writing in a second language, suggesting that anyone who has a problem with his English should try writing in Chinese. He has a point, but readers already struggling to understand these investing concepts may find the writing style presents an additional barrier to adopting Pow's techniques. This work is best suited for readers with a strong grasp of advanced investing concepts who can most thoroughly comprehend and evaluate its claims.

Takeaway: This information-packed guide to sector rotation investing will give seasoned investors some intriguing new tips.

Great for fans of Timothy J. McIntosh’s The Sector Strategist, John J. Murphy’s Trading with Intermarket Analysis.

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

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Anarchy of the Mice
Jeff Bond
This meaty debut, which launches the Third Chance Enterprises series, is a satisfying mix of action, romance, and anarchy. Molly McGill is a single mom who takes on temp jobs after her private business, McGill Investigators, fails. One morning, she has visitors: Quaid Rafferty, the charming and impeached former governor of Massachusetts; Durwood Oak Jones, a serious and resourceful former Marine from West Virginia, and Durwood’s elderly, obedient dog, Sue-Ann. They’ve founded a small freelance security service and beg Molly to join them in infiltrating and defeating the Blind Mice, a group of young hackers dedicated to “overthrowing the corporatocracy.” As important computer data on property lines vanishes, Bond creates a scary yet credible anarchist near future where looting and civilians carrying guns are all part of everyday life.

Many sections of the book drag on too long, padded by witty dialogue and confounding machinations. This flaw is redeemed by Molly, a likable character who uses her background in psychology to develop rapports with some of the more powerful Mice in the group. She gets particularly close to Piper Jackson, a 17-year-old African American computer whiz who facilitates the demands of the unhinged Mice leader, Josiah, in retribution for a white business owner setting up her brother to take the fall for the company’s misdeeds. By balancing Molly’s adventures with scenes of her life as a single mother, Bond makes her strength feel realistic and practical.

The crowded but compelling tale gets better when Quaid, Durwood, and Molly discover that the Blind Mice is conspiring with Fabienne Rivard, a power-hungry French heiress and CEO. The tough trio fight an uphill battle to return the world to normalcy. Bond uses classic spy thriller elements—including disguises, high-tech gear, and an underground lake full of piranhas—to produce a satisfying if overlong climax. Readers will be eager to see what will happen with Third Chance Enterprises’ next client.

Takeaway: This adventurous spy thriller with a touch of dystopia will satisfy readers who delight in memorable characters.

Great for fans of Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, Vince Flynn.

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

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Who's at the Door?
JC Bratton
Bratton’s brisk debut novella takes readers on a suspenseful journey involving a haunted mirror. Recent high school graduate Jamie, at home alone, is spooked at 3:33 p.m. when her front door motion sensor goes off but no one is there. She recalls that just before she crashed her car a few weeks before, she saw the face of Mary Montgomery, a missing 13-year-old girl, in her rearview mirror at 3:33 a.m. Jamie and her ex-boyfriend, Mark, visit Mary’s classmate Beth and discover she owns a mirror that Jamie’s parents sold years ago. Then, at 3:33, a spectral hand reaches from the mirror and grabs Beth. After talking with Sheriff King, who turns out to be an expert in the occult and links the mirror to another long-ago disappearance, Jamie and Mark deduce that Mary was drawn into another dimension through the mirror—and there might still be time to rescue her.

Bratton capably intertwines the mirror-as-portal concept with the Bloody Mary urban legend, grounding it in Beth’s use of "Bloody Mary" to taunt Mary after she gets her first period. Jamie’s eerie family history, including connections to the time 3:33, adds suspense to the tension-filled novel. Mark and Jamie’s sleuthing efforts go improbably smoothly, from the sheriff’s ready acceptance of the supernatural to clues and specters appearing as they’re needed; older teen readers may balk at the ease with which answers turn up. However, this lack of obstacles lets the story fly by.

