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Homeland
Robert H Keprta
Robert Keprta (Superlative Selling) tells an engaging historical tale of freedom, danger, and the complexities of birthright and citizenship in this compact, compelling narrative. Frank, who emigrated from the Austria-Hungary Empire at the age of ten, decides to visit his birthplace as an adult in the early twentieth century. Upon his return, he is captured and forcibly enlisted in the army. Drawing strength from his steady faith in God, he is eventually able to escape and undertakes a long, perilous journey back to the United States–this time as a stowaway with no passport. Without papers, he is imprisoned at Ellis Island until his wife, Bosinia, can come and verify his identity, finally allowing him back to rebuild his life in the U.S.

This story, drawn from actual incidents, is fast paced and exciting, although at times the text is bogged down by minor errors and long chapters without breaks. Frank’s faith is a clear support to him throughout his dangerous experience, and Keprta skillfully illustrates that the homeland of the novel’s title is not Frank’s new life in Texas, or the old country in Europe–rather, it is eternity in heaven. Some readers may wish for a map to detail Frank’s travels, or personal photographs to make the story more intimate, as this mixture of memoir and fiction straddles more than one genre.

Despite the story being a quick read, it never lacks for excitement. The sections dealing with the experience of Frank’s wife are gripping, and the narration of Frank’s time in Europe is well-detailed and visceral. Readers will sympathize with Frank’s desire to see his birth home, even as they recognize the inevitable danger awaiting him. Once he is forcibly conscripted, readers will cheer for him to escape and be relieved when Frank and Bosinia are safely reunited at last.

Takeaway: An exciting historical story of danger, triumph, and migration, based in the Christian faith.

Great for fans of: Airey Neave’s They Have Their Exits, Jonathan F. Vance’s The True Story of the Great Escape.

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

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Seasons Under the Juniper Tree: A Daily Devotional
Tricia Kirchmeyer
Keyed to hard times–“the brokenness, the injustice, the gut-wrenching events, the insecurities” that everyone faces— Kirchmeyer’s inviting Christian devotional has been crafted to remind believers that God “accepts us, never leaves us, shelters us, and saves us,” even in moments of crisis. Under the Juniper Tree draws inspiration from the biblical tale of the prophet Elijah, resting in the shade of the titular tree, beseeching God to take his life but instead being urged to rise and eat by an angel. Kirchmeyer thinks of the tree as a shelter, a “scrappy, durable evergreen “that can protect us through every season of life.”

In warm, encouraging prose, the daily devotionals dig into the tale of Elijah and other figures from scripture, giving a week’s worth of devotional essays each to Micah, Esther, Paul, Daniel, and many more, exploring the ancient mysteries and lessons and applying them to contemporary hardships. “Now sit for a moment in Job’s boil-covered, heartbroken place,” she writes, before reminding readers “The only thing that keeps our hearts and minds sane and functioning when the bottom drops out of our world is experiencing God personally.” Holiday weeks are devoted to contemplation of the meaning and message of holy days, but still address everyday concerns. In Easter week, for example, Kirchmeyer addresses common insecurities about our “looks, brains, and purpose” before declaring “Believing we’re worthless is calling God a liar.”

That emphasis on the very human tendency to feel low and defeated, to doubt yourself, and to worry about what others might be thinking sets this nurturing guide apart from the devotional pack. In an introduction, Kirchmeyer notes that she originally wrote the project for an audience of kids in the foster system before realizing that the feelings, fears, and pains she was addressing were shared by many others. The result is an empathetic and welcoming work crafted to heal and inspire believers all year long.

Takeaway: An empathetic daily devotional for Christians facing feelings of loneliness and insecurity.

Great for fans of: 365 Devotions for Depression & Anxiety, Ryan Casey Waller’s Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don't Want to Talk About.

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

Once in a Lifetime
Suzanne Mattaboni
Mattaboni’s debut is the story of one epic summer in 1984, when Philadelphia artist, server, and punk-rock striver Jess bunks up with her closest friends Trina, Audrey, and Kimmer in New Hope, where just about anything goes. The girls are wholly committed to the punk life and each other while facing the obstacles of young adults living on their own–a less than respectable apartment, summer jobs, love triangles, and personal crises. Even though the friends face some heady issues, Mattaboni opts for keeping the subject matter mostly lighthearted, circling around the ups and downs of relationships amid subtle themes of self-discovery, all tied to an era-specific punk, new wave, and post-punk soundtrack.

