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Summer's Lie
Deborah Court
Court’s riveting novel (the first installment of the Maggie Dunn trilogy) centers on memory loss, a mystifying ailment, and a life on the run. “Jane” wakes up to find herself recovering in a Toronto hospital, surrounded by worried doctors, after her exposure to an ill-defined disaster that has killed 22 other people and caused her to lose her memory. The doctors tell Jane that no one appears to have been searching for her after the accident, so there’s no one to clarify who she is. Her lab results become increasingly abnormal, and doctors determine she is starting to age backward. Jane realizes that, to have a chance of living a normal life rather than being a scientific specimen, she needs to escape the hospital and start over. Even if she can remember it, she can never go back to the way things were.

Jane is a complex character, warm, wry, and word-inclined. One of the first things she remembers is a line from a poem; the next is her interest in adjectives and semicolons, lovingly described. Palindromes and poems recur throughout the narrative, a testament to Jane’s—and the author’s—skillful command of language. Court marshals sensory details to bring the reader close to Jane’s experience; the first thing she notices outside the hospital is “smells of wet leaves and pavement mingling with car exhaust and the smoke of cigarettes.” Readers will enjoy getting to know Jane as she gets to know herself again.

Court has penned a narrative that cleverly incorporates science, age, medical anomalies, secret identities, and the maneuvers required to evade surveillance and capture. It’s quieter than the typical thriller, less focused on violent exploits than on the mystery of Jane’s identity, the suspense of her escape, and the texture of her anomalous experience. This well-told existential mystery, with its warm heart and an elegiac sensibility, will draw readers in.

Takeaway: Literary fiction fans will enjoy unraveling the mysteries of Jane’s amnesia, her identity, and her backwards aging.

Great for fans of: Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant.

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

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Small Mistakes, Big Consequences for Interviews: Hone your interviewing technique to present your best self and land your dream job
Anne Corley Baum
This slim and playful volume, the second installment in Baum’s Small Mistakes, Big Consequences business advice series, offers job seekers 20 “strategies for success” to master before facing the anxiety-provoking ordeal of a job interview. Baum structures the book around the insight that even minor slipups can cause prospective employees serious trouble. Rather than just dole out her suggestions, she presents a lighthearted parade of 20 archetypal “business characters” (The Gum Chomper, The Judgmental Jerk, and The Interrupter are just a few) who all make mistakes in interviews, each illustrating one of her principles.

Baum’s tone is upbeat, but her advice is serious, and every character embodies a common tendency that can destroys interviewees’ chances of landing jobs. Drawing on her experience as an executive and vice president at Capital BlueCross, Baum offers clear warnings about how candidates behaving like the “Casual Conversationalist” or the “Verbose Verbalizer” can talk their way right out of the running. For every archetype, Baum offers a definition of the behavior in question, a rundown of the problems it causes, and a potential solution (“Speak professionally, clearly, and concisely, using correct grammar!”). Cartoon illustrations of each example from Cielo Giandomenico and Jennifer Giandomenico drive the point home in a fun and amusing way.

The overarching advice may seem obvious to readers flipping through Baum’s collection, such as “Don’t flirt” in a job interview the way that “The Gawker” might. But even if Baum’s advice feels familiar, there’s a sneaky power hidden in the guide: even confident job hunters who feel in full command of their self-presentation will experience a jolt of recognition at a couple of Baum’s examples. This compact book does not promise to transform everyone into perfect interviewees, but rather extends them an invitation to present their best image in professional interactions.

Takeaway: This brisk and buoyant guide reminds readers what mistakes to avoid in a job interview.

Great for fans of: Amy Cuddy’s Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, James Storey’s The Art of the Interview.

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

Wicked Ninnish
Michael Scott Curnes
In this proudly adult thriller, Curnes (Coping with Ash) details the surprisingly erotic adventures of Heritage Warren Carter III (“Tage”), heir to the Carter Pulp & Paper empire, when he is assigned to visit Wickaninnish—a remote Canadian island—to attempt to catch a business partner who might be embezzling funds from the family’s hotel. Tage, who describes himself as “drunk on existential guilt over what was happening to the planet,” is conflicted about being the face of his family’s “capitalistic and resource-destroying ways,” but with his grandfather about to die of cancer, he agrees to help the company in the hopes of securing his inheritance.

