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The Witches Three Count on Me!
Yates Davis and Lynda Bouchard
A mischievous kid who loves candies, pranks, and scary situations, headlines Davis and Bouchard’s spooky Halloween adventure. When his mother reprimands him on the night of his favorite holiday, the young prankster escapes into the forest, where he stumbles upon three scary witches—with green flesh and creepy, curly toes—dancing around a fire. The witches seize the boy and fly him on their brooms and into their kitchen, complete with a burbling cauldron labeled “Wee Ones.” To save himself, the hero challenges his captors to solve a counting puzzle that he’s crafted. The witches will lose all their powers if they can’t answer his riddle—but what if they get it right?

The authors answer that question in a story that, despite some strained rhymes, successfully marries the exhilaration of Halloween scares with a clever math trick. At times the authors’ verbosity slows the clever story. The protagonist responds to the terrors around him—“jars of bulging lizard eyes, and cans of buzzard meat”—with anger rather than terror, exercising a hallucinatory agency in his escapist imaginations, a welcome development reminiscent of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. His confident decision to rely on his wits in the face of danger is exciting (“Quick trickery is my thing!”), though the choice to leave him nameless may limit readers’ ability to connect with him emotionally.

Kody Kratzer's atmospheric illustrations heighten the seasonal and supernatural elements, with rich colors, exciting details (the witches’ jack-o’-lantern smiles!), and occasional bumptious action bringing life to the pages. The art boasts a gratifying intensity, though attentive readers may note inconsistencies in the unnamed hero’s physical depiction—he appears childish in initial spreads while resembling a young adult in the final pages. Nevertheless, those eager for spine-tingling anecdotes, fun riddles, and the general merriment of Halloween will find delight in this wittily imaginative adventure.

Takeaway: An eerie and intellectually interactive Halloween adventure that will please curious readers.

Great for fans of: Emma Yarlett’s Beast Feast, Jennifer O’Connell’s Ten Timid Ghosts.

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

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Cassius and Ellendarra
D. C. Armstrong
Centered on magic, inheritance, and prophesy, Armstrong’s enthralling debut fantasy tests the power of good against the power of evil while delving into heady questions of destiny versus free will. Cassius, a prince known for his pure heart and soul, was adopted by King Varimus of Evlontus, already the father of an existing son, Magnus. While the princes were still young, King Varimus managed to save the realms from a powerful evil entity created by the bad choices of the people. Saving the day meant agreeing to let the entity bind with Cassius, though Cassius was able to control the evil. Years later, a jealous Magnus frames Cassius for the king’s murder and then puts him into a deep sleep for years, while Magnus rules the kingdom. But Cassius awakens and, as foretold in prophecy, meets Ellendarra, kicking off a complex battle of light and dark.

Rather than a clear “good guy” or “bad guy,” Armstrong creates characters who are tortured by perceptions of goodness and evil. “Evlontians know that with each act they commit, they empower either the darkness or the light,” he writes, a philosophy that inspires the fear that harboring any darkness inside oneself they must make one evil, as well as the conviction that if a choice benefits the greater good, no matter how evil it may seem, it must still be good. Readers will likely relate to Magnus the most, as his internal conflict and fears make his struggles often seem more difficult than Cassius’s, who literally fights the darkness inside him.

As Cassian armies clash with Evlontians, characters and readers alike will wonder about the nature of prophecy, since each intense battle’s outcome and each character’s choice appears to be already set for them. Armstrong suggests, though, interpretation is everything, and that choice and prophecy can be the same. The detailed, sometimes dense story line and insight into character and history will please fans of thoughtful fantasy.

Takeaway: Fantasy readers will find the swords, sorcery, and magical entities they’re looking for in this high-stakes war of good versus evil.

Great for fans of:Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon's Daughter, Eve Forward’s Villains by Necessity.

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

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The Divine Comedy: The New Translation by Gerald J. Davis
Gerald J. Davis
In this new translation of Dante’s complete epic, Davis renders all 100 cantos of the poet’s ascension from Inferno to Paradise in clear, direct prose. He’s committed to ensuring that readers are able, as Beatrice puts it in Davis’s version of Paradise, to “Open your mind to what I now reveal unto you and fix it therein. For knowledge comes from hearing something and retaining it.” To fix meaning in minds today, Davis favors clarity over mystery, the literal over the poetic, offering a Divine Comedy that synthesizes earlier translations, breezily explaining itself at every step of Dante’s journey.

