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Geese are Never Swans
Created By Kobe Bryant, Written by Eva Clark
With empathy and vigor, writer Clark, working from a concept developed by the late basketball star Bryant, crafts a welcome update to the narrative of a troubled teen finding meaning in sports. When college swimming star Danny Bennett dies by suicide, his 16-year-old brother, Gus, is caught in a maelstrom of rage, sorrow, and relief. Having lived in his brother’s shadow for years, Gus is saddled with self-doubt, ambition that sometimes drives him to push himself too hard, and a strained relationship with his mother. After Danny’s death, Gus is determined to show he can be an even better swimmer than his brother was. Landing himself a spot on the team of Coach Marks, the coveted trainer who worked with Danny, Gus pushes himself—both physically and mentally—to a breaking point.

Gus’s story is as sharply efficient as a swimmer’s strokes, brutal and serious where it counts. His self-aware narration lays bare his pitch-perfect teen tough attitude (“The only thing worse than having to talk about my feelings is listening to someone else pretend to understand them”) as well as his capacity for profound depth of feeling and insight into both sports and human nature (“Parents don’t like to face hard truths about the kids they love”). Readers will cheer him on as he learns to stop fighting himself and the people who are trying to help him.

The story belongs to Gus and only Gus; very little time is spent on description, and side characters exist to illuminate his personality and give him something to want or push against. Readers won’t mind spending so much time in his head, as the authors handle his complicated emotions with care and aplomb and keep the action moving through short, brisk chapters and vivid sensory descriptions. Like Gus, this punchy young adult novel is a winner.

Takeaway: Teen athletes longing to be seen as more than their trophies will cherish this young man’s journey of athletic success and personal healing.

Great for fans of Kwame Alexander’s Crossover series, Mike Lupica.

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

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99 Truths
Lori Lacefield
This unfocused but enjoyable series launch from Lacefield (The Fifth Juror) introduces tenacious FBI profiler Frankie Johnson. After bungling an important investigation, Frankie gets a second chance, consulting with Charlotte, N.C., police on a gruesome case: the rape and murder of 25-year-old Lianna Wakefield-Bradenton, the district attorney’s daughter. Frankie, assigned to psychoanalyze the sadistic killer, and lead detective Deke Deaton question Lianna’s husband, Stewart, and her lover, Joe Archuletta, but each maintains he is being framed, and neither fits Frankie’s profile. Meanwhile, Deke’s prior relationship with Lianna, his hatred for her husband, and his desire for Frankie threaten to jeopardize the investigation, while the murder of a possible witness only muddies the waters.

Lacefield’s work shines when Frankie is in the spotlight. She peppers interviews with tidbits about body language, interrogation style, and personality types, appealing to those who like ample psychology in their detective fiction. When Frankie’s narrative takes a back seat (including an underdeveloped side plot involving Frankie’s partner pursuing a fraudulent investor), the plot falters. Frankie is a smart character with a well-developed origin story. She’s a mixed-race woman in law enforcement in the American South, an identity that deserves more exploration than it gets, and Lacefield handles race clumsily at times; for example, a period when Frankie wore “loud colors” and hoop earrings is described as her “African-American days.”

The story is at its most engrossing when the reader is one step behind the detective. Lacefield tips her hand too early, particularly in chapters focusing on characters other than Frankie. Still, even though some readers may guess the ending beforehand, the climax is fast-paced and enjoyable. This book will appeal to those who are as interested in the why of the crime as in the who.

Takeaway: Readers who like tough, female detectives and in-depth criminal psychology will enjoy this cat-and-mouse thriller.

Great for fans of Lisa Gardner’s FBI Profiler series, Karin Slaughter’s Triptych.

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

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Numb
Gabrielle Blondell
This thrilling work of fiction toys with suspense and trauma of three characters, each with their own burden of damage and secrets. Australian investigative reporter Fiona Lees is a mother of two sons, Lochie and Hugh, and in the midst of an ugly divorce from her abusive husband, Richard. Fiona flees with her boys to a ramshackle farmhouse, becoming the tenant of PTSD-plagued farmer Alick. Alick hires a drifter, Sven, as a farmhand, but Hugh becomes suspicious of the mysterious backpacker following a lapse in his Swedish accent. Danger is ever-present, including in Fiona’s work, and she becomes wary of all the men who work on the farm, her mothering instincts becoming infused with a tinge of neurosis.

