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Careless Love
Steve Zettler
Writer/director/actor Zettler (author of the Joe Bradlee thrillers) wows in this fast-paced, expertly characterized tale of a decades-long lie and the painter who tries to make sense of it all later. The mother of the novel’s unnamed narrator, reveals that the man she divorced years ago is not actually, as she had always claimed, the narrator’s father. On her deathbed, Grace, the mother, encourages the narrator, a painter, to piece the truth together in Hawaii. There Grace Rolston, vacationing with her philandering Hollywood husband, first met and fell in love with Lee Corbet at a tony Oahu beach club in 1979.

Other pieces of the mystery involve Mitchell Slack, who in ‘79 was breaking up with his girlfriend and coming to terms with his homosexuality, and his malevolent older brother Ray, a mysterious hood who played some role in Grace and Lee’s short time together—and in whatever event changed everyone’s lives forever. Over multiple trips to Hawaii, the painter uncovers as much of the truth as possible. Setting the narrative largely in 1979, revealing what the narrator has uncovered, Zettler skillfully presents characters that are neither good nor bad but persuasive shades of gray, with the compelling exception of Ray, whose eventual encounter with karma proves satisfying. Unhappily married Grace, who can’t quite kick smoking, has packed a .38 revolver in her suitcase, while Vietnam vet-turned-restaurateur Lee, still coming to terms with his war experiences, learns that he knows Grace’s husband only after he and Grace have relished stolen hours together.

In sharp, memorable prose, Zettler deftly ties a bundle of story lines into one gripping narrative, teasing the final revelations in a way that will have readers itching to arrive at the truth at last. This glimpse of late-70s Hawaii rings true, and readers interested in the mysteries of convincingly real people will be captivated until the final page is turned.

Takeaway: A skillful, emotional dive into late ‘70s Hawaii and a mother’s secret past.

Great for fans of: Liane Moriarty’s The Husband's Secret, Jasmin Darznik’s The Good Daughter.

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

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The Timepiece and the Girl Who Went Astray
Ollie Simmonds
Simmonds’ delightful fantasy debut follows William Wells, a bright but somewhat directionless American in London who, in 1984, accidently comes into possession of a powerful timepiece that allows its wearer to travel through time. Wells purchases it from the enigmatic Frenz but has no idea what he’s got until he presents it to his girlfriend, Abigayle, as a gift—and she vanishes. Distraught, Wells returns to Frenz, who fears Abigayle has gone astray in time. Wells is brought into the half-dissolved Time Travel Agency, a bureaucratic government department so secret that not even the queen knows about it. His mission: to protect the Timepiece from rogue agents willing to kill for it, and to find Abigayle, who just might be more involved with the TTA than Wells ever could guess.

Simmonds’ time-crossed romp leaps through the Londons of the 1800s, 1940s, and 1980s, moving swiftly but always finding time for evocative London period detail, such as peasoupers, unused passenger transit tunnels, and the frankly disgusting history of the River Thames. Wells, a college dropout from La Claire, Iowa, is a likable every-Yank bumbling about London, and the cast around him is fully realized.

Witty dialogue (“The love of my life is missing, and we’ve got a gang of, what? Villainous, homicidal travel agents after us?”) bring a lightness to the story that will appeal to readers who don’t ordinarily read heady time-travel fiction. While the prose is inviting, outside of the occasional awkward sentence, Simmonds’ affection for detail sometimes slows a story that’s already lengthy, as do some expositional passages covering the mechanics of time travel. Still, Simmonds manages the intricacies of time-hopping well, creating a consistent set of rules comprehensible to the reader while maintaining a sense of humor and excitement that keeps the story and its Londons fresh.

Takeaway: A lovable everyman leads a page-turning, decade-vaulting jaunt through London’s past and present.

Great for fans of: Mike Chen’s Here and Now and Then, Tara Sim’s Timekeeper.

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

Searching for Sarah
Phillip Vega
In this introspective drama, Vega (The Captain & the Queen) essentially tells two intertwined stories about Dominican-American siblings on separate paths in life. Following the sudden death of his beloved older sister Nina, Tomas Ruiz is shocked to learn that she was gay—a secret Nina kept from him for many years. Appointed executor of Nina’s estate, Tom must settle her affairs and plan her funeral. Her will dictates that he work with Sarah, her long-time partner, a woman whose whereabouts are a mystery. While trying to track Sarah down, Tom studies Nina’s journals, gradually uncovering the parts of her life she never shared with him, including her journey of self-exploration and acceptance.