Davis—who has translated classics as disparate as Don Quixote, Gilgamesh, and Le Morte d'Arthur—offers only sparse insight, in a brief introduction, into his sources, methods, or choices. One line, though, captures the spirit of this work: “If any explanations or clarifications are needed, they are embedded in the body of the text, so as not to interrupt the flow of the words.” That approach is exemplified by the moment when Dante and his guide, Virgil, enter a forest in Inferno, and Virgil bids Dante to break a twig off one of the moaning trees. Once the tree speaks, in a lament that Davis captures with some pained power, Virgil doesn’t just point out that Dante should have known from familiarity with Virgil’s work that there was a soul trapped inside—here, Virgil fully cites the source: “[I]f this man could only have believed what he had read described in my verses in the Aeneid.”

Readers seeking an accessible, inviting Divine Comedy will find Davis a welcome guide, despite some flat prose and the occasional tautology. (“Do not marvel if the Family of Heaven is still able to astonish you,” Virgil advises.) The lack of explanatory notes, especially concerning textual issues and the many figures from history and literature who populate Dante’s afterlife, limits this translation’s utility for students, but Davis still offers a clean, approachable rendering.

Takeaway: An inviting prose version of the classic journey from hell to heaven.

Great for fans of: Jason M. Baxter’s A Beginner's Guide to Dante's Divine Comedy, Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds’s Dante in English.

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

The Printer and The Strumpet
Larry Brill
Brill delivers an entertaining caper set in colonial America’s fight for independence in the second volume of his Misadventures of Leeds Merriweather series (after The Patterer). Leeds Merriweather, a journalist and self-proclaimed “wordsmith,” owns a Boston newspaper in 1773–a publication that many colonists deem sympathetic to the Tory cause. When his business debt gets signed over to crown royalists thanks to his best friend’s gambling habits, Leeds is forced to use his press to further the cause of the King, whether he agrees with it or not. Tables turn once his affections are snared by rebel sympathizer Sally Hughes, and Leeds finds himself torn between saving his livelihood or clandestinely using the power of the press to further the Patriot movement.

History lovers will be hooked by Brill’s foray into colonial Boston, especially his portrayal of key battles and memorable strategists who were instrumental in establishing American freedom. Though he takes plenty of creative license in re-imagining significant events, the engaging characters and wry style carry the story line. Brill pairs an amusing satiric style with period appropriate prose, and readers will chuckle at his characters’ catchphrases (“Flog the frog. I’d been had”) and Leeds’s playful narration, such as the barbed “‘Not to overstate the obvious,’ I said, overstating the obvious.” Brill’s sense of play at times flirts with anachronism, as when he concocts a perfectly reasonable justification for Leeds to exclaim “WTF?”

Sally continually risks life and limb in the name of freedom and exhibits plenty of her own gusto, upending mores as the story navigates bordellos and revolutionary politicking. While this power couple has strong appeal, their romance here proves anticlimactic. Still, fans of witty historic adventure will be left wishing for more of Leeds and his covert printing operations–activities that eventually transform him into a “spot-on American.” This bantering account of early colonial freedom fighters and their innovative maneuvers is equal parts rousing and amusing

Takeaway: A playful tale of colonial America, with wry humor and a rebel heart.

Great for fans of: Edward Carey’s Little, Theodore Sturgeon’s I, Libertine.

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

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For the Love of Many
Vivian Dunn
Dunn’s debut novel is a sumptuous sojourn into the grit and glamour of the Roaring Twenties given new life through the lenses of queer identity and the story of the rise of a superstar. Billie, the chosen sobriquet of Lucille Le Sur, one day to become known as Joan Crawford, is a smallish-town girl with a past who only wants to dance on Broadway –and will do anything to get there. Once on the Great White Way, as a chorine in a J. J. Shubert production, she meets Nadine, a fellow chorine with a reputation as a good-time girl and the connections to go with it. As the pair opens up about their pasts and shared experiences, growing intimate, matters like marriages and careers get in the way of what could be, threatening an early closing on their romance.