Blondell’s worldbuilding of trauma is a sophisticated metronome, a gradual slide into the minds of the emotionally muted main characters. Fiona is haunted by her husband’s mental manipulation of her, Alick is plagued by Vietnam, and Sven struggles with his dark upbringing. The easy dialogue and brisk prose propel the tension-filled pacing of the dark and occasionally humorous narrative. As other characters emerge—Fiona’s interfering older sister, Alick’s drinking buddy, Sven’s meth-loving cohort—they are well-utilized to further blur the lines between truth and deception, healthy and hallucinatory, and control and controlling.

Each character is beautifully flawed, striving toward their own landscape of redemption and tending to their emotional wounds. The beacon of triumph is always just in front of them, almost teasingly out of reach. Their push toward overcoming current circumstances is an uncomfortably numb foray with a twist of a payoff. Readers will have no difficulty staying engaged with this brief, tense story of justified fear and determined survival.

Takeaway: Readers who want to see women taking charge of their lives will be enthralled by this quiet tale of mistaken identity, subtle loyalty, and the redefining of family.

Great for fans of Claire Messud, Megan Abbott

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

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PLAYING DOCTOR--Part One: Medical School
John Lawrence
Lawrence’s debut memoir beckons its readers to trail alongside him as he perceptively and often humorously observes his years as a medical student at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In this first volume of four, Lawrence illustrates his diffident launch into the inroads of caregiving and medicine. What follows is an examination of duty, learning, sacrifice, and a horrific work-life imbalance. Lawrence commences his training with devastating imposter syndrome that paradoxically undermines his ability to do his work. His intense self-doubt and some distressing bike accidents grievously bookend his professional milestones. One consequently finds him right in the middle of a cutthroat race and yet on the sidelines for most of his training years.

With a self-deprecating lens, Lawrence reflects upon his lessons and a few redemptions. His professional misadventures are cushioned with pervasive humor and an impressive knack for storytelling. Anecdotes litter the pages, sustained with admirable pacing, and despite the dense jargon, the writing is clear and comprehensible. Lawrence skillfully dwells on his intense, action-oriented episodes. The only significant flaw is the denouement, which includes a rushed retelling of his graduation and turns sermonic. This disappointing finish dilutes the strengths of the narrative and leaves a detached aftertaste.

Lawrence’s account is an exciting motley of descriptive, buoyant, and well-paced stories. It is a competent chronicle fortified with wit, actively positioned levity, and digestible medical recounts. Though not consciously didactic, the memoir does find itself in moralistic waters from time to time, but its missteps are few. This is an original and swift tale, supported by accessible and congenial writing. Readers both inside and outside of the medical profession will find it enjoyable and often edifying.

Takeaway: This vivid memoir of a doctor-in-making is soaked in deadpan humor and will appeal to med students and medical-memoir readers.

Great for fans of Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta’s Tears of Salt: A Doctor’s Story, Henry Jay Przybylo’s Counting Backwards: A Doctor’s Notes on Anesthesia, Elizabeth Ford’s Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward.

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

Newton's Cradle
Robert Valdin
Valdin’s tangled debut novel explores the mystery and intrigue in corporate espionage. In 1995 Los Angeles, Duncan Riley, CEO of Cyloscape Industries, barters a groundbreaking energy deal with Chinese investors. Unexpectedly, the company’s board of directors does not approve the deal and instead embarks on a takeover of Cyloscape, with a goal to oust Riley as CEO. One of Riley’s employees, Terence Whitfield, is blackmailed into breaking into Riley’s safe to find damning documents that would support the takeover bid. Whitfield also finds plans for Newton’s Cradle, a revolutionary cold fusion technology that could threaten the future of the oil industry. Riley does not know who to trust as he struggles to maintain control of his company and starts receiving threatening phone calls, leading to a shocking confrontation with an enemy seeking revenge.

Valdin’s fast-paced narrative is rich with plenty of twists and turns, highlighting betrayals and revealing the ever-changing loyalties and ruthlessness of corporate transactions. The depth of characterizations adds to the suspense, and the web of deceit is complex and immersive, requiring the reader to pay careful attention to the plot. The intricacies of takeover bids, blackmail, and allegiance to the highest bidder add realism to this immersive novel.

