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Dragonsown: Surface
Erika Leigh Agnew
Agnew dazzles with whimsy and adventure in this debut coming-of-age fantasy about deception, trust, and the danger of holding family secrets. Fourteen-year-old fraternal twins Kael and Keaton spend their days avoiding their cold, abusive father, Lord Graydon, a duke in the kingdom of Ryk. Graydon’s anger derives from losing his wife in childbirth and the aftermath of the War of Black Ash, a devastating battle with dragons who burnt the land. Kael is afraid to tell his father about his worsening health—strange pains, sleepwalking, waking naked in surprising places. One day Kael awakens in the woods to see his uncle Arius– who had been presumed dead–and a small dragon. Arius tells him that the beast is Seraii, Kael’s wyvern guardian, and that his pains are because a dragon’s soul is possessing him and transforming his body. “We refer to ourselves as the Dragonsown. We live everywhere but belong nowhere,” says Arius.

Agnew creates a rich mythology of the power of dragons and of the truth about the War of the Black Ash. As Arius teaches Kael how to fly and breathe fire as a dragon, Kael learns that Severn and Siah, the partnered dragon leaders, actually wanted peace with the humans. Kael is dismayed by humans’ lust for war, ulterior motives, power, and greed. He has a decision to make in his new life: Where does he fit with the Dragonsown? He is torn between his two ancestral families—his father’s grandfather Kelton hated and killed dragons, while his mother’s grandfather Darragh befriended the majestic beasts.

This expansive fantasy world provides fervent readers with an undersea city, invisible dragons, merfolk, and battles with fire breathing dragons. Kael and Keaton are likable brothers who work together to right wrongs. There’s also heart, acceptance, and overcoming animosity to understand others. The text at times can be dense, but it’s vivid and exciting—and builds to a twist. Fantasy readers will eagerly look forward to more adventures in the Dragonsown series.

Takeaway: A fast-paced fantasy with the magic of dragons that tugs at the heart and provides a message of understanding.

Great for fans of: Garth Nix, Leigh Bardugo.

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

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My Gay Church Days: Memoir of a closeted Evangelical pastor who eventually had enough
George Azar
A memoir, an act of healing, and a likely source of inspiration, Azar’s pained memoir recounts a life of fighting against his own nature—and his own heart—as a closeted Evangelical, a young man of faith whose secret, he believed, condemned him to Hell. Written “seven years removed from my faith,” My Gay Church Days recounts the years in which Azar bore the conviction that he was “a horrible sinner” and “never worthy of true love.” Azar’s experiences with Christian conversion therapy, which is rooted in the insistence that homosexuality comes from environmental forces and can be “healed,” and years of desperate attempts to “pray the gay away” inevitably proved fruitless, as Azar faced go-nowhere relationships, deep shame and fear, and addiction to opioids. Something had to give, especially as young Azar increasingly was preaching the gospel himself.

Uncommonly thoughtful and empathetic, My Gay Church Days demonstrates clear-eyed understanding of evangelical life and beliefs as Azar tells the story of zealously working to save the souls of loved ones—essentially impressing them into a tradition of belief that damns his true self. “As I grew deeper in the faith,” Azar writes, “I became more paranoid by the thought of others finding out that I was a fraud.”

Azar adeptly dramatizes the wrenching choice he faced: risk being the person he was born as, or give up the community he depended upon for fellowship and meaning. “I truly believed my oppression was my calling,” he writes. But shame, a sense of isolation, and a lack of freedom—the monitoring of his search history; complaints about his taste for secular pop music—eventually builds to his making a break with Bayside Church. There’s no moment of high drama, just a pained parting, the loss of a support network, and the fear and promise of living on one’s own terms, told with inviting directness and sincerity.

Takeaway: A warm, engaging memoir of a gay evangelical pastor leaving the church and embracing his truth.

Great for fans of: Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian, Gregory Coles’s Single, Gay, Christian.

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

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High-Value Writing: Real Strategies for Real-World Writing
Erin Lebacqz
In this straightforward guide, Lebacqz offers readers a myriad of new techniques to write with confidence and concision in the workplace, alongside explanations of unhelpful habits and how to break them. Drawing on decades of teaching writing, Lebacqz directly addresses practical business and professional writing skills, emphasizing what works and what’s clear. “This book starts by looking at the smallest ingredients of writing—words—and expands from there to talk about building sentences, paragraphs, and documents,” Lebacqz states, and as she presents her holistic approach to learning more efficient ways of written communication, she provides incisive answers to common everyday problems readers might be facing.