Mattaboni masters the complications and daily nuances of female friendship while emphasizing the women’s dreams and opportunities in a vibrant cultural moment, especially Jess’s desire to go to London and create art. Music and art rule Jess’s life. As narrator, she relishes “deep plucks of Tina Weymouth’s bass line” and how the “screen-printed lines” of a Joy Division T-shirt seem to “undulate like a mountain range” across a man’s chest. She takes a waitressing job at Capresi’s Continental Restaurant, and Kimmer joins her there for a string of adventures, while roommates Trina and Audrey work in the more upscale eatery La Chambre Rose, where a jealous co-worker and a love triangle threaten their friendship–and Jess gets caught in a love triangle of her own when she falls for an appealing guitarist while on break from longtime boyfriend.

Jess’s love for art spills forth onto her apartment walls and colors the background of her everyday experiences. Readers fascinated by the era and its culture will enjoy the throwback elements, but the quirky humor, the emphasis on art and women’s relationships, and the story’s burning questions –will these friendships survive the summer?–offer much more than that.

Takeaway: A woman’s coming-of-age summer in the post-punk 1980’s, with close friends and hard decisions.

Great for fans of: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising, Suzanne Kamata’s Screaming Divas.

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

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From the Flood
Suzanne Jones
Trauma recovery specialist Jones (There Is Nothing To Fix) shines in this first-rate memoir chronicling a life defined by a hurricane. Pre-flood, Jones was a typical 1970s teen — fighting with her older sister Pam and her younger brother Paul, squabbling over toys, and playing childhood games. But after Hurricane Agnes roars through Wilkes-Barre, PA, on June 23, 1972, Jones’s entire life changes. When her family’s house is destroyed by the nearly 41-foot surge from the flood, they first stay with a host of relatives, then take up residence in a government-provided trailer and start rebuilding their lives.

With sparkling prose and a fine eye for detail, Jones easily pulls readers into her engaging narrative. “Hurricane Agnes and the flood of 1972 changed communities, people, and families in ways that they could never have imagined. This is the story of one such family,” she writes, noting that her family lived in their HUD trailer for two years before moving to a hillside home in nearby Kingston. In the aftermath of the disaster, Jones comes to realize how resilient she is, making the best of her new situation: the family soon welcomes a baby sister as a bright spot among the disaster, finds joy with new friends and a loving and feisty babysitter, and eventually moves into a family home that will never flood again.

Jones recounts her new circumstances with a child’s frankness, eschewing pity for herself or her siblings, and her descriptions alternate between laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreakingly sad. She chooses to see much of her ordeal through a lens of childhood wonder and naiveté that will resonate with readers, and her writing beautifully defines a family making the best of lemonades out of tragic, sour lemons. Readers who love coming-of-age stories will devour Jones’s moving and well-paced memoir.

Takeaway: A touching memoir that chronicles a childhood upended by a natural disaster.

Great for fans of: Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, Gary Rivlin’s Katrina: After the Flood.

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

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Ivy Lodge: A Memoir of Translation and Discovery
Linda Murphy Marshall
A tour of a home, a family, and a life, Marshall’s accomplished, incisive memoir takes as its organizing principle a trip through the eponymous Ivy Lodge, the somewhat regal but “funeral” Tudor that her family purchased in 1960. Linking the purchase to the white flight that reshaped greater St. Louis and other American cities, Marshall, a translator, conducts a moving survey of the home, her familial relationships, and her own understanding of who she is—and, in the process, at last “stop viewing my life through the arbitrary lexicon my parents devised.”

Marshall has made a life, as a translator, finding and explicating the truest of meanings; here, she applies those exacting skills—and her considerable acumen as a prose stylist—to what Miranda Lambert calls “the house that made me,” as well as the people in it and the “cracks in our foundation that no one could fix.” As her story moves through the tumult of the 1960s and the years beyond, with Marshall often feeling herself to be ostracized onto the fringes of the family, Ivy Lodge finds her moving through this memory-haunted home, room by room, centering chapters on the rathskeller basement, the bedrooms (“fancy, impersonal, like showrooms of a model house before it’s occupied”), and the attic that reached from the “curving wrought iron stairs ascending from the foyer.”