Rich with atmosphere and stunning detail, the novel offers an intricately imagined love story viewed from the dual perspectives of Billie and Nadine. Without shying away from the realities of the time period–and what women were forced to do if they wanted their chance at fame–Dunn fully immerses readers in the kaleidoscopic headiness of Broadway life during the Prohibition era, as the women both sing and embody the hit song “T'ain't Nobody's Business if I Do.” Fact and fiction are blended together with a seamless ease, inviting readers into the game of untangling which is which.

The novel has some stylistic quirks. The dual-viewpoint narrative’s quick transitions from one voice to another takes some getting used to and may at times throw some readers off, and intermittent bursts of poetry among the prose provide a refreshing (if odd) change of pace. But this story and romance boasts a solid foundation, compelling characters, and prose that brings the Jazz Age–and what queer existence would have been like in that era–to life

Takeaway: A beautifully penned love story that pays homage to the theater and the queer experience in the Prohibition era.

Great for fans of: Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone, Renée Rosen’s Dollface.

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

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Scarlet Oak
Angie Weiland-Crosby
Weiland-Crosby weaves a moving tapestry of grief, family, and the enduring power of nature in her fanciful debut. Scarlet, a tree sprite, has seen a lot in her fifty years on earth, but she has never met a human until she encounters Finn, an autistic human teenager, seconds before taking his own life. That moment changes everything for both, in ways neither could expect. In their part of the world, the Smis (short for “Southern Maryland in Shadow”) judges all living things when they die, determining whether each soul moves toward the Light or the Dark. Death by suicide, in the Smis’s estimation, means automatic Darkness. But Scarlet is convinced that Finn did not intend to die and begs for a chance to prove it. She is given one year to pretend to be human and prove that Finn’s spirit belongs to the Light.

Audiences will be swept away by Scarlet’s human life as Willow Brook, who learns that fifty years of tree-sprite living have ill-prepared her for love, jealousy, and heartbreak. Her relationship with Finn’s grieving parents will keep readers guessing as to Scarlet and Finn’s fate—expect tears along the way. Weiland-Crosby’s narrative features multiple perspectives, including its eponymous protagonist, Smis, and Scarlet’s tree host, Horace, offering a multifaceted view of characters and scenes. The lyrical style is touched with poetry, providing insight into the world between fairy and human.

At times, that divide seems arbitrary: The afterlife in Scarlet Oak is clearly non-religious, but Christianity and the Christmas holiday are major forces for good in the life of Scarlett and the Smis. The story grapples with mature subject matter—suicide, alcoholism, ableism—but readers should be aware that the depiction of Finn’s autism emphasizes negative effects on those around him. Despite some uncomfortable moments, this rich fusion of connection and resilience will remind readers of their own magic.

Takeaway: Part paean to nature, part family drama, this lyric fantasy examines grief and love in our world.

Great for fans of: Glendy Vanderah’s Where the Forest Meets the Stars, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

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

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Poems from a Gypsy Heart
Verle Jean
First published in 2012, Jean’s hefty (over 600 pages) collection of gentle, nature-minded observational free verse celebrates, among other topics, silence, seasons, spiders, and how “the flute song of the wind/ blows over the green hills.” Unaddressed in these hundreds of short, accessible poems is the title’s cavalier use of a dated term with a history of use as a slur. That’s certain to turn away some potential readers, though a poem called “The Gypsy,” which centers on the possibility (represented by a seagull) of being someplace unexpected tomorrow, suggests that Jean conceives of the term as referring to a general spirit of adventure and curiosity.

Whatever the case, that spirit powers poems like “A Walk Through a Canyon" which finds Jean both ecstatic and contemplative: “in the long time to come, perhaps/ i will remember this is my footprint/ on the red sand, beneath these monoliths of stone/ frozen by time …” Landscape, weather, and time forever reflect each other in Jean’s imagination, a tendency common in dreamy Midwesterners (Jean hails from North Dakota) who have invested years in watching seasons unfold across those limitless heavens. In the playful “White” snow covers trees and ground “as if the sky had fallen down,” while “I Am” finds her engaging in the age-old pleasure of dreaming along with the clouds, which she strikingly likens to “giant leaves / floating across a pond of sky.”

Pleasing imagery appears throughout the collection (“The bush was buttoned up/ with red berries”), even in poems concerning more human topics, such as a grandmother’s mending basket or fleeting memories of youth. Still, the book’s bulk and abundance can overwhelm, with the strongest and most specific poems outnumbered by slighter ones, variations on established themes, whimsical doggerel, and lines whose power is diminished by familiar imagery or inconsistent archaic phrasing, like “’tis” or “thee.”