Though most of the characters have engaged in dubious behaviors and aren’t inherently sympathetic, Valdin expertly explores their backstories, providing reasons for some of their actions and adding a touch of humanity to their merciless endeavors seeking personal glory and financial security. Most riveting are the dual narratives embracing the mystery behind the threats and the struggle for corporate power alongside the downward spiral of Riley’s personal and professional life. This tense and intriguing thriller will keep readers eagerly turning pages.

Takeaway: Quests for vengeance, power, and wealth make this magnetic story perfect for fans of legal and corporate thrillers.

Great for fans of David Baldacci’s Total Control, John Sandford’s Shock Wave, John Grisham.

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

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Double Crossed: Play the Hand You Are Dealt
Anthony Anthamatten
Anthamatten delivers a fast-paced, sometimes funny and satirical action story about survival against all odds. Justin "JC" Carter is the product of a teenage pregnancy, effectively abandoned by both of his parents. Stenson Beckett witnessed his abusive father murder his mother and is now on the run from his past. JC and Stenson struggle through their adolescent years as runaways before settling in New Orleans, where their paths ultimately cross. After JC derails a lucrative deal Stenson had set up, a battle starts between the two men. The struggles the characters have faced make them worthy adversaries.

The novel begins with JC and Stenson’s background and upbringing, but the rest of the story focuses on their battle of wits with each other. Both have strong personalities that develop despite the events they endure, rather than being rooted in their experiences. Almost everyone who shows either young man an ounce of kindness is murdered or abandons them, and characters are often removed from the plot by way of murder when they no longer serve a story purpose.

The backstories for both JC and Stenson are well written, setting the scene for their trials and triumphs as adults. The way Anthamatten showcases their childhood misery is dramatic and dark, but there are flashes of humor, and the story gradually lightens. JC and Stenson’s violent upbringings and surroundings don’t make them into naturally violent men, and they hesitate to use force against each other, illustrating that a bad beginning in life does not dictate a bad ending. Fans of contemporary fiction or satire will appreciate this narrative of two tough survivors striving to find a measure of joy, success, and safety in a dangerous world.

Takeaway: This novel of young men striving to overcome their violent pasts will entertain readers who appreciate a mix of action and comedy with dark undertones.

Great for fans of Eric Jerome Dickey, Carl Weber.

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

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BLIND PONY : As True A Story As I Can Tell
Samantha P Hart
Hart’s powerful debut, a gritty memoir rife with graphic details of abuse and triumph over it, will break hearts. Hart, born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, was sexually abused by her maternal grandfather. Finally no longer able to tolerate the abuse, 14-year-old Hart ran away to Phoenix to live with her father, Wild Bill. Far from a safe harbor, Hart soon learned that Bill was as deeply flawed as other members of her family. Showing an impressive amount of moxie, she landed a series of jobs and pulled up stakes to move to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. Times remained tough—an abusive lover caused her to have a miscarriage, and two marriages ended—but there were joyful moments too, especially the birth of her daughter, Vignette.

Readers will be flabbergasted by Hart’s tenacious survival instincts. From the cradle, the cards were against her; disturbingly and spitefully, her mother named her Pam after her father’s mistress, and her vindictive father put sugar in her gas tank to foil her move to Los Angeles. But despite being dealt a losing hand in the parental game, she quickly sized up what she needed to do to survive, including selling softcore porn to European magazines and pretending to be old enough to waitress in restaurants serving alcoholic beverages. A lesser spirit would have given up early on, but Hart admirably soldiered forward.

Hart’s incredible resilience and courage will captivate anyone who reads her words. Her rise to top roles in the advertising game and in Hollywood is nothing short of an amazing reinvention, and her perseverance eventually led to a life-changing friendship and new love. Unforgettable and raw, Hart’s deeply honest musings will ring true to all abuse survivors and those who want to understand what it’s like to walk through fire.

Takeaway: Hart’s frank narrative of surviving domestic abuse may be rough going for her fellow survivors, but it will awe anyone seeking a memoir of determined self-invention.

Great for fans of Mackenzie Phillips’s High on Arrival, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina.