Her portraits of family and accounts of conflicts (occasionally explosive, often quietly simmering) prove as striking as her descriptions of her beloved dolls, her father’s toy soldiers, and Ivy Lodge’s lofty gables. Even with such highly personal material, she proves a persuasive, perceptive analyst of the “Murphy dynamic.” Despite the pain of often being made to feel, even as an adult, as if she were unwanted—her mother regards her like she’s a "rare form of beetle under a microscope”—Marshall arrives at touching moments of empathy for the family as she sorts through it all.

Takeaway: A touching reckoning with a family, a home, and one’s place in both, in elegant prose.

Great for fans of: J. Nicole Jones’s Low Country, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House.

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

When Life Gives You Risk, Make Risk Theatre: Three Tragedies and Six Essays
Edwin Wong
In The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy Wong argued that it’s risk rather than hamartia, catharsis, or other ancient formulations that power theatrical tragedy—and that make tragic drama resonate for us today. Aiming “to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant,” as he puts it in this ambitious new volume, he set out to “reset” tragedy in theory and practice. Here he leads by example, as Wong, founder of the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, collects three strong new tragedies that “simulate, explore, and understand risk” and pens six essays that dig deeper into his theory of risk theater and address critics head on.

To that end, Wong takes on Aristotle and the concept of a hero’s tragic flaw, which suggests that tragedy can be avoided. Risk Theatre, by contrast, posits that the tragic hero is brought down by chance, not error, an argument he backs up with evidence from classic tragedies (Shakespeare, Euripides, Aeschylus, Arthur Miller, even Thomas Hardy) and with contemporary life, including Covid-19 and the crash of 2008. “By simulating risk and uncertainty, tragedy is our Muse in times of crisis,” he writes; elsewhere, he notes that “the art that dramatizes downside risk may be a source of wisdom.”

Wong writes with persuasive power, wide-ranging interests, a playful wit, and the zeal of a convert. The included plays, all finalists or winners of the Risk competition, illuminate, reinforce, and occasionally challenge his conception. Wrenching yet sensitive, Gabriel Jason Dean’s In Bloom finds an American documentarian in Afghanistan, where he becomes obsessed with a bacha bi reesh, a “beardless boy” who, like many others, performs sensual dances for local warlords. Nicholas Dunn’s provocative, often comic The Value finds art thieves holed up after a score, confronting their worth, while Emily McClain’s Children of Combs and Watch Chains offers a bracingly dark and inspired update of “The Gift of the Magi.”

Takeaway: Wong backs up his stimulating theory of tragedy as risk with striking essays and plays.

Great for fans of: Robert J. Andreach’s Tragedy in the Contemporary American Theatre, Raymond Williams’s Modern Tragedy.

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

Daisy's Adventures in Love
Nikki Sitch
Sitch’s follow-up to Love, Lust & WTF?!! explores one woman’s quest for the perfect man. Canadian Daisy Flanigan’s search for love after her husband died in a car accident five years before has been unsuccessful, until she starts dating Brad MacDonald, who seems to meet all of her requirements in a man. The sex is great, and her teenaged twin daughters Jessica and Angela quickly warm to him. Though Daisy and Brad’s son Kris bond quickly, it takes a little longer for his daughter Kari to welcome Daisy. But soon Daisy’s daughters and Kari become friends, and Kari comes out to Jessica as a pansexual transboy, leading Jessica to tell the family about Kari, now Carson’s, sexuality–news that both changes and unites them at the same time.

Focusing on the need for adults to support adolescents at the crossroads to adulthood, Sitch’s of-the-moment plotline will resonate with readers who have faced similar challenges of identity as parents or as children. Brad’s initial disappointment that Daisy talked to a friend whose ex is a counselor working with LGBTQ+ youth before Carson came out to him changes when he realizes that Daisy’s take-charge attitude is one of her endearing qualities. As their relationship becomes more serious, blending their families, Daisy and Brad help Carson navigate the challenging waters of his newly-revealed sexuality. Stich again takes a matter-of-fact approach to sexuality, writing frank discussions that may shock some readers, though many will appreciate Daisy’s candor and her friends’ equally responsive advice.

Although Sitch takes on some serious discussions about the journey teens embracing their sexuality undergo, she offers a consistent undercurrent of humor: Daisy’s comical voice and the ups and downs of everyday life add welcome levity. Sitch’s focus on the difficulties of mixing families, especially when an ex like Brad’s wife is continually unaccepting of her son’s sexuality, further imbues this compelling read with urgent authenticity.

Takeaway: A frank, engaging novel of a blended family learning the value of support for a trans teen.