Takeaway: A lifetime’s worth of warmly observational poetry, focused on time, nature, and arresting imagery.

Great for fans of: Mary Ryan, Ted Kooser.

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

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Unchecked Capitalism is Killing Us!: How unfettered corporate greed and corruption have made us poorer, fatter, sicker, less tolerant of others and more dangerously exposed to the coronavirus.
Michael W. Shroyer
Rynerson’s thorough, fierce, nonpartisan attack on contemporary capitalism emphasizes the pernicious influence that corporate power has on the daily lives of average Americans. Comparing the population to the archetypal frog who doesn’t recognize it’s gradually being boiled alive, Rynerson notes that, since the Reagan revolution, regulations on corporations have slowly eroded, allowing them to achieve ever greater profit at the expense of the public, a trend only exacerbated by the globalization of the Clinton era. Without restrictions, “unfettered corporate greed” is unleashed, which leads to corporations corrupting government policy. Rynerson presents an exhaustive list of charges of illegal activity by banks and other companies; he offers evidence of auto companies deliberately stifling innovation; and he charts the alarming history of pharmaceutical companies directly writing legislation to prevent Medicare from negotiating prices for medicine.

Rynerson's arguments prove most persuasive when focused on specific examples of corruption, such as his spirited takedown of the lobbying industry, in which he connects various powerful lobbies to their influence on specific members of Congress. At times, he overreaches, not addressing issues like race and poverty when urging readers to buy electric cars and healthier groceries, or loosely linking the treatment decisions made by oncologists to corruption elsewhere in the medical industry, such as pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to sell opioids. While most of his arguments are easy to follow, they sometimes get swallowed in the avalanche of outrages and references, a tendency that also dulls the righteous power of his anger.

“Unfortunately, corporate control of our nation became complete in 2010,” he laments in a discussion of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited election spending from wealthy donors. Rynerson makes that case with such clear fury that, perhaps inevitably, the solutions he offers (idealistic fixes like the creation of a new, centrist political party, individual-focused changes like eating less sugar) come up short. Still, Rynerson's passion and outrage raise urgent, thought-provoking questions.

Takeaway: A no-holds-barred attack on unchecked corporate power in American.

Great for fans of: David Dayen’s Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power, Christopher Leonard’s kochland.

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

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Vandella
M. Ch. Landa
Landa’s debut novel follows Maia Foster––a 17 year-old cancer survivor raised by her grandmother––as she journeys through the afterlife to save her grandmother’s life. A regular high school student with a crush on a popular jock and conflict with local mean girls, Maia sees her world fall apart when her doctor breaks the news that her cancer is coming back. Then things get strange: She wakes up in the hospital and sees a mysterious man touching her grandmother’s forehead. That stranger Sidney, who looks young but has an air of agelessness about him, hints at knowledge of life, death, and souls, and tells Maia that she has the opportunity to save her grandmother’s life, but for a price. Maia accepts, and together they take a dazzling plunge into the afterlife. But there she loses the medallion that protects her and then, one by one, her senses, all as she discovers that Sidney, her self-proclaimed “caregiver,” hasn’t been completely honest with her.

Featuring an angelic language, death personified, plus demigods and dragon, this coming-of-age story covers a lot of fantastical ground. Lovers of young adult romance steeped in fantastical journeys and coming-of-age themes will appreciate this story, if they’re comfortable with the issues of age, power, and consent that mostly go unaddressed in the budding romance between an underage teen and an apparently ageless being who can read her mind, has observed her since her girlhood, and is described in the narrative as a “man” while she’s referred to as a “girl.”

The descent into fantasy is slow and immersive, allowing time for the Maia and readers to acclimate to a convincing world, which helps develop stakes that give the story power. The worldbuilding is strong on both the fantastic and realistic sides, and a moving twist shifts the novel’s focus to familial love and sacrifice rather than romantic love.

Takeaway: Strong worldbuilding and an engaging teen protagonist ground this fantasy in real emotion.

Great for fans of: Archer Lakhani’s The Safekeeper, Neal Shusterman’s Everlost.