Nina is the story’s heart, as Tomas and readers discover her attempts to balance her personal life and her career as a lawyer, especially the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated profession and a lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality. Told through engaging flashbacks, Nina’s story unfolds from her own perspective, shedding light on her distinctive odyssey. As a result, Tom’s own arc, serving as both a framing device and a postscript to Nina’s life, feels less explored and not quite as gripping. The journal entries, although an entertaining conceit, threaten to keep readers removed from the intimacy of Nina’s own experiences.

However, Vega does an excellent job of infusing the story with telling personal details, allowing readers to get a feel for the Latin culture that ties the Ruiz family together during their trials. While Vega’s narrative voice for Nina’s segment of the tale is sometimes shaky, and the excerpts from her journals not as compelling as the full-fledged flashbacks, her development as a character is persuasive. The romance between Nina and Sarah is moving and believable, making the inevitable tragic conclusion all the more heartbreaking. Overall, Searching for Sarah is a polished, entertaining work.

Takeaway: This tale of love and loss will appeal to readers looking for a character-driven, family-focused, lesbian romance.

Great for fans of: Terri de La Pena’s Margins, Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath.

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

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The Artist and the Innkeeper
Alan Ioffredo
The painter Bernardino Luini stars in this fictional portrait of art, politics, and rivalry during the height of the Renaissance. Luini, a contemporary of Italian masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, was as prolific as his peers, but his life, death, and work continue to be a mystery in the five centuries since he lived. Ioffredo’s fictional portrait of Luini is arranged into three parts, ranging from his beginnings in Varese, to his work with da Vinci on The Last Supper, to his complicated love affair with the daughter of a noble family.

Ioffredo breathes new life into this long-overlooked historical figure through multiple perspectives in this debut, including Padre Castani, Luini’s childhood priest and first patron, and Caterina, the daughter of a Serono stonemason, as well as numerous side characters such as da Vinci’s father and the Milanese artist Argento. This dizzying cast at times may overwhelm readers interested in the mystery of just who Luini might have been, though their perspectives offer a richly illuminated sense of issues of class and gender—plus spiritual concerns—in fifteenth-century Italy. Perhaps to aid audiences not already steeped in the milieu, Ioffredo invents scenarios and conversations that seem out of place for the era (use of “okay,” for example), but the world he crafts is compelling and thoroughly imagined.

Ioffredo pulls no punches in challenging the pervasive cultural myths surrounding major figures of the Italian Renaissance: his Leonardo da Vinci is equal parts calculating, selfish, ambitious, and brilliant. Set against the backdrop of war between the city-states of Italy and the nation of France, Luini’s journey from Varesan youth to Milanese master involves the political machinations of the ruling Northern Italian Sforza family, tensions between Italian nobles, an epic love story, and offbeat anecdotes. While Ioffredo’s narrative of course must be speculative, his reimagining of Renaissance Italy is sure to entertain history and art buffs.

Takeaway: An entertaining summer read that brings life to Renaissance Italy, with star-crossed romance and artistic intrigue.

Great for fans of: Ross King’s Brunelleschi's Dome, Stephanie Storey’s Oil and Marble.

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

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Careering: The Pocket Guide to Exploring Your Future Career
Tamara S. Raymond
Leadership coach Raymond debuts with a compact guide to assist readers of high school age in setting themselves up for career success. Motivated by her work with students, she advocates for thinking outside the box when it comes to gaining experience—including utilizing extracurricular activities as a funnel for learning new skill sets and establishing references—and offers concrete steps to take in different stages of job hunts. With an emphasis on “putting in the work to reach your career destination,” Raymond encourages setting the bar high when it comes to what she calls “careering,” a term she defines as “taking progressive action in pursuit of a profession or venture.”