Great for fans of: J.N. Marton’s My Ticket Out, and Sabrina Symington’s First Year Out: A Transition Story.

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

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TM: A Mind-Expanding Mystery Adventure
H.D. Rogers
This tech-thriller epic, Rogers’ debut, blends firefight action, a grabber of a mystery, international political intrigue, and an AI-driven U.S. missile defense program called the Guardian Orbital Defense System—read it as an acronym for a hint as to why it strikes so many as ominous. As GODS becomes operational, and other nations’ hackers target the system, the scientist who designed its controversial AI goes missing, as does a supreme court justice. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and it’s up to ex Delta Force soldier Mac Slade and his fiancée, FBI Special Agent Christine Lasco, to rescue Dr. Stanley Jacobson and make sense of an irresistible clue: the mysterious “TM”s in the missing scientist’s calendar. Saving the abducted luminaries might not be enough, as threats both domestic and foreign target the Guardian system—and possibly the United States itself.

From those “TM”s to the uneasy possibilities of AI, Rogers offers several strong hooks early in the novel, mysteries that tickle the imagination and stir dread at the potential answers, which tend to point towards global crises. Fortunately, then, his hero proves himself in the opening pages, offering a polite warning and then fragging invaders of a laboratory to “a bloody mist.” A sentence like “To Mac Slade, the best defense was usually a well-planned counteroffensive” exemplifies the novel that follows—if that gets your juices flowing, you’ll find much here to cheer.

It's not all machine-gunnings, though. Rogers digs into the legwork an investigation demands, and he relishes teasing out the political implications of GODS. His narrative features a sprawling (and chatty) international cast, flirty dinners between the sharply sketched heroes, the literal fireworks of missile defense tests, and conspiracy theorizing in the top echelons of D.C. power. The action is inventive, if slowed down by a surfeit of adverbs, and the mysteries, when revealed, will satisfy fans of the genre. Others may find the novel’s length daunting.

Takeaway: Missile defense, AI, and international intrigue and action power this epic tech thriller.

Great for fans of: Ben Coes, Christine Feehan.

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

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DIVISIBLE MAN - THE SIXTH PAWN
Howard Seaborne
The second installment in Seaborne’s epic Divisible Man series keeps up the fast-paced action of the first book, offering a thrilling sequence of twists, turns, and high-flying action. Charter pilot Will Stewart acquired the powers of invisibility and flight–well, floating–after surviving an airplane crash. Still struggling to come to terms with his new powers, much less fully control them, Stewart teams up with his wife Andy–a police sergeant–to get to the bottom of a high-stakes criminal conspiracy.

The crime plot is set into motion when a shootout erupts at a high-profile wedding, where Stewart and Andy are also in attendance. The gunfire claims the life of the father of the bride, a senator by the name of Robert Stone. As a member of the local law enforcement and a close acquaintance of the bride, Andy is inevitably sucked into the complicated web of political and financial interests that led to what turns out to be a targeted killing. Stewart joins Andy in her investigation, using his superpowers to unveil the grisly truth behind the events that transpired at the wedding. Along the way, the husband-wife duo encounters neo-Nazi gangs, corrupt state officials and rich businessmen with malicious political intentions.

Seaborne weaves together a crisp, intricate narrative with an engaging, likable couple at the heart of the action. Elements of romance and the fantastical elevate this entry (and the series itself) over other two-fisted thrillers. Will and Andy’s easy banter and chemistry lightens the conspiracy plotline and never gets tiring, even energizing the narrative in the instances when the plot details get technical or convoluted. Also setting the Divisible Man books apart is Seaborne’s attention to Will’s evolving understanding and use of his powers, as this entry finds him experimenting with propulsion units to truly take flight. “This is freaking amazing!” Will thinks, as “the Earth falls away beneath” him, and readers onboard for tech-thriller superheroes will likely agree.

Takeaway: This high-flying thriller boasts welcome elements of the fantastical and a lovable central couple.

Great for fans of: Steven Gould’s Jumper, Myke Cole.