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

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I hate my brother
Branislav Bojcic
Bojčić’s dramatic war novel is rooted in the gut-wrenching events of the Bosnian War. Serb Gvozden Mišić lives in Yugoslavia with his wife, Yadranka, and daughter, Anna. He naively believes Yugoslavia will continue to prosper as a unified country after President Josip Broz Tito’s death. Soon, war breaks out, and Gvozden serves in the military with a mission to secure villages against traitors. Before Gvozden leaves to fulfill his commitment to his country, he asks his Muslim neighbor Senad to look after his family. The Serbs in charge seek to kill Muslims and Croats in order to create a pure Serbian Yugoslavia, but Gvozden simply wants to return home and protect his wife and daughter.

Gvozden’s intense experiences as a soldier transform him from a level-headed farmer and devoted family man to a primal brute. The story depicts shocking acts, including the rape of Muslim women by rogue soldiers in Gvozden’s unit. The graphic violence captures the horrifying nature of war, and beneath the bloodshed lie philosophical questions: Are monsters born or created? If God exists, why does He allow evil? Bojčić doesn’t try to provide answers, instead leaving readers to grapple with the repercussions of violence on those who commit it as well as those it victimizes.

Bojčić’s experience as a Yugoslavian and a political refugee in the United States lends authority to the setting and subject. The characters and themes transcend the occasional translation and editing errors to create an intense, fast-paced journey guaranteed to haunt readers. This arresting drama draws back the curtain of war and focuses on the metamorphosis of men under the extreme stress of combat. Bojčić’s emotional and gripping portrayal of war will stick with history enthusiasts long after the final sentence.

Takeaway: Fans of war, military, and historical fiction will be enthralled by Bojčić’s heart-twisting depiction of the Bosnian War.

Great for fans of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, Zlatko Dizdarević’s Sarajevo: A War Journal, Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father.

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

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The Science of Defying Gravity
LINDA A REED
Reed’s second middle grade novel, an upbeat tale meant to encourage girls in STEM, explores the joys of scientific discovery. Fifth grader Cassie Williams dreams of going to Space Camp, her initial step toward becoming the first movie director in space. Unfortunately, her ticket to Space Camp relies on getting a good grade in science—her worst subject! With her father recently laid off, Cassie needs to make the best science fair project ever if she wants to win a scholarship and keep any hope of getting to space.

Though the science of Cassie’s paper airplane project is solid, the narrative often gets dragged down by details, such as an entire chapter of Cassie writing a lab report. The illustrations range from whimsically charming to bland. Cassie’s personal journey is full of false starts; problems with friends and her moviemaking ambitions are never really fleshed out, and though Cassie is an effective vehicle for conveying academic information, she’s not always a compelling protagonist. Her classroom setting also feels a bit dated, and at times the plot stretches credulity. However, even when the story falters, the detail is interesting enough to keep the attention of science-minded young readers.

Cassie’s journey is full of empowering female role models, including a woman engineer, and bonus material includes links to the Society of Women Engineers. Children who have a hard time grasping scientific principles may find this book more understandable than a textbook, while children who love science will be pleased with the amount of factual information and the experiments that can be done at home. The novel would work well as a classroom tool, pairing narrative with ideas for hands-on experiences, and will encourage young scientists—especially girls—to believe that their dreams are within their reach.

Takeaway: Tweens who enjoy making, building, and learning will get the most from this book about what it takes to become a scientist.

Great for fans of Asia Citro’s Zoey and Sassafras series, Linda Sue Park’s Project Mulberry.

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

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Bittersweet Memories: The Life Story of an Immigrant Daughter
Barbara Hussmann Long
Long, a German American immigrant, shares the story of her parents’ broken marriage, her brother’s alcoholism, and her own challenges finding happiness and peace against the backdrop of WWII’s lasting shadow. Long is a natural storyteller, and though she joins many others in addressing the trauma experienced in WWII, her memoir provides an unusual perspective: a member of a white, upper-middle-class family living through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and immigrating to America. Framed as an effort to come to terms with the unexpected death of Long’s estranged father, this book covers divorce, mental illness, faith, and family through a combination of storytelling and personal reflections.