While Raymond chiefly targets readers in later adolescence or young adulthood, much of her succinct career advice and vocational support tools can apply to almost any entry-level job hunter. Organized into easy-to-grasp steps illustrated by plenty of examples, her guide offers up commonsense measures like setting up practice job interviews and exploring personal interests before deciding on a path, plus fresh insights like a rundown of what to anticipate in virtual interviews, tips on creating a separate email address to consolidate career correspondence, and the need to not post anything online that would look bad if publicly exposed. Raymond also breaks down networking into clear, simple actions, discussing who to approach for references and suggesting common local events that can yield networking opportunities.

Though some information is fairly basic (paying attention to hygiene prior to job interviews, for example), sections like the one laying out sample interview questions (including that puzzler “Give an example of a goal you didn’t meet and how you handled it”) and effective responses will well serve first-time job seekers. For those overwhelmed by where to begin in establishing a career path, this efficient guide meets its goal of jump-starting intentional professional behaviors.

Takeaway: High school students and entry level job seekers will appreciate this succinct guide to exploring professional interests and establishing initial career success.

Great for fans of: DK’s The Careers Handbook, Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What To Do with Your Life.

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

Ravens In The Rain: A Noir Love Story
Christie Santo
A drifter who goes by the name Pru inserts herself into the life of a wealthy but aimless man in Santos’s ominous debut romance. Pru sees Carney, the homely son of a former Hollywood heartthrob, as a potential source of comfort and security, and hides much of her background from him in order to maintain a mysterious facade. That mystery is shattered when a motorcycle accident that Carney walks away from without a scratch leaves Pru with a shattered leg and no way to hide the fact that she’s alone and destitute. Entranced with the idea of being her savior, Carney swoops in to take care of Pru and pay for her medical treatment, setting off a rocky melodrama of obsession and distrust.

Although the book is categorized as “romance,” the combination of unreliable narration, vague motives, bad behavior, and the possible lack of genuine affection between the hero and heroine more suit a hardboiled psychological thriller. Carney sums up the distinctive dynamics when he informs Pru “We’re not normal.” As the two orbit each other, readers will be left to wonder whether the romantic feelings are genuine or just a cover each maintains to get their needs met, an unsettling noir convention. The relationship escalates quickly but unnaturally, as both's motives are mysterious, and the chemistry proves more volatile than steamy. Even the couple’s eventual declarations of love feel potentially manipulative rather than genuine.

The stakes are raised when Carney’s need to be Pru’s champion drives him to dangerously confront her past, compounding their already unorthodox relationship. Finally, a twist involving the hero’s history might leave readers wondering if the couple’s metaphorical ride into the sunset is more of a horrific kidnapping, a noir touch. Readers seeking a conventional love story will want to look elsewhere, but lovers of dark, suspenseful couplings may find the danger and uncertainty enticing.

Takeaway: This somewhat chilling not-quite-a-romance will satisfy readers looking for a mystery with a side of sexuality.

Great for fans of: Kaira Rouda’s Best Day Ever, James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.

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

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The Last First Kiss
Walter Bennett
In this warm and reflective septuagenarian love story, Bennett (Leaving Tuscaloosa) brings readers to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for the intimate beach-house tale of long-ago sweethearts rediscovering each other as a hurricane bears down on the coast. At age 75, widower “Ace” Sinclair meets his first love, J’nelle Reade, at his family vacation home, the first extended encounter the one-time couple has had since high school. Tentative at first, their weekend of wine and lost time soon finds the pair facing both their shared and individual pasts, their own looming mortality, the feelings that have never quite gone away, and the possibility that maybe, despite all that’s messy and resolved in their lives, they can open themselves to each other.

Bennett proves adept at stirring together past and present, plus feelings of doubt and trust, in an evocative natural setting. As “the squeal of the wind around the eaves and distant boom of the surf fade away” the couple find themselves dancing despite Ace’s nervousness about how she’ll respond to his trembling hands and aged flesh. With exquisite tenderness, Bennett writes, “And then she does that thing she used to do that melted the space between them and transfigured everything, that erased time: that soft sigh of her body into his.”

Much of this short, affecting novel’s page circles those feelings of “erased time”: As Bennett’s protagonists look back on their short time together long ago, and face together all the life and love that each experienced in the interim, the gulf between youth and age never quite vanishes. It can’t, and Bennett is wise enough a writer to acknowledge the challenges this possible couple faces. But the joy of that coupling, and their long-ago comfort and arousal in each other? That’s the same as it ever was, dramatized with a lyric power that will thrill readers of grown-up romance.

