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October Thirty-One: 10/31 [Children's book series title: Celebrate the HoliDates®]
María Felicia Kelley
Costumes, candy, parties, jack-o-lanterns–there’s a lot to love about Halloween, and Kelley covers it all in this vibrant children’s book all about the last day of October, with a promise that it won’t get too creepy. The book follows a little boy named Constantine–a tribute to Kelley’s real-life son–as he celebrates the arrival of fall with his friends. Constantine mulls over what to dress up as on his favorite night of the year–a superhero, an animal, a car?–before settling on a wizard outfit complete with a star-shaped wand and pointy hat. When night falls and “it gets a little spooky,” Constantine goes trick-or-treating with his friends.

Pratima Sarkar’s colorful illustrations enhance this familiar story’s lively, seasonal vibe, showing a smiling, wide-eyed Constantine doing fun things like playing in piles of orange leaves and dancing next to a table filled with caramel apples before he ventures into a haunted landscape rife with skeletons, spider webs, and witches. (An awkwardly anthropomorphic letter O with human arms accompanies him but seems out of place in a determinedly real-world story where the fantastical is what kids imagine and wear as costumes.)

Most of this autumnal lark doesn’t cover new ground regarding All Hallows’ Eve, so the inclusion of “shocking, creepy cuisine” is a pleasant surprise. One of Constantine’s favorite treats is soul cakes, described as “Celtic breads decorated with crosses made of currants.” Kelley includes welcome historical reference: “‘Souling’ was a house-to-house ritual inspiring the modern trick-or-treater, a Halloween custom that sparked today’s neighborhood, costumed candy-corn eater.” Kelley includes an easy-to-follow recipe, so families can work together to make soul cakes of their own. This book is a celebration of all things spooky, and elementary school kids who love to prowl the neighborhood on the scariest night of the year will find this a welcome addition to their library.

Takeaway: A picture-book celebration of Halloween, the start of fall, and the pleasures of soul bread.

Great for fans of: Lucy Ruth Cummins’s Stumpkin, Patricia Toht’s Pick a Pumpkin.

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

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Darkness & Grace
Kathryn Schleich
Inspired by a true story, this intimate family thriller from Schleich (Salvation Station) centers on the Piersons, an affluent Midwestern family united with excitement about middle son Paul's marriage to his second wife, Pamela, in 1996. But what starts off as a blessed union that the family approves of soon turns into something more sinister as Pamela's behavior changes once wedding vows are exchanged, and the family finds itself overlooking disturbing red flags in an attempt to keep the peace and avoid seeing Paul hurt by love yet again. Soon, the family and their close-knit relationships are severely tested by Paul's new bride and her ominous calculations.

Schleich instantly pulls readers in, opening with an ominous article about a woman found dead in the woods, and then, just as quickly, immersing them in the midst of a joyous wedding described as “a resurrection from the dead of sorts.” From there, the story’s pacing is entertaining, the events laced with intrigue, though the multitude of characters introduced within the first few chapters demands some effort to track. Despite that challenge, Schleich writes the Piersons and others with an engaging attention to their shared intimacies and histories, especially as the family rallies with touching gusto around Paul, a widower at the age of 31, and his new bride.

That makes the secretive and malicious intentions Schleich hints at and then reveals all the more suspenseful, as readers become attached and attempt to game out Pamela’s next moves—and how the family, especially Paul, will respond. Schleich delivers plenty of surprises and plot twists, but this slow-burn thriller also offers evocative prose and emotional nuance as it inspires readers to tear through the pages to discover what ultimately happens to the Pierson family. After a deliberate buildup, fans of the genre will be satisfied with the secrets, lies, and a shocking conclusion.

Takeaway: This gripping drama of a rich family, a second marriage, and plenty of surprises builds to a thrilling conclusion.

Great for fans of: Liane Moriarty’s The Husband's Secret, Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger.

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

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Capital de facto: Inquiring into the General Theory of Capitalism
Arman Calbay
Calbay makes a bold attempt to write a new chapter in economic theory–and to counteract resurgent interest in Karl Marx–by introducing to economics the principles of relativity and sustainable symmetry breaking, with the avowed goal of overturning Marxism once and for all. Calbay sets up three postulates from which the rest of his theory flows: that all the factors of economic production are equal (labor, land, and capital); that value is created from human ownership of a production factor; and that, in economic systems that don’t allow slavery, human labor can only belong to the individual. That foundation, he asserts, leads to a fundamental asymmetry in the relationship between capital and labor, in a non-slave society, since labor force cannot be sold but the capital can be.