For business professionals seeking a fine-tuning of their writing abilities—or an entire overhaul— Lebacqz’s inviting debut uses concrete examples and simple graphics to help readers grasp how, often, previous education and “fluff”—“extra, often meaningless small words that show up in their writing as they try harder and harder to explain their point”—can impede our ability to write clearly and effectively. Without ever being fussy, she breaks down the basics of language and structure to demonstrate how an audience will understand a message: Lebacqz details three “levels of reader analysis” to interpret the distinctive circumstances to consider for each potential reader, such as their culture or daily work life.

Lebacqz cautions against composing formal or boring emails, urging professionals not to stick to the prescribed and formulaic. The directness and clarity of High-Value Writing, and its inviting tone and step-by-step instruction, exemplifies her approach. She takes care to focus on her audience’s needs, giving topic-oriented recommendations laid out for easy implementation, as she moves from the power of a single word to understanding the impact of a paragraph. Readers eager to feel “more independent and confident” in their writing will appreciate this polished, no-nonsense guide.

Takeaway: Designed for business professionals, this inviting writing guide offers helpful techniques for more direct and meaningful communication.

Great for fans of: William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Mike Markel and Stuart A. Selber’s Technical Communication.

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

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Twilight: Awaking the Stars - Poems of the Night's Light
Gary W. Burns
The latest volume of inviting inspirational verse from Burns, Twilight Awakening the Stars follows up titles like Bridges: To There with another crop of crisp, direct poems crafted to calm, please, and inspire meditative reveries. True to its title, this selection takes light in the darkness as both its subject and organizing principle, organizing its offerings into sections (“Twilight,” “Lamplight,” “Starlit”) that over the book chart the course of a night. “Relax,” the poem “Goodnight” advises, “Ease / Into the darkness / No spell binding / Words / Nothing too complex.” In form, content, and spirit those lines exemplify Burns’s approach, while serving as both a pitch and a rationale. Getting the most out of this night with Burns demands embracing the sincere simplicity—even humility—of his language.

Harkening back to a bygone era’s tradition of popular poetry in general-interest magazines, while also reflective of contemporary understandings of concepts like wholeness and self-care, Twilight Awakening the Stars presents the poet as a guide, easing readers into the night in lines that prioritize clarity above all else. In fact, “Into the Night” itself blends direct address, an unambiguous invitation, and an encouraging call for repose: “When your noisy day / Gives way // To/ Quietude // Be with me / Peacefully,” it reads.

Burns’s poems aren’t the kind to be pored over and unlocked. As he urges readers to “Gaze heavenly / And be / Completely // One / With the light / Of the night,” the lines edge toward the devotional or meditation, especially in gently urgent poems like “Let Love Come” and “Faith,” whose titles accurately forecast their messages. Occasionally, a mystery sneaks through, as in “Matrix”’s mildly erotic likening of the world to a body, or within the uncertain depths of “The Wading Pool,” but, overall, Burns’s verse maintains its tone and promise throughout: These insistent, impassioned poems nudge us to pause and relish light in the dark.

Takeaway: A direct, inviting collection urges readers to gaze heavenly and embrace the night.

Great for fans of: Tyler Knott Gregson’s Illumination, SK WIlliams’s Love By Night.

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

Hope Disappearing: A Population Left Behind
Sherman Haggerty
Haggerty’s sobering, eye-opening survey takes account of changes in federal approach and policy to aiding the unhoused population of the U.S., with an emphasis on a shift away from programs created to provide transitional housing and “the tools to help this population find a road to self-sufficiency and the status of equality in the community.” A long-time volunteer and advocate, and the director for six years of Northern California’s Mather Community Campus employment to housing program, Haggerty has witnessed firsthand the challenges and successes of a transitional housing model that increasingly is being sidelined for the “Housing First” approach, which Haggerty argues does too little to address issues like addiction, moving people off the streets but in some ways working against the broader goal of eliminating homelessness.

While he makes his case with the persuasive deployment of research, at the heart of Haggerty’s book is the Mather Community Campus. The success stories he recounts are heartening, as are his portraits of the dedicated staff and volunteers who guided “clients” through classes, community service, meetings, and, if necessary, support groups for addiction. The story of the end of this program that helped many exit homelessness, in 2019, is heartbreaking. (The facility currently serves as a shelter offering scant services.)