Takeaway: This stirring grown-up romance finds old flames rekindling a full lifetime later.

Great for fans of: Anne Tyler, Pat Conroy.

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

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At The End of Everything : The Relevation Trilogy Book 2
Gary Luck
Darkly real but classically fantastical, this latest installment of Lücke’s adult fantasy series follows Tom, Thaly, and Grin as they flee from Prince Adalwolf’s attempt to steal Tom’s soul and gain immortality. Once on the run, the trio is forced apart by a storm and embark on their own journeys— Tom to Bindari, the resting place of the grells, to find the answers that might take him back to Earth, while Grin and Thaly endeavor to rejoin Grin’s family and stop the grells’ sacred pilgrimage in order to save them from slaughter by Prince Adalwolf and Malphas. Should anyone fail, many will die in the land.

Packed with thematic descriptions and evocative prose (“Caeli looked up through the forest canopy covering the sacred site like a baldachin, staring at the glimmer of stars as if they were actors performing the story of her life”) , this fantasy is engaging, with many inspiring characters to root for. However, while Lücke does a good job of establishing each character’s end goals and all that’s at stake, the plot is spread thin between the cast, and readers may wish for the opportunity to spend more time with their favorites. No standout character drives the plot, and most of the major players end up simply trying to get from one place to another,. It’s a somewhat familiar second book phenomenon: While everyone faces challenges in their individual journeys, the novel’s far-reaching view of Enthilen doesn’t quite reach climactic emotional heights.

For those who want more realism in their fantasy, Lücke isn’t afraid to tackle darker topics such as rape, suicide, the impacts of slavery, and drug use. Couple this with a rich history and many cultures—including a fair bit of diversity of female and gay characters, and some low-brow humor—and the world feels almost palpable. All in all, this is a solid entry into the fantasy canon, pushing its series forward.

Takeaway: Fans of fantasy with a darker bent, multiple viewpoints, and a sprawling world will find a wealth of material in this second book.

Great for fans of: Steven Erikson, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels.

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

Click here for more about At The End of Everything
WE ARE EAGLES: Inspiring Stories Of Immigrant Women Who Took Bold Steps In Life Through Literacy
Anna Marie Kukec Tomczyk
Tomczyk’s uplifting account follows the stories of several women who,since the 1970s, have migrated from Mexico to the United States, and whose lives are tied together by an Aurora, Illinois, English literacy center—and a will to succeed. We Are Eagles shows how against all odds––systemic racism, poverty, and domestic abuse––Maribel, Juanita, Blanca, Teresa, and Maria have achieved their dreams and created the opportunity for easier lives for their children. The featured women come from different backgrounds, from rural to city, farm to factory, poverty to middle class, and came to Aurora for a myriad of reasons, taking any chance to go to school, achieve economic independence, and marry who they love. Tomczyk highlights growing hostility towards migrants in the U.S. as well as the particular difficulties that they faced in learning English––often toiling in solitary jobs or with other migrant women, they couldn’t pick it up as easily as their husbands and children.

While the narrative also follows Sister Kathleen Ryan’s path to founding the center and expanding it over the past 25 years, the story’s heart lies in each woman’s realization of her own definition of success. The women are strong and inspiring, though the text, written in an often bare-bones third-person narration, sometimes lacks the incisive detail that would make the stories more impactful.

Tomczyk draws upon the life cycles of an eagle to organize the women’s journeys, from leaving the nest to soaring. This device works to create a sense of community between women who don’t all necessarily meet, as well as a unity to the text, as Tomczyk demonstrates how the literacy center fills a need that ESL classes alone could not. By focusing on the women, their independence, and their community, We Are Eagles offers a story of overcoming hardships through spirituality, hard work, and sheer will.

Takeaway: A refreshing account of women from Mexico finding success in the U.S., with aid from an Illinois English literacy center.

Great for fans of: Elva Treviño Hart’s Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child, Helena Maria Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus.