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

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Inner Alchemy: The Path of Mastery, Updated and Revised Edition
Zulma Reyo
Reyo (Divine Alchemy) illuminates the often complex techniques of achieving healing and self-reflection to secure social and world change in this inviting revision of her 1989 first edition. With a supportive approach, Reyo posits that through inner alchemy, which is “the science of applied consciousness to raise the vibration of the matter that comprises our physical and psychological self into finer states or frequencies,” individuals can connect with something larger, achieve joy and fulfillment, and effect global change. Suitable for intermediate and advanced students of topics like astral realms and “energetic work,” this thorough manual presents immersive exercises to identify and manage the individual self through energy mastery and conversion. These exercises have been crafted to foster exploration of the nature of life, the self, and the soul—and how all of these are bound up together.

Useful in a group setting or individually, Reyo’s emotionally intense practices develop not only familiar energy areas, such as the seven chakras, but also concepts like the twelve dimensional stages of consciousness. Reyo describes the seven fields of energy around the living body and the seven rays or divine flames that imbue all of creation, and she offers practical applications for readers who have achieved transformation or arrived at fresh perceptions, such as composing daily personal affirmations and achieving confidence, control, steadiness, integrity, and divine reflection.

Adding a personal touch, Reyo describes her own journey with energy work, the knowledge she gained from experts in the field, and how she went on to found the Inner Alchemy School of Consciousness in several Latin American countries. Readers on the right wavelength will relish this elegantly designed edition, complete with sophisticated illustrations that convincingly depict difficult to understand concepts. The book is well indexed and catalogued with a glossary and bibliography, making it a valuable reference for seekers of spiritual well-being.

Takeaway: A practical, polished compendium of spiritual exercises for self-improvement and ways to effect global change.

Great for fans of: Anodea Judith's Wheels of Life, Athena Perrakis's The Ultimate Guide to Chakras.

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

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Gaining Altitude : Retirement and Beyond
Rebecca Milliken
In her debut, a hybrid work between memoir and self-help, Milliken deftly addresses the complexities and emotions of choosing to retire from full-time work. At age 63, after 30 years as a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., Milliken made the difficult decision to retire and reinvent herself as a writer—no small feat in a city that measures human worth by accomplishments. Shedding her longtime identity as a therapist amid criticism from others about her choice, she took a leap of faith into uncertainty.

After an uncomfortable start in which she questioned what on Earth she should actually do with all her new time (learn Arabic? Volunteer for the Red Cross? Take up pickleball?), Milliken began to relish retirement, learning to ask herself new questions: “What seems important now that wasn’t before?” “Who am I if I am no longer who I used to be?” One of the most liberating aspects of retiring, she writes, was the opportunity to learn by doing and not to fear the possibility of making mistakes. “Mistakes are mirrors where we get an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly than usual,” she points out, as encouragement to those facing similar fears and thoughts. Milliken also celebrates the freedom to let her thoughts meander, to allow the random and the trivial to float through her head as a means for sparking creativity.

Milliken’s expertise as a psychotherapist is evident both in the introspective way that she chronicles her journey and in her wise and measured words—words that will strike a chord with readers contemplating their own next acts. A helpful list of books for more on the topic will also guide readers as they prepare for the imposing life change that is retirement, though readers will likely feel that Milliken’s own account, centered on how “this freedom invites me to be, not do qualifies for such lists itself.

Takeaway: Anyone with mixed feelings on the precipice of retirement will gain insight and comfort from this wise account.

Great for fans of: Gene Cohen’s The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, William Sadler and James Krefft’s Changing Course: Navigating Life after Fifty.

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

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Penance
SETH SJOSTROM
This swift-moving and violent actioner follows FBI agent Alex Penance as he must use his phenomenal fighting skills to battle Mexican gangsters. Penance was marked for promotion, but he gets exiled to rural Mississippi when he has a fling with a senator's girlfriend. The Las Piratas have been kidnapping girls in the area, and when Penance arrests a cartel lieutenant, the gang promises retribution. Along the way, Penance has several run-ins with the Whatcoms, a local family of criminals, and embarks on a tentative romance with local Assistant District Attorney Annie Hunt while planning for a showdown with the cartel.