At times, Long’s stories feel straight out of a war drama. An anecdote about her mother having a friendly chat with Ulrich Graf, Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard and friend, strikes a chilling note (and contrasts with Long’s mother's later vehement anti-Nazi sentiments). The book is full of similar larger-than-life moments, including a humorous encounter with the von Trapp Family Singers (of Sound of Music fame) and a tale of Long’s mother sneaking into the 1936 Olympics. The family’s personal challenges are no less intense. Long is sometimes dismissive of her brother, viewing him as giving in to mental illness and substance abuse; readers may wish she’d put more effort into reflecting on how his coping mechanisms mirrored her frantic quest for external sources of inspiration and approval.

Long’s central message is that nothing surpasses the power of positive thinking, especially when healing from trauma. Citing Pollyanna, Norman Vincent Peale, and music from the last few decades, Long celebrates her positive attitude, which she believes drove her personal and professional successes: becoming a top-notch salesperson, finding a spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism, and raising her family. Readers will find themselves quoting Long’s many aphorisms long after they finish this moving memoir.

Takeaway: This emotional memoir will resonate with readers interested in first-person-accounts of life in Nazi Germany, immigration in wartime, and family strife.

Great for fans of Irmgard A. Hunt’s On Hitler’s Mountain, Wolfgang Samuel’s German Boy.

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

Yesterday Is Not Yet Gone
Gabriel Veiga
Veiga’s fast-paced debut whodunit combines murder and intrigue while introducing a not-so-ragtag team of strong female leads who must navigate an intricate web of lies and small-town secrets to catch a serial killer. Judy Hunter, a newly retired NYPD detective, and Charlotte Gibbins, the daughter of Judy’s former partner, form an unlikely crime-solving duo. When Hollywood star Ethan Gregory is murdered the day of Judy’s retirement, Judy is resigned to leaving the investigation to her trusted partner, Fred Gibbins, but then Fred dies suddenly. Judy teams up with Charlotte, who is determined to be a detective like her father, to find out the truth about Fred’s death as well as Ethan’s.

Veiga keeps the story flowing with short chapters that quickly alternate between the perspectives of Judy and Charlotte. The characters’ attitudes and viewpoints are expressed vividly through colorful, sometimes choppy dialogue. The cast of characters is large and diverse with interconnecting story lines, adding additional layers of conflict and suspense. Tensions often flare when Hunter’s replacement, Eddie White, a good ol’ boy from Louisiana, makes an appearance. Albeit a tad clichéd, Eddie’s arrogance and personal beliefs exemplify prejudices and racist views that create inequalities within the legal system.

Elements of mystery and suspense are combined with the complexities of navigating a career that’s less friendly to some races, genders, and sexual orientations. The chapters are packed with action and usually end on cliffhangers that hold the reader’s attention. The rural setting and the warm relationship between Judy and Charlotte give the story an almost cozy feel and set the backdrop for a true mystery thriller that keeps readers guessing until the end.

Takeaway: Fans of cozy murder mysteries will find delight in this story’s fast-paced plot and quirky, diverse cast of characters.

Great for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Tana French, Agatha Christie.

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

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Corrupted Humours, a Novel
Donald Friedman
Friedman’s layered novel combines humor and two distinct narratives into a single convoluted mystery. In the first story line, struggling novelist and journalist Owen Berk investigates the untimely death of esteemed psychiatrist Dr. Snaedeker, who had a gastrointestinal condition causing him to produce excessive amounts of gas. Snaedeker exploded on the operating table during routine surgery performed by renowned surgeon Bill Spencer. In the second, which seems to be both real life and a novel Owen is writing, Charlotte Spencer, Bill’s wife and Snaedeker’s patient, grapples with the realization that her husband has been cheating. The stories begin to intertwine as Owen tries to figure out whether Snaedeker was murdered and the Spencers veer toward divorce.

Snaedeker’s medical condition and death are mined somewhat for comedy, but they take a back seat to the drama in Owen’s life and the turmoil within the Spencers’ rocky relationship, particularly the physical abuse and mental manipulation that both Snaedeker and Bill inflict on Charlotte. Unfortunately, the stylistic choice to leave quotation marks out of dialogue (“She said, they’re chocolate, your favorite. I said no thanks”) makes it very hard to follow the events; Owen’s first-person narration blurs into his conversations with others, and scenes with multiple characters are especially difficult to untangle, greatly diminishing the tension.