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

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Appaloosa Sky
K. Blanton Brenner
In this sweeping debut novel, Brenner, co-author of two previous nonfiction books on positive dementia care, delivers an intergenerational family saga mirroring Brenner’s own experiences in a “family who raised horses and holy hell.” The action centers around Ginny Spangler, only eleven years old when her father is presumed killed, by the Texas Rangers who had been frisking him. After the death, Ginny escapes on her late father’s horse to Oklahoma, where she is taken in by a woman named Gussie and her hired hand, Catfish. After that mythic opening, the novel chronicles Ginny’s marriages and descendants, including her three nieces and two sons “as different as chalk and cheese,” and the shared traumas and romances of North Texas life.

Tracking multiple story lines and character arcs over decades, Appaloosa Sky jumps in time by a decade or more each chapter, with Ginny first being introduced in 1944 and, less than halfway through the novel’s pages, appearing in 2018. The story is jam-packed: A marriage, a death, and a miscarriage all unfold within a four-page stretch early on, and readers are given just half a page to digest this before a new character is introduced. The family history is exciting and surprising, its incidents told with wit and persuasive detail, though the approach denies readers interiority.

The story promises and delivers on action, humor, and romantic intrigue, all written with warmth and sincerity. Not every reader speaks like North Texans, whose speech is filled with “cain’t” and “hoss,” but every reader will understand the novel’s wild freedom of open spaces and its portrayal of the comfort that comes with a caring, proudly untamed family. As Catfish tells Ginny, “Sometimes in life, it’s our turn to be the one who needs help. Other times, it’s up to us to be the helpers.”

Takeaway: This wild family saga will appeal to adult readers looking for romance and intergenerational struggle on the plains of Texas.

Great for fans of: Sandra Brown, Larry McMurtry, Jane Smiley.

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

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The Culture of Money
De'Andre Salter
In this impassioned faith-based financial guidebook, Salter (Success Factors) calls for “economic revolution in Black America,” challenging Black Americans to realign views surrounding money and wealth to an “economic ideology for all Black individuals to know more, own more and pass down more.” He issues a dire warning about the state of Black wealth, predicting an “economic tsunami” that will widen the already drastic gap between racial groups in the U.S., potentially eliminating Black wealth altogether. To combat this massive transfer of capital, Salter asserts the Black church must take on a leadership role to ensure money behavior shifts in alignment with the financial goals of the Black community as a whole.

Salter aims to transform “the culture,” or the way many Black Americans think about money and wealth, and he spins some familiar financial and budgeting advice into something more specific and relevant for his intended audience, “the open-minded who want to be challenged to adopt a better, more faithful way to prosper.” Each chapter addresses a widely-held harmful money practice or misconception within the Black community, primarily inadequate financial education, lack of equitable ownership, and poor estate and retirement planning.

Salter offers The Culture of Money as an economic wake-up call to not only the Black community, but also the Black church, at a time when “many of the poorest Americans are abandoning the Black church en masse.” Salter calls for a theology that makes “room for building up financial resources for the people” and warns that “If the Black churches die, Black culture is over as we know it.” These strong words may give some readers pause, but he backs his assertion by highlighting the importance of the church and religious leaders in building community, sharing resources, and organizing for a better world. This rousing guide addresses serious concerns for readers eager to improve the cultural and financial health of Black America.

Takeaway: This guide challenges Black readers to shift ideas about wealth, not just for personal gain but for advancement of Black culture.

Great for fans of: Daymond John, Tiffany Aliche’s Get Good with Money.

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

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The Square Up: A DI Mahoney Mystery
sj brown
This fourth installment in Brown’s Detective Inspector Mahoney series follows DI John Mahoney and an extensive team of detectives and forensic investigators as they track down a possible serial killer linked to multiple murders in modern-day southern Tasmania. Alongside newly promoted Detective Sergeant Kate Kendall, and recently confirmed Detective Constable David Gibson, Mahoney quickly becomes immersed in the gruesome murder of a wealthy businessman, found bound and mutilated in a dark, symbolic manner. The investigation kickstarts a cat-and-mouse game with a vengeful killer who manages to stay one step ahead of Mahoney and his crew until an intense, unexpected finish.

Brown, who is native to the island, brings southern Tasmania to life with local color and destinations, notably Opossum Bay, the Derwent River, and Mount Wellington. The dialogue, especially amongst detectives, is authentic to the area and adds an element of immersive familiarity, inviting readers into the milieu: “‘Good on you and all that, getting into the Squad. Suits you,’ Herrick affirmed. ‘Not for me though, mate. Need to keep on the regular shifts for me footy.’”