The conclusion of the investigation is somewhat diminished by Jamie fainting at a crucial moment and only learning afterward what transpired, but an eerie final page will leave the reader with chills. A swift pace and genuinely spooky atmosphere are the high points of this suburban ghost story.

Takeaway: This eerie novella and its smart adolescent sleuths will appeal to younger teen fans of spooky stories.

Great for fans of R.L. Stine’s The Betrayal, S.A. Hunter’s Scary Mary.

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

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The Lord of Salamander
T.H. Alexander
Alexander’s young adult portal fantasy has few surprises but a fair bit of charm. Thirteen-year-old Elijah Pendleton lives under the thumb of his “dominating, cruel, malicious” aunts, Mae and Faye. One day he sneaks away to follow a mysterious black cat to its owner Aura’s house. Aura reveals that Elijah is the prophesied savior of the mythic land of Salamander, where despotic enchanter Theodoric has imprisoned Elijah’s parents. Elijah slips through a portal with the cat, Cloe, who transforms into a talking panther and agrees to be his guide. They soon team up with siblings Jesse and Dustin Donovan, who provide rudimentary magical training, and Asthenia, an impulsive young enchanter, to infiltrate Theodoric’s castle and rescue Elijah’s parents.

Elijah’s story progresses nicely through discrete action sequences. Some descriptions are wordy and stilted (“as though he had just stepped into a lush Bob Ross painting littered with impeccable detail of briars, brambles and tall shrubs flanking the trail before him”), and there’s an unfortunate tendency to make good people pretty and bad ones “thoroughly repulsive.” The exposition primarily relies on Elijah listening to lectures from other characters. The final battle between Elijah and Theodoric rushes past and strains believability: despite Elijah’s very recent discovery of any magical abilities, he casts a level ten spell, a metric of magical difficulty that is never fully explained.

Despite these blips, the novel is entertaining and endearing. The blend of references to various mythologies (sasquatch, wingless dragons, giants called Nephilims) and nods to more recent works (a flying broom, a golden compass, faux-Latin spell names) makes a complicated world with lots of possibilities that are only hinted at. Unresolved questions, incomplete reunions, and a new quest nicely set up the sequel. Teens who enjoy seeing a prophesied hero stumbling into power and wandering across a fantasy map while making friends will be pleased by Alexander’s debut.

Takeaway: This is an enjoyable diversion for teen fans of traditional portal fantasies.

Great for fans of Rick Riordan, Suzanne Collins’s Gregor the Overlander series.

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

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Knight in Retrograde
Lee Hunt
Doubt, grief, and maturity now weigh upon the once-eager young science-magicians of Hunt’s Dynamicist Trilogy (which opened with Dynamicist and Herald), but the thoughtful fantasy series’ sprawling and ambitious final volume finds their creator telling their story with new confidence and clarity. As Robert Endicott and his cohort of dynamicists take up the ancient quest for a lost bridge and barrel toward a final showdown with Nimrheal, the demon that has turned the world against new ideas and technology, Hunt expands the scope of his saga to include a mature treatment of sex and loss. Several chapters chronicle gumshoe police work in a fantasy city so entertainingly that they could inspire their own novel.

This is the longest book of the series by far, but also as its most arresting and pleasurable. The characters seem more real now that they’re no longer schoolkids, and Hunt cuts nimbly among this epic’s many interwoven protagonists, quests, and mysteries. The climax is suitably epic, though the wrap-up afterwards ends abruptly. Hunt still relies on sound effects for excitement in his action scenes (expect a lot of “CRRRRRRAAAK”), but the conflicts here don’t need all that extra noise. They’re tense and exciting already.

The previous books plumbed complex ideas, with an emphasis on economics, agriculture, and the morality of the violence that fantasy films and games too often present as simple escapism. This volume adeptly balances Hunt’s deeper interests with the pacing of an exciting story, and disquisitions on abstruse topics no longer slow the storytelling. The passages that probe Endicott’s regrets over a fallen comrade, or that lay out the mathematical logic behind dynamicist techniques, rise compellingly from narrative and character. Rather than detract from the action, they illuminate it. This is a sterling end to a rich, concept-driven series.