More a problem-solver than a polemicist, Haggerty acknowledges that Housing First programs have a place in a robust, community-driven effort to eliminate homelessness. But in clear-eyed prose drawing on firsthand experience he lays bare how that approach is not enough, failing to provide the tools it takes to help people with mental, physical, and addiction issues achieve self-sufficiency. He’s realistic about the funding realities at the federal level that have ushered in this change but adamant that the best approach is not necessarily the one that he and Mather found success with—it’s whatever one a community finds that best meets the needs of its particular population.

Takeaway: A persuasive account calling for local control and greater services for programs to assist the unhoused.

Great for fans of: How Ten Global Cities Take On Homelessnes, Josephine Ensign’s Skid Row.

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

Interstate!
Marvin Mason
In this novella combining mystery and social issues, Mason (The Curse of Black Hawk’s Treasure) draws readers into a suspense-filled journey with childhood friends Christian Buckman and Joshua Easton, as they embark on a short road trip that results in deadly chaos. Home from college on summer break, Christian is ecstatic when he’s invited by Joshua to tag along on a trip to Iowa, where the boys plan to visit Joshua’s cousin Tina—who just happens to be Christian’s ex-girlfriend. As the two set out on their travels, they unknowingly become entwined in a mysterious killer’s web and also tangled up in the off-the-books investigation of narcotics detective Patricia Rice.

Mason jumpstarts this fast-paced thriller with an action-packed prologue, cleverly foreshadowing later events while hooking readers from the first page. The dynamics, and long-term friendship, between Christian and Joshua prove central to the overall plot: Christian is diabetic, reserved, and cautious, while Joshua tends to be confrontational and more of a risk taker. That said, the small, romantic subplot between Christian and Tina never really takes off, landing this novel squarely within the thriller realm. Detective Rice comes on board later in the storyline, the chapters from her point-of-view increasing the stakes and quickly ratcheting up the mystery.

Mason excels at writing a plot that weaves resonant racial and social issues—such as the Black Lives Matter movement—into the suspense. Christian and Joshua must navigate real-world racism along the life-or-death stakes of thrillers, and while diehard mystery aficionados may see the ending coming, there is ample tension to hold readers’ attention right up to the climax. Mason’s realistic, in-depth characters steal the spotlight when he deftly uses their differences to highlight the strength in their bonds. Readers will quickly become engrossed in this tale of a road trip gone to hell.

Takeaway: Childhood friends on a road trip find themselves caught up in fast-paced suspense in this thriller laced with resonant social issues.

Great for fans of: Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver, Ian K. Smith’s Wolf Point.

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

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Clifford's War: The Bluegrass Battleground
James Reed
Looks are deceiving in this fast-paced, hard-edged thriller in which everyone has a past, a skillset, and a connection that should only be overlooked at great peril. Reed’s novel centers around the titular Clifford Dee, a private investigator whose skillset as an army veteran (and former POW) makes him invaluable to the local crime boss Bandoni, who at the novel’s brutal start has hired Dee to take out the Tye Brothers, this stretch of Kentucky River country’s most notorious killers. That effort lands Dee in the hospital and in increasingly hot water, as he must deal with killers, gangsters, cops, and cat-and-mouse games.

Powered by thrills, Reed’s story surges from one development to the next. In the span of roughly 50 pages one can find cover-up assassinations, an investigation regarding an unfaithful spouse, and corruption within the district attorney’s office and the police department. The swiftness of the storytelling may occasionally leave readers needing to reread a paragraph or two, but the details are all simple to master, with the plotting not as complex as some mysteries rely upon. What you see is what you get with Clifford’s War, even as Reed weaves together multiple story threads–a coup-d'etat on a local crime family, or Dee discovering his newest friend has a cousin involved in the business–into a compelling whole.

Everything comes together with clear purpose after the numerous dust-ups, a varied set of brawls, chases, and slayings that escalate in inventiveness as the book builds to its climax. “Once you have a liability, it will always be a liability no matter what,” Bandoni explains after a classic crime-boss speech about foxes and a chicken coop. As Clifford’s War follows those liabilities and their brutal consequences, Reed reminds readers who love rough-and-tumble crime novels that sometimes simplicity is the highest form of eloquence.