The investigation drives the plot, of course, though Brown takes the time to offer insight into the hearts and minds of his investigators. A sleep deprived Mahoney, who had “read a bit about Hobbes and Locke without fully comprehending their ideas,” struggles with recurring dreams linked to his anxieties surrounding the case, while DS Kendall challenges misogynistic attitudes as she climbs the ranks in the male-dominated Serious Crimes Squad. New to the team, Gibson struggles with making the jump from patrol officer to detective while trying to prove his worth to the experienced Mahoney. The prologue and some other chapters are told from the killer’s point of view, which raises the stakes and adds an extra level of thrill to the case. Fans of crime thrillers and cozy mysteries alike will revel in this realistically complex police procedural.

Takeaway: A vivid, convincing Tasmanian police procedural boasting sharply characterized investigators.

Great for fans of: Garry Disher, Barry Maitland’s Crucifixion Creek, Candice Fox.

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

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Incomplete
Joel David Levin
Levin’s relatable debut is a heartfelt coming-of-age story that channels the passions of adolescence into musical revelations. High school English teacher Brian Smith, named after Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson and still an unapologetic “Beach Head,” has put his musical past as bassist and songwriter of his own punk band, Call Field, well behind him in the ‘00s. But when one of his students sees Call Field’s one-hit-wonder song “Incomplete” on YouTube, Smith is forced to confront his “rock and roll PTSD”: the painful memories of his departure from his band.

The story looks back to follow a young Smith as he struggles through his adolescence and early college years, honing his musical talent while dealing with insecurities and heartbreaks. Levin captures the mind of an adolescent boy with sensitivity, infusing awkward moments with gentle humor and the darker ones with empathy and compassion. Brian’s richly detailed inner life is the book’s primary focus, leaving its secondary characters less developed. Some readers will want to know more about the band’s other members or Serena, Brian’s unrequited love. However, Brian’s relationship with his father is dynamic, loving, and deeply musical.

The other key relationship, of course, is with music, and Levin’s book is a rock fan’s delight. Though the Beach Boys are the primary musical lens, references to and insights about other bands and songs abound. The invented Call Field material is convincing, as Brian shares both his song lyrics and the creative process he uses to write them. Levin himself also highlights his work’s construction, often directly addressing the reader, making heavy use of reflective foreshadowing, or acknowledging the limits of nostalgia. His work here is indeed “incomplete,” though, as the story only covers the beginning of Call Field’s rise to fame, leaving the rest of the story for a follow-up. By exploring music as a path toward personal growth, this sensitive, lyric novel offers a refreshing twist on the standard bildungsroman.

Takeaway: A Beach-Boy loving ex-punk rocker reflects on life, love, and music in this engaging novel of the rise of a band.

Great for fans of: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Rachel Cohn’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

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

Click here for more about Incomplete
Beyond Balancing the Books: Sheer Mindfulness for Professionals in Work and Life
George Marino, CPA, CFP
This inviting, clear-eyed guide from CPA and mindfulness coach Marino offers readers a step-by-step plan to becoming more mindful and present—more in the now—in their professional lives. Incorporating empowering questions, mindfulness exercises, and everyday practices of presence, Marino lays out an interactive roadmap for professionals to take the anxiety and stress out of their daily careers and begin to “awaken to a deep,abiding peace and joy—even as you are challenged and snapped at.” Offering clear comparisons and examples, and drawing on the work of the likes of Eckhart Tolle and Daniel J. Siegel, Marino makes the case that mindfulness practices can break professionals from a state of depression, stress, and anger and help lead them into a more fulfilling daily routine not only at work, but in their personal lives as well.

Marino opens by showcasing the polar opposite approaches and outcomes of a professional who works mindlessly and one who works from a place of mindfulness and “feels a sense of satisfaction with her work,mainly because it is aligned with her state and purpose.” Chapters focus on awareness, being aware of one's emotions, setting goals, and compassion for oneself and for one’s colleagues. “Compassion is innate to humans. However, many of us don’t know that yet,” Marino notes.