Takeaway: This trilogy finale will thrill readers who want thoughtful, inventive fantasy powered by ideas.

Great for fans of Seth Dickinson, Daniel Abraham.

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

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Regaining Paradise
Paul Corson
Using an intriguing blend of hard science and spiritual belief, Corson challenges common assumptions about the incompatibility of faith and science in this follow-up to Touched By God: A Search for Higher Truth (2004). After numerous metaphysical experiences beginning when he was a child, he became convinced that there is a world beyond this one, and he sets out to prove it, in part through empirical science. His goal is more experiential than intellectual: he wants to help readers achieve “the state of Paradise that you experienced at birth” that will provide “the inner strength you need to work through these turbulent times and still feel joyful.”

Corson lays a solid foundation of scientific and philosophic principles on his way to trying to demonstrate the divine. His stirring, if decidedly offbeat, case for a higher being is underpinned with quotes and theories from a star-studded lineup of prominent scientists such as Albert Einstein and philosophers such as Plato and René Descartes. Even Nobel laureate Max Planck, the father of quantum mechanics, puts faith in the theory that science and spirit coincide, Corson argues, quoting Planck's assertion that “We must assume behind [the origination of matter] the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind.” He argues that science and religion support each other in a demonstration of how dualities pervade the universe, and says that humans ourselves embody duality, being “composed of both natural biological energy and energy of a higher realm.”

In an engaging and straightforward tone, Corson unapologetically writes with the courage of his convictions, realizing not all readers will agree with him. His strong belief that death of the body marks a point when readers will begin to experience the ecstatic “never-endingness of eternal time” will provide comfort to those brought up with fire-and-brimstone beliefs, and his logical analogies will help readers visualize complex concepts. Corson’s quiet eloquence will stick with readers and encourage them to see the harmony in different ways of trying to understand the puzzles of the universe.

Takeaway: Anyone who has wrestled with seeing religion and science in conflict will find comfort in Corson’s holistic perspective.

Great for fans of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and The Business of Heaven, Todd Burpo’s Heaven Is for Real, James Van Praagh’s Talking to Heaven.

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

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Optics
Gail Reitenbach
Reitenbach’s smoothly written debut novel follows seven friends and their struggles navigating the professional world as middle-aged women. Kris is an intelligent, creative marketing director for Klassik Eyewear, a small company in Albuquerque that makes cheap, boring eyeglasses. The obnoxious new owner, Roger, is tanking the company, and she and several other women over age 50 are laid off after they refuse to either shut up or quit. Commiserating with her friends about the ageism she faces while looking for a new job, she learns they’re all having similar hardships. After a shocking event, Kris and her friends are given a chance at creating their own dreams.

Writing primarily from Kris’s point of view while occasionally diverging to other characters, Reitenbach gives readers a deep understanding of the difficulties these women face in dealing with both ageism and sexism. Kris’s great ideas are ignored by Roger, whose father bought him the company, and she struggles to obtain financial backing and isn’t taken seriously when she tries to purchase the company herself, even though she has a detailed, well conceived plan. Kris’s friend and colleague Diana is regularly ridiculed for her weight by both Roger and her boyfriends, and her talents are overlooked in her receptionist job.

The sections about Kris’s friends and what they face are rich and well written but unfortunately brief, while those about Kris are light on emotion and heavy on the Klassik Eyewear day-to-day. Those interested in an in-depth look at how small production businesses are run will enjoy the details of Kris’s challenges as she rebrands the company, shifts to targeting the luxury market, and tries to undo Roger’s damage; they’ll also enjoy the many scenes where she earns lavish praise from her colleagues for her design sense, collaborative approach, and smart decisions. This low-key story is pure wish fulfillment for older women in the corporate world.

Takeaway: Fans of older women fighting to have their talents recognized will cheer for this novel’s charming heroine as she reinvents the company she loves and her own future in the business world.