Capital De Facto covers a large territory in a brief page count–as Calbay notes, it would require a dozen or more authors to explore every crucial element of capitalism. Still, readers may wish for more detail, as well as some attention paid to mathematical formalization, which the guide deliberately sets aside. Calbay’s core argument—that the relationship of individuals in the labor market is a contract between employer and employee for access to capital—would likely be more persuasive to skeptical readers if Calbay offered a more robust consideration of the power differential between labor and capital.

Calbay strives earnestly to disprove Marx–ultimately because “[c]ollectivism breeds dictatorship.” He asserts that the private ownership of capital is vital for the broader capitalist system, to avoid the dangers of collectivism and to promote freedom. He calls a society that pays “more attention to the conditions of the distribution of capital, rather than to issues of equalization of income,” and he takes time to explore older systems of production (such as slaveholding societies and feudalism) as he makes the case for the capitalist society as being the best way to preserve freedom.

Takeaway: Readers interested in understanding and defending capitalism will find provocative ideas in this economic treatise.

Great for fans of: Michael Heller and James Salzman’s Mine!: How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives, Hernando De Soto’s The Mystery of Capital.

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

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The Visibility Factor
Susan M. Barber
Executive coach Barber debuts with this polished, practical guide to creating “authentic visibility” in the workplace when merely working hard and playing by the rules isn’t enough. Targeting leaders inside companies, she urges readers to step out of “the shadow of invisibility” while still being themselves, to understand the difference between being visible and feeling exposed, and to accept the hard truth that being excellent at their jobs isn’t necessarily enough to secure promotion.

“You have so much potential, but you sit at the back of the room in meetings and don’t say a word,” a mentor once said to her. “Why do you even show up?” With The Visibility Factor, Barber offers a similar (albeit less sharp-elbowed) intervention for readers. She writes as an engaged, encouraging coach, drawing on over a quarter of a century’s experience at a major corporation as she lays out clear steps (create status reports; develop a coterie of advisers; set a vision; challenge the status quo) essential to achieving a positive visibility. She’s generous with real-world anecdotes, drawn from her life and those of people she’s mentored. Crucially, Barber acknowledges and addresses the common reservations and even fears that make invisibility appealing, and she mines her own struggles with impostor syndrome for memorable lessons. “To keep you safe, impostor syndrome keeps you out of action,” she notes.

Barber includes all the action steps, reflection questions, pragmatic lists, leadership scorecards, and catchy acronym-based processes that readers might expect. Still, her book’s most valuable element might be its thorough detailed accounts of the actual workplace experiences of leaders Barber has mentored. Relatable and inspiring, they tend to voice the uncertainties and excuses that readers might harbor themselves; seeing a frustrated leader like “Nicole” go from feeling “stuck and unsure” whether she should stay on a company that wastes her time in constant meetings to someone who now shapes the job and key company priorities is satisfying and persuasive.

Takeaway: A clear-eyed, persuasive, and encouraging guide to standing out for the better as a leader within a company.

Great for fans of: Carol Kinsey Goman’s Stand Out: How to Build Your Leadership Presence, Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead.

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

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A Thousand Valleys: A Novel
Ken Fulmer
The first volume of debut author Fulmer’s Piedmont trilogy, A Thousand Valleys offers an unflinching and poignant account of a family in trouble. Seven-year-old Jimmy Taylor faces growing up in 1970s North Carolina with an uncertain foundation: his parents are divorced, and his mother Sara works nights as a nurse and sleeps during the day, often leaving Jimmy to fend for himself. Worse, Sara has changed: instead of the funny, loving woman she once was, she now seems depressed, even unhinged. As her mental state declines, Jimmy struggles to cope and searches for a way to meet the challenges presented by his family’s dysfunction.

As Jimmy’s mother becomes detached from reality, she still, like Fulmer’s other characters, is written with such care and persuasive detail that she vibrates with authenticity. Fulmer boldly mingles characters’ strengths with their flaws, creating convincing, complex people: while Sara could be viewed as neglectful, she fights off her exhaustion to take Jimmy to a movie, and though Jimmy’s grandmother is strict and joyless, when she is baking she saves the mixer’s cake batter-coated beaters for Jimmy to lick. Jimmy himself is conflicted as he grapples with his troubles, shifting from playing with action figures to contemplating suicide.