While much of the book focuses on creating a more organized—and more “intentional”— professional life for a target audience of CPAs and career-focused individuals, Marino’s meditations, probing questions, and instruments (including steps for increasing emotional intelligence and practicing compassionate forgiveness) apply to almost anyone facing a demanding job. As Marino points out, work increasingly overflows into home life, as millions check email or work overtime and late nights. Readers looking to incorporate mindfulness and a deeper understanding of the self and their own life goals will benefit from this look at achieving a fuller balance.

Takeaway:A welcoming, comprehensive guide to practicing mindfulness and presence in professional life.

Great for fans of: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

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

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The Road to Sugar Loaf : A Suffragist's Story
Eric T. Reynolds
In the town of Sycamore Falls, Kansas, an intrepid woman does everything she can to secure the right to vote for women. Reynolds’ second novel, after (The Artifacts: A Flint Hills Story ) follows Kathryn Wolfe, co-owner of the Main Street Bookshop, on her journey to suffrage, as well as summiting the local hill that she’s always wanted to climb. In brief, almost micro chapters, Reynolds spins an uplifting tale of a fictionalized suffragist, inspired by historical events and suffragists from history. With Sugar Loaf Hill functioning as a metaphor for the struggle, The Road to Sugar Loaf is an approachable text for those learning about the movement or interested in putting themselves in a suffragist’s shoes.

Kathryn deeply loves her town and Sugar Loaf Hill, but Reynolds’s sparse prose doesn’t offer the lived-in detail to summon up a sense of her milieu. The story, which expands to touch on divorce and other issues, is told primarily in dialogue (with the occasional telegram), an approach that emphasizes the social nature of Wolfe’s work but leads to some awkward expositional conversation while leaving it to the reader to fill in the blanks of what characters look like and why they do the things they do.

At its best, though, the novel showcases a keen eye on social and emotional relationships in small towns and the way women work together. The extended chapter where Kathryn pickets in Washington, D.C., as a “Silent Sentinel” is an unflinching look at the abuse and ridicule the women went through during the tense time before the Nineteenth Amendment was created and later ratified. Full of characters who grow, evolve, and change their minds, readers who love an ensemble cast with a strong main character will enjoy Kathryn’s story of triumph, as she stands in for so many women who organized and labored in their small towns to get suffrage for all women.

Takeaway: This novel of a Kansas suffragist’s climb toward justice emphasizes the hard work and conviction it takes to change minds.

Great for fans of: Sally Nicholls’s Things a Bright Girl Can Do, Laura Moriarty.

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

I Am Here: Postcards from My Daughter in Spirit
Judith Jones Togher
In her debut memoir, Togher presents wrenching and honest meditations on how to live after the passing of someone you love. When Togher’s daughter Suzanne was 8 years old and reeling from the death of a close family friend, Suzanne said to her mother: “...if I ever die, I will never leave you...We will always be together—we will make a pact.” Thirty-one years later, Suzanne passed away after a series of health complications. Togher’s memoir details her conviction that Suzanne kept their pact, and she offers what she sees as Suzanne’s communications from the spirit world—the “physical phenomena, sights, odors, movement of objects, and the playful use of lights”—as case studies for readers seeking ways to cope with loss. She encourages readers to be “open to the possibilities of the universe” and to interpret, say, a penny on the sidewalk as a message of support.

To some, death is a taboo subject, but Togher writes of her experience with courage and deep emotional intelligence. Her memoir reads as a therapeutic expression of her grief, a practical guide for readers seeking comfort after loss, and a celebration of Suzanne’s life. Togher gives concrete advice about her own grieving process, but also affirms that people grieve differently. While she feels spiritually connected to Suzanne still, and gives ample examples of how she has maintained contact with her in Spirit, she recognizes that “not everyone will wish to, or try to, see or hear messages from the other side of the veil” and acknowledges that that “is perfectly okay.”

Togher emphasizes the ways that someone can deepen their relationship to a loved one who has passed through automatic writing exchanges, mediums, and the messages that she calls “postcards” that suggest a presence and affirm that death does not mean someone is truly gone. Togher exemplifies how “the grief of your loss really can be made manageable and perhaps even turn to joy.”

Takeaway: Readers facing loss will find comfort and beauty in Togher’s enlightening approach to grief.

Great for fans of: Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home, Laura Lynn Jackson’s Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe.

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

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