Great for fans of Anne Tyler's Clock Dance, Elizabeth Berg's Night of Miracles.

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

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The Influencer
R. T. W. Lipkin
Lipkin (Nothing Lost) explores themes of consciousness and identity, blended with a gentle critique of modern consumerism, in a fabulist futuristic tale of a constructed fashion influencer striking out on her own. Claude Ryerson creates a beautiful virtual woman named Ash to sell luxury products through broadcasts from her small room in cyberspace. Ash’s minor deviations from Claude’s script soon develop into a range of emotions, a drive to learn, and a rebellious desire to understand herself and exist as a complete person outside of Claude’s control.

Lipkin taps into a plausible future where gossip columns push the buzz around wholly artificial celebrities and the rich pay for exclusive virtual experiences. Unfortunately, her human protagonists run toward stereotype: Claude responds to Ash’s growing desire for independence with abusive behavior to maintain control, while human influencer Quinn falls in love with Ash’s image despite knowing nothing about her real self. The “Before” section of the novel, in which Claude’s time at an exclusive academy yields close friends who become his investors, feels like a distraction from the main story arc of Ash’s self-actualization.

Far more delightful is the wondrous tale of Ash’s liberation. Claude’s cat, Devil, and his mouse friend, Bobby, guide Ash to freedom, escaping through a window that Claude never intended to exist and navigating mystical labyrinths. As Ash creates a life for herself in the real world, she struggles to move from her self-diagnosis of amnesia into a real understanding of what it means to be a sentient but constructed person. Ash’s eventual decision to settle down with Claude, who has been presented as her parent, her abuser, and her jailer, is a disempowering if technically happy ending. Readers interested in exploring the construction of the self and reading soft, dreamy prose will find Lipkin’s story enchanting.

Takeaway: This dreamy tale of a constructed woman escaping the bonds of her code will appeal to readers at the intersection of romance and magical realism.

Great for fans of M.T. Anderson’s Feed, Greg Dragon’s Re-Wired.

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

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Bradley's Dragons
Patrick Matthews
This imaginative middle grade adventure by writer and game designer Matthews (Dragon Run) blends coming-of-age soul-searching with high-stakes fantasy action. At age nine, Bradley had a run-in with a would-be kidnapper, an incident that left him with debilitating anxiety. When he turns 12, his parents explain that he’s about to undergo a magical transformation into a dragon. Bradley’s parents, also dragons, have been waiting for centuries for a child who displays the gallu draig, the power to transform or “hatch” into a dragon. Before he can begin to discover the central purpose that will shape his unique draconian form and powers, Bradley is once again targeted by the kidnappers, evil fae who drain the gallu draig from unhatched dragons. They threaten to wipe out Bradley’s entire dragon clan. Bradley’s parents and aunt try to protect him, and his fear paralyzes him, but in the end it still falls to him to save the day.

The premise of a preteen protagonist being thrust into a magical world will be familiar to seasoned fantasy readers, but Matthews puts his own stamp on it, focusing on the inner conflict of Bradley’s yearning to be respected and take action even as he feels terrified and weak. Unfortunately, the confusing power abilities and restrictions of different dragons and fae complicate an otherwise intriguing premise, and the dynamics of various alliances are briefly sketched or left for readers to puzzle over.

Teen readers will connect easily with Bradley’s quests to graduate from his safe but stifling childhood into a brave and active adulthood, master his panic attacks, and discover his passion. Those readers’ parents will appreciate the minimal violence, few and bloodless deaths (defeated fae vanish in a pop of light), and warmly present family. Bradley’s watchful mother, gruff father, clever aunt, and adorable younger sister are a pleasure to spend time with. A compelling cast of characters with rich backstories round out this fantastical story of a scared kid learning to stand up to bullies and be true to himself.

Takeaway: This good-hearted transformation fantasy about finding the strength to overcome fear will appeal to readers on the cusp of adolescence.

Great for fans of Sarah Nicolas's Dragons Are People, Too, Marc Secchia.