The characters’ relationships with each other are similarly fine-tuned. Family interactions make up the bulk of the plot, and while the intense focus on them may at times be overwhelming, the constant kaleidoscope of shifting tensions, bonds, and loyalties often proves mesmeric. The most heartrending connection is that between Sara and Jimmy. Even as Sara drifts further away, succumbing to bizarre thoughts and behaviors, her devotion to her son never wavers. This complicated portrait of a family thrown into chaos by forces beyond their control will keep the attention of thoughtful readers right up until a final twist that complicates all that has come before—and maybe edges the book into a new genre.

Takeaway: This gripping, empathetic family drama finds a young boy in a crumbling family facing powerful problems.

Great for fans of: John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down, Joanne Greenberg’s I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.

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

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Dusted by Stars
G.A. Matiasz
Matiasz’s bite-sized space opera introduces a new SF world and crew in the classic blue-collar space trucking vein. When Earthling freighter pilot Stacey Jones is contracted by a mysterious woman to transport an ancient object to a holy planet, she's just happy to have a paying gig. But her cargo turns out to be the literal Holy Grail, and plenty of others want to get their hands on it. With a little help from her crew—a bug she met during a bar fight, an anxious AI, and a feline stowaway—the resourceful trucker tries to stay a step ahead of those other interested parties (and, as she puts it, “all that fairy tale crap”) so that she can survive, get paid, and maybe, just maybe, find a new home for the scattered remnants of humanity.

Matiasz hits all the right notes for her subgenre: daring escapes and space battles, weird aliens and wacky robots, a cynical-on-the-outside protagonist with an impossible dream.The setting is at once familiar and fresh, with unique takes on some standard ideas. In this universe, the terraforming of Mars was a complete disaster, and a lonely remnant of an alien hive mind is a charming crew member rather than a frightening foe. And while space has long been the dominion of white men, Stacey Jones makes room for herself as a Black woman with strong ties to her Earth heritage.

The specifics are fascinating, though at times Dusted By Stars wanders into long asides with little bearing on the plot. Still, the action is well paced and exciting, and this novella feels, in the end, the right length for the story it’s telling. Detailed and dynamic illustrations make it an easy world to sink into. Perfect for fans of space opera looking for all their favorite things in one place.

Takeaway: This quick space trucking adventure delivers everything it promises.

Great for fans of: Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward’s Invisible Kingdom.

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

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The Poetic Vibrations of a Matured Butterfly
Arthur Lee Conway
Part political commentary, part confrontation with history, Conway’s pained, scathing collection reconsiders historical moments that no one would deem the brightest hour for nations and peoples, opening with the powerful “The Consequences of a Blackman Bringing Fire,” about the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr, and moving on with titles like “An Abrupt Flash of Hell in Urbania.” Illustrations created by Hampton R. Olfus Jr. illuminate the darkest moments, the sketches breaking through the white of the page as if to show the shadows the light is trying to burn out, and Conway offers some reprieves, such as a paean to spending the night with someone beautiful or observing a dragonfly skirting above the surface of water without care of what might lie beneath. Those moments propel readers (and possibly the poet) to keep going, an encouragement to push forward.

Conway’s poems face injustices of global history, in the Americas and South Africa and China and more, often sharply critiquing systems of power that have not just allowed atrocities and apathy but encouraged them. The bluntly titled “A Progressive Act of Land Reform, As Viewed by a Latin American Child” summons up the vulnerability of having nowhere to turn as the powers that be destroy the Earth itself—”brown earth-flesh” spatters against this El Salvadoran’s “tin casa” like “rain falling against an empty Campbell’s / soup can.”

The Poetic Vibrations of a Matured Butterfly is raw yet ethereal, a dream journal linking powerful injustices throughout history into an interrelated whole, tied together by a vigorous clarity of language, especially in the occasional short poems that open with “Oppression is …” and then offer ever-evolving examples that each connect to the same enduring root problem. The collection builds to the powerful image, in the penultimate poem, of “…a mighty Panther devouring a dead, tainted Eagles / flesh…” The reincarnation detailed afterwards gives a sense of change–of hope–despite all the scenes of misused power that precede it. Conway brings fire.

Takeaway: A pained, potent collection of poems on global injustice, oppression, and even hope.