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

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Fallout Shelter
Steven Schindler
Schindler's (The Last Sewer Ball) period piece about three boys growing up in the Bronx blends a bittersweet tale of adolescence with elements of a crime novel. It’s full of vivid details of character and setting, but it's his willingness to delve into the loathsome depths of clergy molestation and corruption that sets it apart. The story follows lifelong friends "Chili" Manzilla, Mikey McGowan, and Angel Rodriguez through the ups and downs of their adolescence and early adulthood, touching on suckerpunches, youthful romances, crowded classrooms, and the pleasures of cracking open bottles of Boone’s Farm Apple wine in Van Cortlandt Park. Chili, the most devout of the three, starts on a path toward the priesthood, while prankster Mikey becomes a cop. Angel comes from a more privileged background, pursuing the law but always taking pains to be there for his friends.

Schindler charts their youthful pranks and dreams growing up in New York at its run-down 1970s sleaziest, finding escape from the world in the fallout shelter of the title. The era is expertly evoked: “Latin music mixed with the Irish Rovers and the Rolling Stones as they melded into a sidewalk symphony.” Perhaps inevitably, the boys face betrayals and hurt feelings as they mature, and Schindler's depiction of how friends can drift apart but find their way back to each other is especially touching and intimate. All three served as altar boys, familiar with whispered secrets of priests sexually molesting young boys in their care as teachers and pastors; the treatment of that scandal and trauma here is devastating and unsparing, edging into suspense territory, as one boy related to the central trio witnesses a priest’s crime, putting him in danger.

It all culminates in a surprising, explosive climax, handled with seriousness despite the hints of melodrama. Schindler's sensitivity in depicting trans characters, in particular, is remarkable, as is his moving, detailed evocation of these memorably flawed characters’s big dreams, tough talk, and connections to each other and their world.

Takeaway: Both a tender coming-of-age New York period piece and a harrowing exploration of corruption in the church.

Great for fans of: Arlene Alda’s Just Kids from the Bronx, John Boyne's A History of Loneliness.

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

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One Clear Shot : Claire's Story
Rose Ferrell
A young woman goes from assassin to family woman and back again in Ferrell’s first romantic thriller. Claire Green, a highly trained marksman employed by her father’s private military contracting firm Green Hat, falls for civilian Will Turner on a break between jobs. Despite having only met a couple of times, when a job goes bad and Claire is sent home in disgrace, she heads to South Carolina to surprise Will and simply never leaves, vowing to leave the contract killer life behind. But that’s easier said than done, and soon her team returns with a proposal that will threaten her newfound peace and all that she holds dear.

While the novel has been categorized as a romance, the story leans on the thriller elements, and readers expecting the conventions and tropes of the romance genre should know that Claire and Will’s relationship develops mostly off page, with the narrative jumping ahead when she chooses her boyfriend over her job, receives a marriage proposal, and enjoys other significant life passages. Instead, One Clear Shot’s focus is on the Green Hat team enticing Claire into assassinating the man who sent her last job off the rails, plus Claire’s sniper skills, amusing tough talk (“I am not here to blow daisies up your butt”), relationship with her killer father, and the challenges of high-stakes espionage while nursing.

Will’s qualms about Claire’s work set up an engaging conflict, especially his reasonable discomfort with what amounts to a semi-legal revenge murder scheme. That’s an interesting role reversal, after decades of fiction about dude-hero spies leaving worried wives at home, though the story–like its hero–ultimately engages more in the specifics of gun safes and lovingly detailed mission briefs than affairs of the heart. One Clear Shot will please readers looking for a thriller with a strong female lead, personal stakes, ethical quandaries, and tense sniper action.

Takeaway: A thriller with romance elements that follows one woman’s attempt to merge two disparate worlds.

Great for fans of: Meg Gardiner, Jessica Clare and Jen Frederick’s Last Hit.

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

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The Plagues of Pharaoh
David Shaw
“What can a mortal say to a god-king?” asks Hannu, an Egyptian vizier and father who recognizes that the flies, frogs, and literal blood baths his nation is suffering come from the Hebrew God of Moses, that slave of “stuttering arrogance” who dares to make demands of the immortal Pharaoh. Pharoah refuses those demands—that he allow his Hebrew slaves to worship for three days in the desert—and, as in all tellings of this tale, hardens his heart, makes his slaves’ lives worse, and further angers Moses’s god. Hannu is desperate to change Pharaoh’s mind, but knows it’s unlikely that the counsel of a mere mortal, untouched by the divine, will prove persuasive. The plagues will get worse, and Egypt will face profound loss and horror—especially after Moses foretells the firstborn sons of Egypt will die.