Curnes’s gift for description is evident in his striking portrayal of the singular setting of Wickaninnish Island and its inhabitants—“an Eden so lush, tranquil, and pristine.” The story unfolds in the aftermath of British Columbia’s War in the Woods, a 1993 showdown between loggers and environmental activists. Tage internalizes that conflict, and the tension between his drive for a guilt-free life of simplicity and the lure of easy living thrums constantly throughout the narrative. Here’s a multifaceted protagonist who might be happier if he could embrace superficiality.

Curnes’s intriguing plot starts strong, but the novel’s sweep quickly expands beyond its central mystery, as it devotes pages to local history, ritualistic magic, skinny dipping amid bioluminescent plankton, and the highly detailed blow by blow of sexual liaisons, some of them touched with the occult. (Some of the steamy scenes involve nonconsensual acts with a minor “devil child” described as seducing Tage.) At times the sex overwhelms the promising story of industrial intrigue. Still, beyond his attention to matters of the senses, Curnes admirably crystallizes an unusual voyage of self-discovery and quest for meaning by his unlikely hero. Readers open to graphic sex and environmentalism will find much here that resonates.

Takeaway:This provocative epic boasts an intriguing plot, occult erotica, and serious consideration of environmental themes.

Great for fans of: Winston Graham’s Poldark series, Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists.

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

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The Shade Under the Mango Tree
Evy Journey
Journey (Margaret of the North) offers a globe-spanning voyage that explores heartbreak, budding love, growing up, and developing connections with others. Luna works at a bookstore and spends her life traveling between California and Hawai'i, but craves adventure. Lucien, a young architect, finds a stranger’s journal at a cafe and wrestles with guilt, but ultimately gives in and starts reading it. Months later, after a chance meeting at the bookstore where Luna works, Lucien discovers she is the owner of the journal and confesses he read all of her entries. Despite a rough beginning, the two hit it off and their connection to each other is explored through parallel narratives.

Journey’s three-dimensional, well-developed characters carry this appealing story of building new bonds in the midst of loss and heartache. Lucien is immediately intrigued by everything he learns about Luna through her writing, and his understanding of their separate but parallel voyages lends realism and poignancy to this tale. Journey skillfully weaves their independent personal histories together, allowing the protagonists to alight in each other’s lives momentarily while forming meaningful relationships at the same time. Readers will feel equally hopeful and melancholy as Lucien and Luna traverse the beginning stages of a deepening relationship, only to have it disrupted when Luna receives a Peace Corps assignment and leaves to teach children in a rural village in Cambodia.

Luna’s desire to make a difference after leading a sheltered lifestyle is a motivating undercurrent to the tender story, although her parts of the story are plagued by an abundance of descriptive passages that sometimes impede the narrative. Journey frames this gentle novel with episodes of violence, but the way the two main characters face various vicissitudes are enough to keep readers turning the pages. This emotional story, with its clear prose and crisp dialogue, will appeal to those who enjoy romantic literature and are not afraid to engage with the ugliness of the real world.

Takeaway: This emotional novel of love and happenstance will touch readers’ hearts.

Great for fans of: Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks.

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

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Kalayla
Jeannie Nicholas
Nicholas’s debut novel tells the story of two women and a girl, all outsiders in their own way, who are drawn together by circumstance. Lena, a landlord well past middle age, takes an interest in Kalayla, a willful, spunky little girl who constantly gets herself into trouble and reminds Lena of her own children. Lena also sees some of her earlier struggles reflected in Maureen, Kalayla’s artistic mother who is struggling to raise Kalayla alone—after her parents cut ties with her because she pursued a relationship with Kalayla’s father Jamal, who is Black.

This is a deliberately paced novel whose narrative is driven more by character development than by plot. Some of the dialogue and interior thoughts feel unnatural, which can be distracting, and Kalayla may strike readers as over-the-top at some points (she has an affinity for saying “cow turds” whenever anything angers her). Despite some forced elements, this gentle narrative touchingly illuminates the value of found family, rooted in the belief that people can change for the better when they are supported by their community and loved ones.

Nicholas effectively creates a cast of compelling, fully realized characters with whom readers will enjoy connecting. The story rotates between three first-person perspectives: Lena’s, Kalayla’s, and Maureen’s. Lena’s history is more complicated than it appears—past domestic abuse, the loss of two of her children, and estrangement from her living children have caused her to pull away from the world. Kalayla and Maureen force her out of her shell, helping her confront the past, and Lena, in turn, helps them survive their present as Maureen’s complicated history with Kalayla’s father is revealed. Fans will find it a pleasure to watch these characters come together to help each other heal and grow.

Takeaway: This warm, character-driven story will spur readers to consider the value of family, both biological and found.

Great for fans of: Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age.