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

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The Means That Make Us Strangers
Christine Kindberg
This powerful debut YA novel, set in the turbulent American South in the 1960s, captivatingly recounts the ostensible homecoming of 16-year-old Adelaide Henderson, the daughter of a white American anthropologist, who grew up in an Ethiopian village along with her two sisters. The book kicks off in 1964 as her family is moving back to Greenville, S.C., not long after the death of a fourth sibling in infancy. Adelaide promises her Ethiopian boyfriend that she’ll return when she turns 18. In Greenville, she feels like an outsider until she befriends the first five Black students recently accepted to her school. Though they’re sometimes reluctant to trust or confide in her, she learns through them how dangerous it is to be Black in Greenville; even though she doesn’t feel she fits in with other white kids, she is still treated much better than her Black friends.

Kindberg portrays the transition to American life in luminous detail, using each scene to explore another facet of the unfamiliar norms, sensations, and experiences of the Hendersons’ new home: soft beds, single braids instead of cornrows, attending school, seeing Shakespeare plays, driving, movies, the ocean. Adelaide is shocked by the racist way her friends are treated. Frederica tells her about the Klansmen who routinely sow terror in her neighborhood, and Nathan’s speech about Black rights is unfairly cut short by a teacher. After Lion is unfairly fired, Adelaide quits her job in solidarity. All the while, she saves up money for her return trip to Ethiopia, even as she becomes more attached to her American friends and the prospect of college.

Cleverly drawing readers into Adelaide’s life, Kindberg illuminates the injustice of segregation and racism without being preachy or didactic, portrays characters of various ages and backgrounds with dignity and tenderness, and expertly structures the plot. She draws this principled, independent, loyal girl so realistically that readers will feel they’re talking to an old friend. This beautiful novel will move readers as it immerses them in Adelaide’s coming of age and gently teaches ways to stand up for what’s right.

Takeaway: Teen readers interested in the civil rights era will be enthralled by this nuanced story of race relations in the 1960s American South, seen through the eyes of a white girl raised in Ethiopia.

Great for fans of Susan Follett’s The Fog Machine, Kristin Levine’s The Lions of Little Rock.

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

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Orbital
FX Holden
Holden’s nail-biting third Future War military thriller (after Okinawa) gives readers a front-row seat to an international tactical assault on a devastating orbiting weapon. In 2034, the blind, disfigured, and unstable Russian scientist Anastasia Grahkovsky develops a kinetic bombardment satellite weapon system that mimics the destruction of meteor strikes. She names it Groza, meaning thunderstorm. When Saudi Arabia refuses to curb oil production, Groza obliterates the country’s largest oil processing facility to boost the price of Russian oil and revitalize its economy. The Russians then escalate, targeting a Chinese pipeline and Cape Canaveral. American, British, and Chinese forces unite to destroy Groza’s 16 orbital platforms before more people die.

Futuristic exoskeletons and artificial intelligence bring a speculative edge to the story, which is grounded by international political maneuvering and old-fashioned espionage. Holden populates this political blockbuster of a novel with a cast of sympathetic and intriguing characters. Col. Alicia Rodriguez of the U.S. Space Force joins forces with Scotland-based Lt. Meany Papastopoulos, who leads the R.A.F.’s suborbital missile launch system. Cpl. Maqsud Khan, charged with deploying Groza, must balance Grahkovsky’s orders against his pacifist beliefs, humanizing the antagonistic side. Holden only stumbles with the characterization of Grahkovsky, which unfortunately falls into stereotypes of a disfigured and disabled sociopath.

Though the nonstop action is sometimes tiring, readers will be captivated by Holden’s deft battle sequences and his characters’ constantly shifting strategy. Holden expertly pulls from recent military history, technology, and international relations to fuel his prescient epic about the militarization of space. While keeping an eye on the big picture, he also delves into technologically driven warfare’s devastating effects on individual lives. Thriller readers with an interest in the future of politics and warfare will find a lot to chew on in this exciting and thoughtful novel.