Takeaway: Crime thriller fans who favor gritty anti-heroes and quick action over slow deliberation will find this a winning choice.

Great for fans of: Glenn Dyer, Lee Child.

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

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When Silence Screams
Mark Edward Langley
Langley (Death Waits In The Dark) lures readers into the continuing adventures of indigenous private detective Arthur Nakai in the third of his Arthur Nakai Mysteries series, again combining mystery storytelling with resonant social issues. Ex-Marine Nakai, who is slowly trying to repair his relationship with his wife Sharon, is caught up in a missing persons case involving a teenage girl named April Manygoats. At the behest of her mother, Nakai travels to Santa Fe to search for her, but what he finds is a sordid trail involving a sleazy pornographer, a cold-hearted sex trafficker, and a sociopathic serial killer obsessed with torture and humiliation. Along the way, he also discovers compassionate shelter organizers and a loyal ex-military friend who is there for him when things get hairy.

Langley delves thoughtfully into the tragic issue of how missing indigenous women are often ignored by authorities as well as the ways in which indigenous people in America face survival in a culture attempting to erase them. The scenes of April in captivity with her torturer border will be too graphic for many readers, but Langley endows her with a lot of agency, especially as she endeavors to escape. A subplot involving another missing indigenous woman underscores the variety of circumstances that can lead to these crimes, yet, plotwise is somewhat tangential.

Langley’s resolution is satisfying, if a little pat, but he succeeds in slowly, organically leading Nakai–and attentive readers–to the killer, while vividly sketching relationships, cultures, and Santa Fe and its surroundings. Readers will appreciate that the morally vacant villains get their comeuppance, given the explicitly detailed nature of their crimes, and Langley never loses sight of the humanity of his protagonists, ensuring that this sometimes brutal story’s sensationalist elements never overshadow its moments of inspiration. Crime mystery fans will enjoy piecing together the puzzle, but the tragic details of indigenous women going missing give it power.

Takeaway: Detective fans will enjoy this thriller that powerfully depicts the crisis of abducted indigenous women.

Great for fans of: Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, Dana Stabenow’s A Cold Day for Murder.

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

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God's Existence: Truth or Fiction? The Answer Revealed
Gary R. Lindberg
Crisp and to-the-point, Lindberg’s treatise takes a pragmatic approach to answering one of the greatest questions humanity has ever faced: “Is He real or is it a fictional concept that so many people believe in?” The answer, Lindberg promises in an introduction, “may be more clear than many people realize,” though arriving at it demands exploration of “botany, the human body, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and physics,” plus concepts like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, used here to examine humanity’s drive to believe in a god, and consideration of scripture, Darwin, and scientists’ “usual know-it-all attitude.” The book ranges widely in 100 pages, even digging into Keynesian economics, though readers will likely not be surprised by Lindberg’s conclusion: that science proves the existence of God.

Refreshingly, Lindberg endeavors to reconcile science and religion rather than insist that one invalidates the other. Some of Lindberg’s evidence is familiar, as he marvels at the irreducible complexity of the human brain or eye, the “complexity and orderliness” of laws of physics and chemistry, and draws on physicist Paul Davies’s argument that “Life is not haphazard complexity, it is organized.” Lindberg embraces Davies’s idea that “there is a universal ancestor or microbe for all human, animal, and plant life” but rejects his and Stephen Jay Gould’s contention, shared by many scientists, that life and all its systems are some kind of happy accident. Instead of “growth by chance,” Lindberg sees human development and history as a story of “undeniable, directed progress."

While Lindberg’s arguments at times overlap with Intelligent Design, whose proponents often sought to disprove prevailing scientific theories, God’s Existence ultimately approaches divisions between science and religion with humility, acknowledging all that we don’t know while pressing the case that one truth unites all that we do: “Laws cannot create themselves,” he writes. “There must be a source, a creator.” Readers looking to balance belief and the scientific method will find some engaging original reasoning here.

Takeaway: This attempt to answer the biggest question facing humanity finds welcome common ground between science and religion.

Great for fans of: Steven R. Hemler’s The Reality of God, Stephen C. Meyer’s The Return of the God Hypothesis.