Great for fans of: JP Howard, Larry Neal, Haki R. Madhubuti.

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

A Better Heart
Chuck Augello
Augello (The Revolving Heart) has crafted a sweet, funny character study centered around a fiery animal-rights polemic. Kevin is a struggling independent filmmaker working with a motley assortment of volunteers and friends, including his sometimes-lover Veronica. In the middle of filming a scene, his estranged actor father shows up with a capuchin monkey and a concealed gun, and the shenanigans only get wilder from there, as Kevin learns that his father has married a much younger woman, and that the monkey has been rescued from cruel experiments at a lab. Kevin’s life is amusingly complicated: he’s trying to impregnate his sister-in-law at her request, must deal with the FBI investigating the stolen monkey, all while coming to grips with his own dawning consciousness regarding animal rights.

The tone veers wildly from impassioned lectures to madcap comedy—a road trip with his father as part of an FBI operation goes in surprising directions, including a hilarious extended cameo from a real-world actor—to sincere examination of complicated, flawed characters. It holds together, though, thanks to brisk pacing and Augello’s total commitment to each character's narrative, no matter how absurd. A subplot in which a priest directs Veronica to help out a woman with a mental illness might feel tacked on, but it’s funny. Augello incorporates arguments about animal rights without much nuance, but the novel's great strength is that the philosophical points come from characters who feel like fully formed people rather than rhetorical devices—and that the dialogue is sharp.

Augello's passion for diving into the feelings of all species gives this wild story much heart and wit. Readers interested in animal rights issues will respond to Augello's in-your-face arguments he tells through his characters, but this is also a crisply written, sometimes hilarious novel whose heart, ultimately, is in the relationship between an absent father and his estranged son.

Takeaway: Madcap and accomplished, this comic novel boasts big surprises, heartfelt characters, and a passion for animal rights.

Great for fans of: Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Nick Sage’s It’s a Cow’s World.

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

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THE SPHERE OF DESTINY
NASSIM ODIN
Odin’s young adult debut explores themes of cultural diversity as human and alien characters must understand each other to achieve the common good. In 832 AD in Baghdad, alchemist Al-Khidr, an expert in the chemistry of plants and acids, is hired by the Caliph to travel to Egypt, find a way into the Great Pyramid, and plunder the riches within. The Caliph ultimately confiscates the gold but lets Al-Khidr keep some apparently worthless trinkets: an orb and a mysterious strip of bendable glass. Al-Khidr enlists the aid of Sufi mystic Dhu Al-Nun to translate the writing on the orb, which says “As above, so below,” and, as Al-Khidr fiddles with it, a sphere of energy envelops him, transporting him to the planet Lyra around the star Vega. There, Al-Khidr encounters an advanced civilization—but when the people learn he is from the cursed planet Keb (Earth), they fear he will infect them with a deadly disease.

Odin drives the action as nightmares haunt Al-Khidr, bandits chase him on Earth, and police arrest him on Lyra, with one officer, the kind Nefertiti, hoping to help. Still, the story is breezy, even as it reveals a surprising alternate history in which, millennia ago, Lyra’s Queen Hathor and her scientific crew landed on Earth and contracted the disease. With his knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants, Al-Khidr asks the queen if he can return to Earth to look for a cure.

Al-Khidr’s education and the region’s language, dress, and culture contrast sharply with Lyra’s advanced technology. While the action progresses and readers will enjoy Al-Khidr’s honesty and generosity, some clunky language distracts and the pace sometimes languishes as extraneous events detour from the main plot. Nevertheless, this fresh take on the concept of an ancient Egypt inspired by aliens will draw readers in with its cultural interactions and tense action.

Takeaway: Aliens, ancient Egypt, and tense action power this alchemist’s adventure for YA and SF readers.

Great for fans of: Ashley Poston’s Heart of Iron, Ryan Graudin’s Invictus.

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

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A Necessary Explosion: Collected Poems
Dan Burns
This expansive, conservational collection from Burns, a poet and novelist who embraces above all else the role of storyteller, collects 75 poems composed as something of release valves, “necessary explosion”s that expel “the worrisome crap accumulated / within the confines of one’s skull”. Little surprise, then, that the verse (and occasional prose pieces) is so urgent and engaged. Burns examines this impetus in the disarmingly direct “Why Write Poetry?”: penning these pieces, he writes, is a way to “Let the world know that you’re alive” and “Utilize symbolism, metaphor, structure, and form to say what cannot be said any other way.” Throughout A Necessary Explosion he does both, again and again.