Sjostrom (Patriot X) keeps the action on full boil, as Penance solves virtually every problem with violence. To quickly interrogate a suspect, Penance shoves his head through a window. Even a disagreement with the local district attorney quickly gets physical. And when he finds a young woman being preyed upon by her boyfriend in his car, his first reaction is to smash glass. Even a meeting with an FBI psychologist about his propensity for violence…turns violent. Occasionally, we glimpse a warmer side of Penance, as when he shares an empathetic moment with an overwhelmed single father, and his relationship with local police officer Bubba comes across as genuine. But the various character-driven subplots, including his love-hate relationship with the Whatcoms, get overwhelmed by the continual fracases.

Indeed, most of the characters are either dishing out violence or defending it, including a local judge. When the cartel attacks, most of the town is willing and able to join the defense, and this includes the pastor, who is well-versed in the use of his AR-15. Sjostrom definitely has a flair for staging the brisk fight scenes: "… he sprung up to fire on the last visible guard only to see him knocked backward, a bullet shattering his skull." Action aficionados will enjoy the fast-paced conflict all the way to the satisfying conclusion.

Takeaway:: Fans of red-meat action will revel in the continuous stream of fight scenes.

Great for fans of: Stephen Hunter, Nick Petrie.

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

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Murder In the Haunted Chamber
Bill LeFurgy
LeFurgy’s second historic mystery takes a turn for the supernatural. It's 1910, and Baltimore is at the height of the spiritualist movement. Ever logical, returning hero Sarah Kennecott, a doctor on the autism spectrum, is a skeptic even when faced with the ghost of her own sister asking her to investigate the murder of a young woman. But when a decidedly living client—claiming to be a spiritual medium—shows up seeking her help in finding the same woman who appeared in Sarah's vision, Sarah and her returning partner, the detective Jack Harden, must once again dive into the seedy underbelly of Baltimore in order to catch a killer.

Lefurgy's signal strength is his persuasive weaving in of historic details of technology, pop culture, and Baltimore lore without distracting from the story. The characters ride around in horse-drawn or motor cabs, checking out seedy bars that play ragtime while being heckled by prohibitionists. The story itself is a complex mystery with a wide cast of characters tied together through with an assassination plot and a blackmail attempt.That complexity is mitigated by the author pausing periodically to have the characters rehash the situation, which might prove repetitive for seasoned fans of the genre.

The protagonists form a classic duo of opposites—Jack is an emotional man of the streets, while Sarah is a logic-oriented member of high society—who complement each other well and have a spark of affection that leads to an unlikely but believable friendship. Sarah is particularly unique as a historical heroine on the autism spectrum. While her speech patterns are exaggeratedly stilted (“There is a high probability that all three deaths are attributable to a murderer, or perhaps a team of murderers”) in the manner of Vulcans or androids, overall she is a fully realized person with a passion for justice, one who also misses social cues. The book is a well-plotted mystery set against a vivid historical backdrop.

Takeaway: Great for readers of historical mysteries who love clever female detectives.

Great for fans of: Rhys Bowen, Victoria Thompson

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

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The Part That Burns: A memoir in fragments
Jeannine M Ouellette
Ouellette’s memoir is a mesmerizing narrative kaleidoscope centered on her struggle to come to terms with the abuse she endured as a child. When Ouellette was four years old, her mother’s second husband began to molest her, abuse that continued for years. Ouellette coped by searching for “doorways” that allowed her to escape into new worlds. Even after her mother’s relationship with the abuser ended, Ouellette’s rocky, unstable childhood eventually landed her in the foster care system. After she aged out, her own marriage and children inspired her to revisit her past, confront her trauma, and pen this remarkable book.

Ouellette eschews a traditional chronological approach, instead organizing the narrative into short vignettes, each related to a significant object or incident. This fragmented structure captures the complexity of Ouellette’s emotional journey by illuminating key events and themes from fresh angles and perspectives, the structure suggesting the actual workings of memory. Some readers may at first look for more sustained, synthesized reflection or more circumscribed resolutions, but Ouellette’s skillful arrangement of these vignettes allows the story to surge forward and backward in a way that both heightens anticipation and layers meaning onto her experiences, without disorienting attentive readers.