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

The Happy Clam
Rosemary A. Schmidt
Schmidt synthesizes what she has learned from her fifty-plus years of life and years of others’ research in this self-help guide on happiness. Focusing her efforts on subjects such as healthy lifestyle choices, mental health, change, creativity, and love, Schmidt covers a lot of ground in this quick read, ranging from personal lives to the workplace, arguing that “injecting some playfulness, some fun, into our workday routine can also be just the thing to get us out of a rut and jump start some creativity.” In The Happy Clam’s final quarter, Schmidt’s style changes from research-based self-help to inviting personal memoir, as she shows how her own life aligns with the advice, information, and inspiration she laid out in the earlier chapters. Poems and family recipes supplement the work and keep the spirits high.

Though she favors academic research, drawing on peer-reviewed data to make her case for achieving happiness, her prose is often conversational and informal, her tone that of a assured, reflective friend or coach as she acknowledges truths like “Granted, some days it may feel like we are bailing the ocean, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying.” The research is admirably wide-ranging, and it lends welcome persuasive weight to her clear-eyed, practical advice (“Want to be more empathetic? Read fiction”) about changing a mindset, expectations, and how starting with simple, easy changes can make a big difference in one’s life.

As she blends memoir with self-help, Schmidt discusses elements of her and her loved ones’ lives–experiences from work and childhood–that have taught her about happiness. Throughout, she revealed herself as insightful and funny, charming and wise, qualities that, along with the rigor of her presentation of research, ensure The Happy Clam stands out from the pack of self-help books on happiness. She is realistic and positive in the same breath, illuminating how “elusive happiness” can seem attainable to readers.

Takeaway: A quick, thorough, inviting self-help book on ways to seek, find, and maintain happiness in adulthood.

Great for fans of: Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge.

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

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First Patients: The incredible true stories of pioneer patients
Rod Tanchanco
Tanchanco has compiled ten stories of breakthrough medical discoveries and illuminated the human lives behind the findings. Aiming to build empathy for those who changed the course of modern medicine, and to educate readers about the battles many faced to build a foundation for a healthier society, Tanchanco blends history and science in this tapestry of invaluable medical breakthroughs–including the history of pacemakers, blood transfusions, smallpox vaccines, and AIDS treatments–and the brave faces behind them. He writes with a focus on the often-forgotten, vulnerable patients whose conditions galvanized the healthcare field as well as the pioneering doctors and scientists responsible for medical marvels.

Tanchanco is a captivating writer, and his research into each medical discovery is thorough but always presented with vivid, polished storytelling that will engage readers from the start. Fans of medical history will find these stories highly compelling; each chapter can be consumed individually, despite their chronological order. Some may wish for a more conclusive ending, as the final chapter comes to an abrupt close, and readers from outside the field or not steeped in medical history may find the material occasionally challenging, though Tanchanco is careful to present his stories and their impact in inviting, direct prose and with journalistic scenecraft.

The focus in this carefully researched work is on the patients and their doctors rather than the ailments themselves, a unique and often overlooked perspective in the field of medicine. He’s attentive to the cultural and scientific context of each story, illuminating in one chapter the political and media realities of early AIDS treatments and in another how a 1957 Minneapolis blackout led to innovation in pacemakers. Tanchanco’s overall tone is that of gratitude and astonishment as he dramatizes these strides forward, probing the ordeal of real people caught in unique, harrowing circumstances.

Takeaway: An engaging history of the patients and doctors who ushered in groundbreaking medical treatments.

Great for fans of: Roy Porter’s The Greatest Benefit to Mankind, Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen’s Patient Zero: A Curious History of the World's Worst Diseases.

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

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The Winding
Avimanyu Datta
The start of the new Time Corrector series, Datta’s debut combines elements of romance with the mysteries of time travel and artificial intelligence. The story is built around Vincent Abajian, an orphan who believes that everyone he loves leaves him. When he loses his childhood friend Akane to time turbulence, Abajian is inconsolable. He grows up, gets his PhD, and starts a state-of-the-art AI Center, all while holding on to the hope that Akane will one day return. And then she does: not in her original form, but in the body of the beautiful, temperamental Emika, who seems to hold Akane inside her. What follows is a journey across time, to extract Akane from Emika’s body, and ultimately, free all those trapped in time.

Datta’s ambitious story is hard to pin down to a single genre, given its persistent theme of love connections fused to the central concerns of time travel and artificial intelligence. While some sci-fi diehards may be disappointed by the numerous romantic sidetracks, Datta’s wide-ranging interests set the novel apart from the pack—the thrilling plot is as expansive as it is gripping, swinging from complex deconstructions of science and technology to literary musings on language and intricate references to classical music.