Burns’s eruptions survey, among other topics, what seems “the coming end of the world” and his hopes that perhaps there’s a better one to be discovered. Burns takes on the terror of his times—he likens living during the Covid-19 pandemic to being “the only passenger on a plane that I understand will soon run out of fuel”—but also the everyday experiences that make those times worth enduring. He captures the collective transcendence of experiencing live music (“Hearts pause, / imprinted with wonder.”) and the transformative power of encounters with nature (a spring thicket “poking me to let me know/I’m alive and human to a fault”). His touch can be engagingly light, as in a block-text consideration of scribbling notes on napkins: “it beats the alternatives, which are gazing endlessly—like a self-absorbed dope with mind-numbing consequences—into the idiot-slab (iPhone)”.

That line’s a joke with teeth, exemplifying what is, for Burns, a need to write: it beats the alternatives. The collection builds to a prose piece, “Adrift at Sea,” that circles feelings of loneliness and longing–and the suspicion that the narrator will become “a once-vivid memory soon replaced by a more present thought.” That narrator knows that books, though, endure, making past present, staying vivid even as all else fades.

Takeaway: These poetic eruptions strive for meaning and connection in a world seemingly lurching to its end.

Great for fans of: Heather June Gibbons, Campbell McGrath.

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

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Girl on the Carpathia - A Novel of the Titanic
Graham Hodgetts
The latest polished historical novel from Hodgetts (author of the Excalibur Rising and Toby Whitby series) cleverly mixes fact with fiction in this story of a governess embroiled in Senate hearings following the RMS Carpathia’s rescue of survivors of the RMS Titanic. Kate Royston escaped painful memories of her past by finding work as a governess aboard the Carpathia; she assists in caring for Titanic survivors, including wireless operator Danny McSorley, a man she’s drawn to, and elderly Eva Trentham, who wants Kate’s assistance in sending a Marconigram message to U.S. Senator William Smith, urging him to conduct a hearing into the catastrophe. Upon the Carpathia’s arrival in New York, Kate attracts the interest of Sheriff Joe Bayliss who is charged with issuing subpoenas to the Titanic’s crew for the hearings before they can escape out to sea. Kate watches the hearings while acting as a companion to Eva and weighing her feelings for Danny, believing that cowardice led him to claim a seat on a lifeboat.

Hodgetts excels at setting vivid fiction in a convincingly realized past. She finds compelling drama in a Senate inquiry populated with historical figures, crafting a fast-paced, expertly written story that immerses readers from page one. Her focus on class disparities among the Titanic’s survivors, and the discrimination faced by the steerage survivors, is chilling and resonant, a reminder of the treatment visited uponimmigrants to the U.S., such as the “humiliating so-called health examinations” endured by women.

Unlike so many Titanic stories, Hodgetts highlights the aftermath. Her reimagining of the crowded conditions on the Carpathia, the hunt for the Titanic’s crew, and the media frenzy that followed the disaster offers a fascinating new perspective, all while Kate strives to reinvent herself after the financial downfall of her family and navigate the upper-class society where she once belonged.

Takeaway: This resonant historical novel finds a young woman facing the aftermath of the Titanic disaster.

Great for fans of: Walter Lord’s The Night Lives On, John Maxtone-Graham’s Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner.

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

How To Be Dead-: A Love Story
Laurel Schmidt
In her first novel, nonfiction author Schmidt reveals secrets from beyond the tomb, turning out less the love story promised by the subtitle than an epic tale of vulnerability across lifetimes. (There’s a romance, too, of course.) After an opening set in our world in the spry, combative voice of protagonist Frances Beacon, the narrative jumps to a “whitewashed” Afterlife. There, Frances is locked in a kind of Groundhog Day of her own denial—beginning, then refusing, to perform the healing tasks the University of the Afterlife and her guide, Grayson, set out for her. As Frances fights the inevitable, including reliving painful moments of her life on earth, she also gleans insight on the relationship between her death and ideas of reincarnation.