Within the vignettes, Ouellette tells her story with power, strength, and even surprises: She includes an autobiography she wrote in ninth grade, its youthful, polished sentences poignantly glossing over the darker truth of her life. A series of sections on “daughterhood,” co-written by her own daughter, puts both women’s perspectives in dialogue, intertwining their experiences while exploring their distinctions. These unique elements add further dimension to the rich themes of motherhood and memory, offering readers interpretive possibilities that are equally challenging and rewarding. Ouellette’s memoir inventively laces together her past, present, and future, resulting in an innovative yet deeply emotional reading experience.

Takeaway: This moving memoir will connect with thoughtful readers who are open to an unconventional exploration of living after abuse.

Great for fans of: Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Tara Westover’s Educated.

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

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To The Stars: A Novel
Shannon P Colleary
Two young women find friendship in each other just when they need it most in Bradley-Colleary’s heart-rending fiction debut, a novel that originated as a screenplay that became the 2019 Samuel Goldwyn film of the same title. Living in tiny WaKeeney, Kansas, where everyone knows everyone and everything, Iris has been an “Untouchable” her whole life. In high stress situations she wets herself, a byproduct of her mother’s verbal abuse and severe anxiety from a lifetime of bullying—the nickname “Stinky Drawers” follows her right into high school. So, she’s understandably leery when a stand-out city girl, Maggie, moves to town and wants to be her friend. Maggie has her own painful secrets, and she needs Iris just as much as Iris needs her.

Traveling back to 1961, a time when being different in any way was alienating and even dangerous in a small town, Bradley-Colleary expertly delves into the hearts and minds of young people of the era, inviting readers to experience their painful feelings and small victories. Making the story even more personal, the narrator is a woman who fought–and lost–her battle with depression and loved Iris as a daughter. Bradley-Colleary opens with that narrator’s captivating account of her own suicide (“This is not a ghost story. But it is a story told by a ghost”).

Bradley-Colleary brings the town and characters to full, engaging life in this moving narrative. The pond central to the story exudes sadness, as the location of the narrator’s suicide, but also the sanctity and solace Iris feels there. Minute character details—the flick of a cigarette, the way one’s “slick black hair” is “rolled into a stylish mound the Frogs call a ‘chingon’”—speak volumes both about individual personalities and mid-century Kansas. Sometimes uncomfortable in the best ways, To the Stars will draw readers in. Expect to fall in love with Iris and Maggie.

Takeaway: A beautiful story of an unlikely small-town teen friendship that empowers when it’s needed most.

Great for fans of: Fiona Valpy’s The Dressmaker’s Gift, Mary Ellen Taylor’s Honeysuckle Season.

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

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Creatrix Rising: Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women
Stephanie Raffelock
Inspired by the upheaval of American life during the Trump years, Raffelock (A Delightful Little Book on Aging) charts a course to embracing the title of Creatrix—her renaming of the archetypal feminine models of maiden, mother, and most especially crone—to empower other women. At the age of 68, Raffelock found herself among an oft-ignored group that has been slowly gaining a voice in society: midlife women. Through brief vignettes accompanied by prompts for journaling and reflection, Raffelock inspires midlife women to consider their own journeys in life and tap into their creative power.

Raffelock is a product of and poster child of her generation, and she devotes considerable energy to examining the development of her feminist identity and recounting her struggles with drug addiction. Rather than glamorize her past drug use, she illustrates her self-destructive tendencies and how easy it was to indulge them in Laurel Canyon in the 1970s. Her feminism, too, is very much situated in that era: Her heartfelt description of the 2017 Women’s March emphasizes a sense of hope, uplift, and cross-generational connection: “Older women like me had the experience of an earlier feminism,” she notes. “Younger women carried the torch of new inspiration and vision. We’d been walking side by side for longer than any of us realized.”

Raffelock’s voice is gentle but probing, of herself and her audience, which shines through in her journal prompts: Neither gimmick nor afterthought, they’re a continual highlight, functioning as an introspective, reflective tool for readers seeking a new perspective or an opportunity to work through the complexities of feminism. Full of heart and impassioned insight (“There is no diagnostic code for grief, and there are no medications for sorrow”), Creatrix Rising empowers and inspires midlife women with the author’s hard-earned wisdom, providing a framework for readers to come into their own revolutionary power as a Creatrix.

Takeaway: Midlife women who want to reclaim their power will find inspiration and tools for reflection in this moving memoir.

Great for fans of: Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s Women Who Run with the Wolves, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.

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Cover: B
Design and typography: A
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Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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