There are times when this expansiveness is overwhelming, inundating readers with excessive details, especially as that circuitous plot goes down intriguing—and occasionally inscrutable—rabbit holes, such as two-way consciousness transfers between humans and machines alongside detailed descriptions of hand watches and time fixers. In spite of this, Datta’s first Time Corrector novel succeeds in holding adventurous readers in thrall with a fast-paced storyline, a strong narrative voice, and polished prose that often is touched with beauty. Lovers of love stories and science fiction with literary ambition will enjoy this engrossing–at times challenging–read that delivers a welcome balance of both.

Takeaway: An expansive, genre-bending story for readers craving romance combined with gripping sci-fi.

Great for fans of: Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler's Wife, Jack Finney’s Time and Again.

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

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Cotton Teeth
Glenn Rockowitz
Rockowitz’s sobering second memoir, the follow up to Rodeo in Joliet, explores the life-changing impact of cancer. Rockowitz, a comedy writer, was diagnosed at age 28 with longshot survival chances, and Cotton Teeth finds him coming face to face with the grimness of his situation—made even more so by the late-stage cancer diagnosis of his father shortly after. Rockowitz recounts how, terrified and exhausted, he used what he is told could be his last few months to spend time with his father and to cheer up other terminally ill patients, all while displaying increasingly reckless behaviors and struggling to stay grounded in reality. As his father’s health declines, Rockowitz debates whether he should share a life-changing secret from his childhood.

As a comedian, Rockowitz deftly incorporates humor into his story, illuminating the need to appreciate small moments and emphasizing how to keep going against all odds—a sentiment best stated by Rockowitz’s father: “Tomorrow may not be better but it will be different. And different is the only path to better.” Though this is a challenging emotional read, it ably depicts that you can’t always face a battle with grace and dignity, allowing for humor and compassion as substitutes.

Still, readers should be prepared to be unbalanced by this poignant but painful memoir, as Rockowitz recounts his excruciating journey, at times digging deep into his own past. The flashbacks to Rockowitz’s childhood camp experience are both raw and disconcerting, though some readers may find them only tangentially connected to the primary storyline, despite his powerful evocation of “the tumors that were sewn into my heart at camp that summer.” Still, Cotton Teeth proves resonant, especially as cancer tightens the bond between father and son, and Rockowitz reflects on what really matters. Rockowitz closes with moving words for anyone whose life has been touched by such diagnoses: “Here as I am. Brittle fists up and ready.”

Takeaway: Cancer tightens the bond between father and son in this memoir that reflects on what really matters.

Great for fans of: Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey, Suleika Jaouad’s Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted.

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

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A Screw Loose: The Montana Files
Cameron Wright
Wright debuts with a twisty story of a prison official taking revenge into his own hands. In 2018, Eddie Montana, a former correction officer, killed seven inmates of Australia’s Karcher Detention Centre, which houses child molesters, rapists, and murders. When journalist Leif Lacroux lands an exclusive interview with Eddie following his trial, he feels himself being swept in by Eddie’s charisma, even while making little progress on piecing together his story. Leif’s interviews and his nightmare-filled, alcohol-soaked time in between are interrupted by transcripts from Eddie’s trial, which slowly reveal the details of his actions and the grandiose, religious justifications Eddie has for them.

Wright avoids sensationalism when detailing the crimes of Eddie’s victims and Eddie’s own troubled past. The accounts of his murder spree share some gory specifics, but in general, Wright leaves much to the imagination. Despite the slim action and sparse descriptions, there is something almost cinematic in this telling, a power that will keep readers fixated on the story and the gaps Eddie intentionally side steps. Leif’s nightmares are especially effective because they offer sensory details lacking in most other scenes. The comparisons that Leif makes to capture Eddie’s allure (Hitler and Dracula, notably) telegraph his disturbing appeal alongside his disarming friendliness and insistent, rigid moral code. Eddie’s religious justifications (he claims he’s never hurt a human being, only “demons”), receive just enough content to be understood without overwhelming the other elements.