Nuances of character elevate the story. Owen, a man in his “stream-dribbling sixties,” is somewhat obsessed with aging and death, a trait developed through his relationship with his 20-something girlfriend, Kjirsti, and his role as unofficial caregiver to his 92-year-old neighbor, Basha-Rose. Charlotte experiences a masochistic sexual awakening that helps her both make sense of and defy being mistreated. These complex protagonists and their interwoven narratives create a distinctive literary mystery with a bent toward the philosophical.

Takeaway: This mystery will appeal to readers who enjoy literary fiction and stories that examine the human condition.

Great for fans of Alexis Schaitkin’s Saint X, Suzanne Rindell.

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

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Living in Christ: Character, Community, and Leadership
Stephen W. Hiemstra
The fifth and final work in Hiemstra’s Christian spirituality series (following 2019’s Simple Faith) unpretentiously explores the role of Christian ethics in a postmodern environment and examines biblical components of modern religious leadership. This uncomplicated publication illuminates the clash between many core Christian values and current American society, offering concrete methods to tackle topics such as idolatry, family dysfunction, and morally complex decisions. Readers seeking to enhance personal and professional leadership skills will find Hiemstra’s guide easily relatable, with basic and adaptable suggestions for living responsibly. Hiemstra offers specific advice on the trials of pastoring amid present-day demands, and much of the work uses his own experience in the ministry to highlight ethical dilemmas around such everyday concerns as raising children, funding churches, and making restitution for harm.

Theology is explained in straightforward terms with comprehensible interpretation of biblical principles and parables. The work consistently delivers a framework for Bible-based leadership, though at times it digresses with unrelated and disconnected material. Hiemstra’s emphasis on sharing the Christian message in modern times is candid, and the work does not shy away from confronting sensitive topics. The author utilizes personal experiences to clarify and support themes in the work, although readers may find these rudimentary and extraneous. Building from a foundation of pure devotion, Hiemstra exhorts followers to self-transformation through emulating the behaviors and beliefs of Christ and witnessing to others.

Highlighting the Christian leader’s role in addressing societal problems while promoting moral accountability, Hiemstra provides readers with impetus to model maturity by mentoring others. The combination of straightforward biblical analysis of Christian leadership practices and tangible applications for living in faith makes the work relevant to postmodern Christianity and gently challenging. Hiemstra offers a balance of mild admonishment and aspiration for ethical living, and readers will appreciate the forthright presentation of Bible-based principles for effective leadership.

Takeaway: Readers seeking to improve Christian leadership skills and heighten ethical living through well-known biblical principles will find this work straightforward and useful.

Great for fans of John MacArthur, Henri J.M. Nouwen.

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

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Compassion Mandala: The Odyssey of an American Charity in Contemporary Tibet
Pamela Logan
In a memoir resonant with authentic devotion to serving others, Logan (Tibetan Rescue: The Extraordinary Quest to Save the Sacred Art Treasures of Tibet) painstakingly chronicles the work of the American charity she created to aid the deeply impoverished Kham region of Tibet. After becoming fascinated by the fighting styles of other countries, Logan initially explored the area of Kham to discover more about their warriors. Immediately drawn to help the region’s poorer residents, Logan left her aeronautics career and began volunteering, eventually starting the Kham Aid Foundation. Logan tells the moving stories of raising money for conservation projects, assistive equipment for disabled people, and education, as well as acquiring sponsors to give individual children educational scholarships.

Logan acknowledges that humanitarian work in the region is often dirty and difficult, but she always maintains a positive viewpoint, and the individuals she helps seem to share her attitude of hope and thankfulness. Sometimes her narration is a little dry and removed, but when she lets herself get personal, her writing shines. Readers with some background knowledge of politics in Tibet and China will have the best grasp of the nuances of Logan’s work. Those unfamiliar with the region will still appreciate the comprehensive firsthand exploration of areas both troubled and beautiful, as well as the helpful maps.