At first, readers will cheer Frances’s obstinacy, expressed through martyr-like outburst of rebellions: “Mandatory? Says who? Who’s running this place, anyway?” Eventually, though, the sheer number of days that transpire, with “Constant Comment” (the voice in her head) and her other emotional deficiencies cropping up like a game of Whack-a-Mole, can drag the story’s momentum. But when Schmidt eventually reveals all her surprises, the novel coalesces. Rich in ideas, How to be Dead explores reincarnation and how history shapes our lives, right up to its last letter: characters from suffragettes to a Victorian life-coach breathe life into the afterlife as the Committee, a group of Frances’s previous incarnations concerned with saving “their collective life.”

These inventive, often feminist figures speak in quick-witted, soaring prose that give power to the themes and context to Frances’s outbursts. Bantering dialogue is a consistent pleasure throughout the book, and the climax, when it comes, is clever: just when readers will be sure that Frances has failed, the novel turns. From there, we learn the story of Mac (the romance), and witness a breakthrough that will ring bells of recognition—and likely trigger tears.

Takeaway: A fiery fictional take on life and death sure to engage anyone who wants to rediscover that “life is a gift.”

Great for fans of: Camille Pagán’s Forever is the Worst Long Time, Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing.

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

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The Roar of Ordinary: Brothers, Sisters, War, and Fate
J. C. Foster
Foster’s illuminating coming-of-age memoir details the experiences of an American family as they face historic 20th century milestones of war and socio-cultural change. The story begins with the author’s parents and how they happened to set foot in the U.S. In the process, Foster takes us back two generations, introducing grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and cousins and siblings, all of whom have had a significant effect on Foster. As the narrative forges forward, Foster zeroes in on his sibling relationships in particular, the connections between them palpable. He eventually reveals that these relationships serve as one of the defining reasons for his memoir: to memorialize his siblings and the bond they shared.

As suggested by the title, the narrative offers an intimate glimpse into ordinary lives that of course turn out to be extraordinary in their own ways. Foster is as inclusive as he is generous with this dramatization of family history. He takes pains to show the formative impact each had on his upbringing, highlighting not just their foibles but also their strengths. Especially in the book’s focused first half, every individual backstory is one piece of a larger puzzle, coming together to paint a comprehensive picture of the author, the family, and their century.

As The Roar of Ordinary goes on, Foster delves deep into the history and politics of the Vietnam War, often laying out Foster’s opinions and convictions about what went wrong, a worthy subject for a book though here it diminishes the focus and narrative flow that he had established, though emphasis on his siblings, and on his brother Steve in particular, remains consistent. Overall, Foster succeeds in evoking a genuine regard for this ‘ordinary’ family making the best of an extraordinary century. Lovers of grand family sagas will enjoy this memoir, whose epic and ambition are laudable.

Takeaway: A memoir for readers of family sagas and war novels that is as epic as it is intimate.

Great for fans of: David Laskin’s The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, John Egerton’s Generations: An American Family.

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

Click here for more about The Roar of Ordinary
Soulwork: Connecting with the Universe and your Spiritual Path to Find your True Purpose in Life
Elizabeth Radcliffe
Radcliffe makes her debut with this passionate reflection on her spiritual journey, enjoining readers to “get out of your own way” and discern the purpose in their lives. Noting that she is an “ordinary” person who has worked through challenges and learned to manage stressors without breaking down, Radcliffe urges her audience how to engage deeply in “Soulwork,” the process of uncovering the inner fears and pain disrupting our spiritual maturity–while simultaneously building personal strengths and capabilities. She shares her own transformative experiences, including accounts of manifestations of soulwork and the passionate declaration that “[w]ithout conscious effort, whatever I wished for materialized before me.”

Both skeptics and believers will appreciate the clarity of Radcliffe’s writing, as she makes the complexities of spiritualism inviting and even addresses prankish questions like “Why don’t you [manifest] a million dollars?” Whether recounting her painful divorce or career hiccups, she painstakingly outlines how Soulwork has boosted her “resilience for the unexpected events that threaten to upend our lives” and empowered her to discover and resolve the roots of her dilemmas. Radcliffe goes into great detail about her mystical experiences, triggered by fasting, meditation, and “direct sunlight exposure,” but she does so in a relatable way that encourages readers to follow her steps for emotional recovery and manifestation of inner “bliss.”

Despite some dense material and obscure concepts, Radcliffe demystifies spiritual evolution, offering readers advice crafted to end unhealthy patterns and realign their relationship with the Universe. Individualized exercises reinforce her teachings and break down the different stages involved in Soulwork–such as making committed promises to the Universe and using music to sway emotions– to demonstrate the connection between our inner states and outer environments. Above all, Radcliffe insists that the process of spiritual transformation is always ongoing, but “when we’re willing to take on our Soulwork, the Universe is always in our corner.”