Hannu, a father himself, will discover that saving his son, Paneb, and all of the others demands ritual sacrifice—and an end to the abuse of the Hebrews. Convincing Pharoah to allow this will prove a tall order, one of many epochal challenges facing the vizier in Shaw’s crisp, swift telling of key passages of Exodus. Hannu’s perspective adds fresh drama and dimension to this familiar—and always mysterious—tale, as Shaw dramatizes the court politics and the harrowing plagues of the Old Testament God but also the interior drama of seeing one’s beliefs challenged by new evidence.

The Plagues of Pharaoh is a quick, inviting read, opening with a dramatic scene of Moses confronting Pharaoh and surging on from there, paying welcome attention to ancient Egyptians’ understanding of the world. Hannu’s first real, up-close encounter with the Hebrews and their beliefs is a standout scene, but Shaw’s interest in cultural clashes and the dawn of monotheism never slows down the narrative, which speeds ahead like the novel’s chariots toward an apocalyptic chase and an angry sea.

Takeaway: This brisk retelling of the plagues of Egypt imagines a vizier who strives to make Pharoah see reason.

Great for fans of: Sholem Asch’s Moses, Howard Fast’s Moses.

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

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Dawn of the Watchers
Winn Taylor
Quirky characters propel this galaxy-crossing cyberpunk tale of gaining confidence and trusting friends as Taylor continues the well-crafted adventures of snarky young troublemaker Jinx, who saved all of organic intelligence (OI) from gangsters and malevolent artificial intelligence in the first book, Rise of the Protector. Although Jinx was named Protector, she’s now on the run, fleeing from kingpin Sartillias to the Milky Way galaxy and an abandoned and desolate Earth with her guardian Attendants, including technology expert Claire, geek perfectionist Jacob, and 500-year-old mind-reader Hadu, who helps Jinx master her newly acquired powers of incredible strength and teleportation. They are all participants in a prophecy to protect Laris, a telepath who can heal and protect OI. Soon Laris is infected with a nanobot sent by Sartillias that is programmed to unleash her dark, destructive side, threatening all OI.

Taylor carries the reader along the expansive story with a richly detailed narrative that develops the diverse characters so they shine with their respective quirks, powers, and reluctant camaraderie. To help Laris, Jacob lands their ship at the Great Pyramid in Egypt to harness the energy of the ley lines underneath. Meanwhile, Jinx makes the risky teleport back to their space station in another galaxy for supplies that might help Laris. After Jinx and Laris share a kiss, “Not only would she willingly give her life to protect Laris, she was destined to.” Jinx is an evocative young adult growing into her role of Protector, despite her tendency to reject authority and rules.

Readers of all ages will relate to Jinx’s self-doubt–but growing confidence–as she learns to feel comfortable in her own skin, control her powers, and trust the people around her. The dialogue has a welcome comic snap, and science-fiction fans will be immersed in the intrigue, adventure, imaginative technology, and intricate plot.

Takeaway: An engaging coming-of-age sci-fi adventure, with a reluctant hero and winning friends.

Great for fans of: Becky Chambers, G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward’s Invisible Kingdom.

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

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Elite and True: Leadership Lessons Inspired by the US Navy
James L. Barnhart
In this polished, conversational guide and memoir, Barnhart looks back on a lifetime of work, service, and leadership while offering practical guidance about what it takes to lead, in both the military and the business world, and how to make the transition from the former to the latter. “Bring forward a vision for a better future and people will gladly follow,” Barnhart notes, though he acknowledges the distinction between hearing or reading a truth like that and actually discovering it for oneself—and putting it into action. Elite and True recounts his journey towards doing so, pairing lessons he’s learned about leadership with his own remarkable story.

Barnhart persuasively connects lessons like “Distribute undesirable tasks among the workforce” and “Policies form the foundation of work culture” to key moments of his own career, from early mentors and work experience, his enrollment in the U.S. Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate and seven years of service, and then his experience in the tech sector. The lessons and storytelling are tightly bound together—this is the rare book where a passage about the value of diversity involves time on a nuclear-powered ship and a shore-leave river of sewage—and chapters end with thorough summaries of everything Barnhart has touched on.

Highlights include stories of a faux Rolex watch, inspecting the insides of sanitary tanks, and an account of how a commanding officer responded to a poor decision Barnhart made on watch duty. But the book’s heart is Barnhart’s clear-eyed accounts of moving from military life to private industry, including his experience with outplacement firms, job interviews, and settling on the opportunity that feels right. The advice in these chapters might seem particular to service members entering the workforce, but it's generally applicable: “Understand all details of the contract before signing.” “Take a risk to earn a reward.” Pairing these insights with what it took to discover them gives them new power.