Takeaway: Military enthusiasts and science fiction fans will delight in this action-packed political thrill ride set 900 miles up.

Great for fans of James Rosone’s Into the Stars, Matthew Mather’s CyberSpace.

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

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The Never: A Tale of Peter and the Fae
Don Jones
Jones explores the origins of J.M. Barrie’s Neverland and its inhabitants through the experiences of Queen Mab and her Fae subjects (who appear in Barrie’s less-known Peter Pan novels The Little White Bird and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens). Exiled from Under Hill, Mab and her court of elves, fairies, and more find refuge in London’s Kensington Gardens during the time of King George III. After discovering that human children can shape the previously hostile realm of the Never with their imaginations, Mab manipulates a child named Peter into creating what soon becomes Neverland, an island refuge for lost children and the Fae alike. But to maintain Neverland’s cohesion, Mab’s people must continually entertain Peter and his followers, a task that grows wearisome. As Mab’s grip on her people slips, Peter’s influence on his surroundings creates new challenges that force the Fae to adapt further.

This well-written, provocative melding of Peter Pan with folklore provides appropriate origins for classic elements such as Tinker-Bell and the pirates. However, this story is slow-paced, and telling it primarily from Mab’s removed perspective leads to a darker, more grown-up narrative about survival, leadership, and taking care of others. Peter is rarely present and the events with which readers are most familiar are almost entirely skipped. With this focus on Mab’s experiences and increasing social instability in Neverland, the story feels less whimsical and fun than fans of Peter Pan (particularly its Disney and Broadway incarnations) might expect.

There’s an almost seamless interweaving of elements from English folklore, children’s literature, and history. Jones’s ideas about the power of creativity and the relationship between the Fae and inspiration work well; the horrendously stereotypical Indians, for example, are explained as Fae manifestations of childish interpretations of faraway stories. Readers looking for spirited children’s stories of adventure should look elsewhere, but readers interested in mythology will find much to enjoy in this elegiac tale about attempting to protect one’s way of life amid change and destruction.

Takeaway: This thoughtful reinterpretation of Peter Pan through myth and folklore will appeal to fans of darker adult takes on children’s literature.

Great for fans of Brianna R. Shrum’s Never Never, Christina Henry’s Lost Boy, Gregory Maguire.

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

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Who Will Hear Begonia?
Bonny Gable
Young readers will be delighted by this poignant picture book about Begonia, a thoughtful dachshund who wonders: is anyone paying attention? Misunderstood Begonia tries to help but always seems to end up being scolded by her human family of Kara, Emma, and Mom. One of the family’s most frequent activities is visiting their Nana, whose memory loss causes her not to recognize her granddaughters. Kara and Emma have noticed that their grandmother doesn’t talk or even smile anymore—and this makes them sad. Begonia wants to help make Nana feel better, but when she tries to pick flowers for Nana, she gets in trouble for her muddy paws. The girls set out on a mission to make Nana happy again, but it isn’t until Begonia joins them on a visit that Nana smiles. She’s reminded of her family dachshund, Hilda. Nana finally feels joy again, while the girls learn about Nana’s illness and are reassured that her memory loss doesn’t mean she loves them any less.

Gable does a great job of presenting the information about Nana’s memory loss in a subtle, age-appropriate way through Mom’s answers to Kara and Emma’s questions. (“That’s how her illness works. She can remember things from a long, long time ago. She just can’t remember things now.”) Readers will be heartened to learn that even the smallest thing can ignite a cherished memory from long ago, and that great ideas can come from unexpected places.

Stephenson’s watercolor illustrations are soft and gentle, with whimsical elements such as imaginary birds appearing when Emma's flute music mimics birdsong, and Kara's gymnastics display is as dynamic as Begonia's “wild romping.” The art perfectly compliments Begonia’s personality and the ethos of this sweet book. When Nana hugs Emma and Kara while calling them by her daughters’ names, Begonia reassures them (and the reader) that “Whoever Nana sees, she still loves ALL of us!” This story of a family finding caring ways through a difficult situation is well suited to young dog lovers and those whose loved ones have memory loss.