Takeaway: An inviting study of spiritual transformation for readers open to conscious effort and mystical experiences.

Great for fans of: Kavitha M. Chinnaiyan’s Shakti Rising, Anodea Judith’s Eastern Body Western Mind, Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Rooted.

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

Click here for more about Soulwork
Dark Dig: Ancient Gods and Modern Drama
Bruce Spohn
In this steamy archaeological thriller from Spohn (Lovers by the Lake), Carol Dunmore has always felt that she’s not like other girls. Aware from a young age of the challenges of being a woman in a man’s world, Carol learned to rely on her feminine wiles and wits to achieve her ends while always dreaming of the world beyond her high school. When she heads to New York for college, she’s instantly attracted to her Ancient Greek Culture professor, Dr. Marcus Atonasis, and becomes drawn into his side business of selling Classical antiquities with a sexual theme. Marcus and Carol embark on an archaeological dig in Greece, but when a group of armed and disguised men kidnap twelve young women from the dig, it’s clear that this adventure is more dangerous than they bargained for—and that the gods of Ancient Greece might be more than myths.

Part thriller, part graphic romance, Dark Dig pairs adventure with a supernatural twist and the possibility of soulmates as Carol and Marcus, working with the FBI and Interpol, must race to rescue their team while unraveling the secrets of the mysterious Temple of Eros. Dark Dig is in the thrall of Eros—the God, the cult, the temple, and the concept—with regular graphic sex scenes and much musing on female sexuality.

The story’s appeal is diminished by indifferent editing and the depiction of Carol, an object of fantasy celebrated for “ample” breasts and “ivory” skin, and whose May-December romance frequently throws her into the older man’s “powerful” arms. Spohn takes pains to acknowledge the harassment and double standards women face in contemporary life and throughout history, and the plot eventually centers on the organized repression of women, but scenes like the one where Carol sunbathes in a state of erotic rapture, thinking about her professor, strain credulity.

Takeaway: Greek mythology meets modern murder in this steamy mystery set on archaological dig.

Great for fans of: G.G. Vandagriff’s Murder at Tregowyn Manor, Elizabeth Hand’s Waking the Moon.

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

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Uncommon Courage: An invitation
Andrea T Edwards
Topical and refreshingly up to date, Edwards’s (18 Steps to an All-Star LinkedIn Profile) latest is ideal for those seeking to make small changes that can have a big impact. In this highly practical self-help guide, crafted as an “invitation” to live with purpose and courage, Edwards coaches readers on personal growth topics such as self-awareness, self-empowerment, and leadership. Her expertise as a world traveler and communication professional, among many other experiences, shines through in her unique spin on somewhat atypical self-improvement content: along with influencing others and one’s own empowerment, she addresses issues like how to face and find solutions to the climate crisis. For those readers who want to achieve contentment, tweak their health habits, or find encouragement to keep bettering themselves and the world, Uncommon Courage is accessible and engaging.

The guide is long, but it stays highly digestible, with short chapters that can be consumed while riding down an elevator, taking a break from chasing the kids, or in a more concentrated, meditative manner. That approach seems by design: Edwards’ structure allows readers to dip in and out according to their interests or needs. The guidance can be deep or breezily superficial (“buy wine that’s at least four years old”); like all good advice, it can even be irksome when she hits the right button and tells a truth you might not yet want to face. The book’s busy, with some potentially distracting elements—such as the adages Edwards calls “wisdoms” that relate to another project, unconventional hashtags, and QR codes introduced for further reading—but Edwards takes pains to expose readers to fresh ideas and possibilities beyond the purview of the average self-help book.

As Edwards introduces new habits and mindsets, helpful footnotes suggest opportunities for further research, and workbook pages encourage contemplation of the material. Her style is highly narrative, with dishy anecdotes bursting with practical advice delivered in her funny, straightforward, and entirely supportive fashion.

Takeaway: This wide-ranging, of-the-moment self-help guide urges readers to live with purpose and courage to make a difference.

Great for fans of: Shad Helmstetter’s Negative Self-Talk and How to Change It, Jon Gordon and Damon West’s The Coffee Bean.

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

Click here for more about Uncommon Courage

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