Takeaway: Leadership lessons drawn from memorable tales from a life in the Navy and the tech sector.

Great for fans of: Matthew J. Louis’s Mission: Transition, William Toti’s From CO to CEO.

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

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Thrown to the Wind
Amanda M. Cetas
Using her genealogy research as a blueprint, Cetas builds the foundation for the A Country of Castoffs series with Thrown to the Wind, a middle grade historical novel that blends a coming of age first-person narrative with the kind of nail-biting adventure that would appeal to her 9-year-old hero-in-waiting. In October 1660, Etienne Gayneau rushes through the cobblestone streets of La Rochelle, France, to the harbor, where a ship carrying King Louis XIV’s fabled musketeers is docking. He senses that something momentous is happening, but doesn’t realize that their arrival will send his Huguenot family into exile, fleeing first to Amsterdam and then across the Atlantic to the Dutch colony on Manhattan Island.

Cetas introduces Etienne as an insecure boy cowering in the imposing stone city, with its rigid social structure and history of religious oppression. His father’s stubborn adherence to Protestantism separates Etienne from his Catholic cousin (and only friend), and instead of finding solace among fellow Huguenots, he’s bullied for being a poor artisan’s son.All Etienne knows for certain is that he doesn’t want to be like his stern, imposing father, a builder of stone and mortar potager’s stoves, whose rigid work ethic is second only to an unwavering devotion to God. Cetas skillfully plots Etienne’s journey as an uphill climb full of switchbacks, with determination gradually replacing indecision, and a clear-eyed faith supplanting fantastical visions.

Thrown to the Wind proves an apt title, capturing the refugee’s plight: upheaval and uncertainty, exhaustion and anxiety, trepidation and hopefulness. Cetas’s debut also details the era’s arduous shipboard travel: instead of feeling unmoored, Etienne quickly finds his sea legs and gains confidence as a cabin boy who can cope with precarious situations. Recreating her ancestors’ path from persecution to possibility, Cetas focuses on a boy who doesn’t fully understand the historical forces affecting his family, but methodically charts his own course to maturity.

Takeaway: The vivid story of a boy discovering his value on the perilous voyage of early American settlers.

Great for fans of: Kathleen Benner Duble’s Quest, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver.

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

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On Lonesome Roads
Dan Flanigan
Set at the tail-end of the Reagan era, the tense, character-rich third entry in Flanigan’s Peter O’Keefe detective series finds O’Keefe still reeling, physically and mentally, from a car bomb attack that caused severe burn damage. The likely culprits, local mobsters called The Outfit, are at large, and O’Keefe’s life is turned upside-down: since he’s still presumed to be a target, the neighbors want him out, and he can’t even visit his daughter without arranging for “maximum security.” But with a new friend—a retired police dog named Karma—and the determination to protect his family and business, O’Keefe sets out to prove a negative—that the Outfit didn’t do it.

“The only hatchet that’ll get buried’ll be in your skull,” a police contact warns as O’Keefe sets out to make peace. Such sharp, playful dialogue and surprising choices from characters exemplify O’Keefe’s series, in which unpredictable people react to crime-novel events in a refreshingly realistic way, even as Flanigan never skimps on noir atmosphere, crisply rendered action, or pulpy surprises—this time, a reptilian attempt on O’Keefe’s life proves all the more jolting because the novel’s world feels so convincing. The tough talk from the heavies and the sleazy dreams of the proprietor of the Cherry Pink Gentlemen’s Club is as persuasive and engaging as O’Keefe’s domestic drama, which includes an ex eager to marry a new man, despite the daughter’s disgust.

The novel’s length might deter readers who prefer crime tales tight, but O’Keefe again proves, over the pages, to be a compelling creation, especially when backed into a corner. Also strong is the assortment of friends, allies, and potential enemies, all characterized in quick, incisive strokes. (Paschal, “jailbird” and disappointed novelist, is especially good.) Their world of highways, an S&L crisis, and potholed industrial parks is expertly drawn. On Lonesome Roads is a polished thriller that builds to a satisfying but complex conclusion.

Takeaway: Rich characterization and jolting surprises set this polished crime novel apart.

Great for fans of: Matt Goldman, William Kent Krueger.

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

Click here for more about On Lonesome Roads

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