Takeaway: Parents will find this kind and gentle picture book a perfect way to open a conversation with young children about a grandparent's memory loss.

Great for fans of Veronique van de Abeele’s Still My Grandma, Kelly Starling Lyons’s Tea Cakes for Tosh.

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

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The Lance
George Vasil
In this sprightly, hopeful thriller, Vasil (Emperor’s Eyes) reinvigorates the biblical artifacts and ancient conspiracies genre by eschewing the usual rugged archaeologists and know-it-all symbologists. Instead, the heroes who emerge as the novel surges along are the Connerys, a married couple of American medical doctors on vacation in Istanbul. Through a sharply plotted series of events, they find themselves in possession of the tip of the Roman spear that pierced the side of Jesus Christ. Angie, an athlete, is eager to believe and to protect the recently discovered relic. Les, a nebbish, is more skeptical, especially once Angie rushes into the street to take on the mastermind behind a special-ops organization.

Vasil’s plotting is brisk, surprising, and touched with a comic sensibility that’s rare for the genre and very welcome. The motley assortment of antagonists who pursue the bickering doctors include a septuagenarian Nazi geneticist and his bioengineered superman progeny, a racist French grad student who sics the local authorities on the heroes, and British aristocrat who dreams of re-establishing a Templar empire. Meanwhile, the Connerys find that the lance seems to be guiding their efforts to protect it, stirring new convictions in both of them.

The best of the action is rendered in crisp, exciting prose (“She introduced his left jaw to a vicious right cross that sent the big man to the pavement”), though the storytelling is often slowed down by wordy passages gummed up with unnecessary modifiers (“As he kissed her hand, he noticed that his employer’s hips, which were seductively accentuated by her tight, black slacks, were particularly alluring”). The story’s strongest selling points are its light touch, continual surprises, and kind heart. At last, here’s a chase for a biblical artifact where the climax involves redemption rather than carnage.

Takeaway: This twisty thriller will please readers looking for archaeological action with a light, redemptive touch.

Great for fans of Douglas Preston, Wilbur Smith.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: -
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Zen and the Art of Funk Capitalism
Karun Philip
The “funk” in this searching, perceptive economic treatise refers to “the underside of anything.” In compact essays, Philip, an academic economist and entrepreneur, zeroes in on the underside of common assumptions about the U.S. and global economies, arguing that the path to more equitable growth and more effective antipoverty programs starts with an understanding of the theories of the late Friedrich August Hayek, an Austrian libertarian economist. Hayek, who died in 1992, argued that economic opportunity for all can be enabled by ending the economic “coercion” of individuals. This, Philip argues, can be achieved by passing universally applicable laws and eliminating the pervasive “non-disclosure” that keeps disadvantaged populations in the dark about economic opportunity.

Philip also draws inspiration from Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but rather than shape his philosophical inquiry into a narrative, as Pirsig did, he instead dives right into dense but coherent considerations of epistemology and the fallibility of knowledge. In an approachable and helpful foreword, Philip suggests that readers not interested in philosophy skip these pages, but their arguments prove essential to a full understanding of the volume’s later arguments about banking, securitization, and the need for entrepreneurs to generate value for their communities.

Philip advocates for a middle road between current economic arguments from the right and left. Unlike many libertarian thinkers, he imagines a society that outlaws Hayekian coercion of all kinds—including the coercion of being underinformed or misled about economic realities—rather than one committed above all else to the protection of property rights. However, this philosophical book offers little practical advice or discussion of implementing these ideas. The work’s academic bent makes it less approachable than simpler economics texts but also more persuasive.

Takeaway: Readers interested in economics and alienated by both laissez-faire and socialist approaches will find this treatise illuminating.

Great for fans of Jeffrey Friedman’s Hayek's Political Theory, Epistemology, and Economics, Ana Cordeiro dos Santos’s The Social Epistemology of Experimental Economics.

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

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