Throughout, Logan takes time to detail the importance of establishing trusting connections with locals, the complicated nature of international relations, and the speed with which networks and contacts can change. Although she delves into the corruption of government officials stealing money earmarked for the children and shares cautionary advice for Americans doing humanitarian work in China, Logan also brilliantly reveals the rewards of her labors: babies’ lives saved at birth, educated girls who achieve great success. The resilience and beauty of the Tibetan people stand out in this sweeping account.

Takeaway: Readers curious about daily life and humanitarian work in Tibet will be swept up by this marathon account of the Kham Aid Foundation’s founding and work.

Great for fans of Charlie Carroll’s Peaks on the Horizon: Two Journeys in Tibet, Gillian G. Tan’s In the Circle of White Stones: Moving through Seasons with Nomads of Eastern Tibet.

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

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The Write to Happiness: How to Write Stories to Change Your Brain and Your Life
Samantha Shad
This cogent guide to storytelling also advocates the use of writing as a tool to improve one’s life through the written word. Shad identifies the “rules of writing to happiness” in straightforward steps, with an emphasis on using creative writing to view life’s problems through the lens of narrative. The first section is an excellent resource for aspiring and novice writers, with chapters that explore storytelling, developing characters, and plotting. Shad effortlessly expands and builds upon each element of writing as the book progresses. Having addressed the “how” of writing, the second section explores the “why.” Shad delves deeper into explaining her belief that one can rewire the brain through expressive writing, thus writing oneself to happiness.

The detailed chapters on the basics of writing will appeal to novice writers just beginning to explore the craft. Shad begins at the very beginning, discussing where ideas come from, how to develop a protagonist and antagonist, and how to structure a plot. Her style is engaging and entertaining while staying highly informative and providing firm guidance: “There are no awards for having the most characters, subplots, and storylines. Aim to go deep, not wide.” Shad encourages the reader to jump ahead in certain areas of the book to try their hand at a particular exercise. This will go over well with readers who are hands-on learners and with writers already well-versed in the basics.

This guide caters to writers in the broad sense of the word, providing useful analysis for professionals, as well as for people who journal and write recreationally. Novices can rely on the wealth of information presented as a learning tool, and seasoned authors can peruse the work as a refresher course or learn more about writing and the brain. The writing exercises and worksheets are relevant to all skill levels. Readers with interest in creative writing or journaling will find this tool well worth investigating.

Takeaway: This resource for aspiring writers is also a self-help book for anyone seeking self-discovery through the art of writing.

Great for fans of Julia Cameron, Chris Fox, Ryder Carroll.

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

Daniel Scratch: A Story of Witchkind
Don Jones
Jones’s languorous, meditative epic fantasy follows its titular character, Daniel Scratch, an orphaned teenager descended from powerful witches. At age 13, Daniel is sent to pursue his magical education in a fantastical tower, alone but for his friend and mentor, Kirmin. Daniel is studying to be the adherent of the Axis of Endings, one of the world’s great magics. This affords him control over endings big and small, from lifestyles to lives. The rest of witchkind binds Daniel to the tower, hoping that doing so will bind death. Once Daniel becomes an adherent and is able to send his spirit beyond the tower, he uncovers a horrible crime that shines a light on his complicated family history and tests his new abilities.

The gothic setting is rich in detail: magical bureaucracy and legality, Lithuanian spell words, peculiar artifacts, taciturn ghosts. It creates a compelling backdrop for Daniel’s development, in the process emphasizing his loneliness and isolation. His parents didn’t teach him many things they should have, his undead grandmother is cryptic, and he struggles to catch up with what the rest of witchkind already knows, all while developing control of immense magics. Romance, friendship, and family are absent from his life; even among his fellow adherents, Daniel stands alone.

Jones does an admirable job of describing the perils and pitfalls of power in this captivating story. At one point, Daniel considers using his abilities to end an argument, only to reflect that conflict can have a purpose and should be resolved naturally. The true meaning of ending is explored and expounded, stressing the importance of free thinking through viewing the challenges and experiences of the main characters. These ruminations, and the sections detailing Daniel’s education, are at times exposition-heavy, but this work is generally best suited to readers who enjoy slow immersion in rich prose. Adult and teenage fans of thoughtful fantasy will love exploring this beautifully described world of arcane powers.

Takeaway: This meditative look at power will engage readers who like their fantasy with a side of philosophy.

Great for fans of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

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

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