Psychological thriller fans will be caught up from the beginning. Particularly arresting is the use of trial notes to flesh out facts and explain surprising actions, as well as the possibilities of Eddie’s background, including the possibility of sexual abuse victimhood. The final day of interviews takes a surreal, chilling turn, and though the finale veers into conspiracy-theory territory, the buildup makes it all seem surprisingly plausible. Fans of dissecting crime will enjoy unwrapping this descent into a deluded man’s convictions.

Takeaway: This psychological thriller’s uncanny elements and blended formats create a chilling image of a murderer and his deadly appeal.

Great for fans of: Brian Evenson, Joyce Carol Oates’s Zombie.

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

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Cletus, the Little Loggerhead Turtle : The Beginning Adventure
Lindalouise
Lindalouise’s debut picture book personifies the fragility of the natural world through Cletus, a newly-hatched loggerhead turtle stubbornly determined to make his own way. When Cletus and his brother Charley emerge from their eggs on a sandy beach, they watch while the rest of their siblings follow a carved-out path to the ocean—but despite Charley’s exhortations, Cletus decides that climbing up a nearby hill will get him there faster. Already an endangered species, Cletus is soon under attack by a waiting predator, and it’s only the intervention of kindly hermit crab Leonardo and astute sandpiper Oceana that can save the capricious Cletus.

Lindalouise draws on science to illuminate Cletus’s journey in this educational treat. The surprisingly well-informed Leonardo and Oceana explain how baby loggerhead turtles head to the Sargasso Sea where, protected by swirling currents and underwater vegetation, they grow from tiny hatchlings into majestic creatures weighing hundreds of pounds. Cletus takes in this information while learning of his own vulnerability. Lindalouise deftly frames his future as both a distant promise and the impetus for immediate action, giving young readers a preview of long-range thinking while igniting their sense of urgency to protect wildlife.

Kerrie Robertson’s illustrations are beautifully striking, combining the cartoony quality of Cletus and his friends with sparkling sand, wispy and windblown plant life, and textured water that seems to be in constant motion. In one of the most effective drawings, Cletus realizes that predators are more plentiful than friends, as seagulls gather over the water and a fox and raccoon hide in the nearby grass. With heart-pounding immediacy and an awareness of far-reaching consequences, Cletus and his adventure offer assurance to young readers commencing their own journeys that perilous problems can be solved with understanding, cooperation, and resolve.

Takeaway: A rebellious loggerhead turtle tries to beat the survival odds in this immersive, informative tale.

Great for fans of: sabel Müller’s The Green Sea Turtle, Nicola Davies’s One Tiny Turtle, Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson’s Follow the Moon Home.

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

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The Bookseller: Stories
Peter Briscoe
This intimate and moving short story collection from Briscoe (Mexico at the Hour of Combat) offers quick glimpses into the lives of several characters, mostly older men who are attempting to reconcile the growing incongruity between their desires and their reality. The gripping title story—more of a novella—draws on Briscoe’s 30 years of experience as a university librarian to explore what will become of the world’s libraries as we hurtle towards an increasingly digital future. Books begin disappearing from an obscure Ecuadorian library, prompting an investigation into how knowledge is stored and transferred–as well as who can access this essential record of human history.

Briscoe’s appraisals of the changing library world will resonate with readers. “The modern library is not about knowledge as contained in books, but information retrieval, which is so much more efficient,” he writes. The three additional stories rounding out the collection are much shorter than his title work, but still insightful—similar to meditative vignettes. In “After You, Please,” a retired man takes stock of his life and contemplates his own mortality. As he is preparing to attend a 50th wedding anniversary celebration, the thought of dressing up fills him with existential dread: “He would need to buy a new suit, and that would be the one they would bury him in. How could he enjoy wearing it? Instead of fine feathers, it would feel like a shroud.”

With spare but impactful prose, Briscoe has crafted a gently provocative collection of stories that also functions as a love letter to literacy and libraries, whose admirable mission–as he puts it with characteristic incisive power– is nothing less than “to collect, organize, preserve, and make accessible the recorded knowledge of mankind.” In particular, Briscoe’s title novella will serve as a conversation starter for anyone who loves books and is interested in preserving the past.

Takeaway: Briscoe’s gripping stories explore the future of libraries in an increasingly digital age.

Great for fans of: Haruki Murakami’s Men Without Women, Tom Diamond’s The Academic Librarian in the Digital Age: Essays on Changing Roles and Responsibilities.

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

Click here for more about The Bookseller

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