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

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Parenting in the Screen Age: A Guide to Calm Conversations
Delaney Ruston
Ruston, a physician and documentarian (Screenagers), combines anecdotal experience and neurological science in this exhaustive guide that teaches parents how to navigate conflicts with their children about technology use and screen time. Ruston explains that “communication science” dictates that the best way to address the risks and drawbacks of social media, video and computer games, and TV is by using “share tactics, not scare tactics.” She explains that “communication in our home greatly improved once I understood that many of my statements regarding screen time were negative and shut down the conversation.” Each chapter tackles a different digital-age issue, including mental health and sleep hygiene, and offers clever and open-ended conversation-starting questions aimed at empowering children through collaboration, not a series of dictates. The guide’s ultimate aim is to create positive rewards for moderating screen time rather than punishments for slipping up.

Ruston’s first chapters are especially useful due to their specific and straightforward suggestions. Her strategy of starting with the positives of digital platforms is a fruitful way to connect with children. For example, when evaluating social media, she notes that using it can help shy people communicate and lead to more meaningful conversations. Noting the benefits makes it easier to discuss challenges, such as the emotional toll that obsessing over “likes” can take. The chapters about mental health note that suppressing emotions can impair memory and offer helpful suggestions for coping with stress and depression.

Ruston lays out her ideas in catchy ways, for example calling her approach for discussing screen time with kids the 3 Vs (“validate, values, and village”) and the values she wants to instill in her children the 4 Cs (“creativity, competency, connection, and compassion”). Her overall strategy strikes a delicate balance between firm parenting and compassionate understanding of the challenges youth face today. While the book’s second half can wander and repeat itself at times, parents seeking thorough, systematic, and thoughtful advice on their children’s screen use will find consulting this manual very helpful.

Takeaway: Parents interested in a thorough, systematic way to collaborate with their children on screen time will find a treasure trove of specific details and questions to ask in this meticulous guide.

Great for fans of: Anya Kamenetz'sThe Art Of Screen Time, Jordan Shapiro's The New Childhood.

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

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Outfoxed: The Fox Witch (Book One)
R.J. Blain
Fantasy author R.J. Blain (A Magical Romantic Comedy series) delivers an adventurous romp through postapocalyptic Tulsa in 2043. Jade Tamrin is a fox-human hybrid—who’s hiding two much more coveted traits: she can shapeshift fully into a fox, and she’s a witch who can control toxins and see the past. Her hybridity makes her extremely high-value bait for bounty hunters, who catch people like her so that rich families can buy them at auction, enslave them, and marry them off to the eldest heir to get desired magical traits into the bloodline. One of those bounty hunters is the mysterious, sexy master magician Sandro Moretti. Despite their enmity and her desire to remain free, Jade must ally with Sandro to uncover what’s behind the extreme tornadoes that ravage Tulsa and kill its residents daily.

Some readers will be put off by the book’s somewhat cavalier treatment of a form of slavery for which “tiny,” “pure white” women are most targeted. And the pacing and structure may cause readers some frustration. The opening scene, with Jade and Sandro trapped in a cellar together during a storm, cues readers to expect a romance novel, but Sandro doesn’t reappear for another 200 pages, which describe three days of Jade’s surviving more tornadoes, finding a new place to live, hiding from bounty hunters, and working shifts at her two jobs. It’s only when he returns that their relationship and the investigation of the story’s big questions—who took out the bounty on Jade in the first place? What’s causing the tornadoes?—really kick into gear.

But Jade is the typically feisty and fierce heroine of science fiction, a badass with a sharp tongue and an inconvenient sense of honor that leads her to take big risks to help others. And the magic is fascinating, boasting a proliferation of mages and witches all with distinct abilities—plastic mages, poetry mages, curse mages, elementalists, toxin witches, and the particularly well-drawn music mages, capable of altering reality by harnessing the power of song. Fantasy fans will enjoy Blain’s complex and well-built world, root for the fiercely principled Jade, and eagerly await the next installment.

Takeaway: This sci-fi fantasy adventure boasts an intriguing system of magic and a fierce heroine.

Great for fans of: A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers, The Clockwork Witch series by Michelle D. Sonnier.

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

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Chasing Rory
Michelle Mars
Mars keeps things hot and heavy in the second installment in the Love Wars paranormal sci-fi romance series, after Moving Jack. In 2025, Earth is facing an ecological crisis. To save the human species, the Alien Relocation Cooperative—a family business run by members of the golden-skinned Staraban species—has been brought in to relocate them all. But one problem persists: at least one of humanity’s supposed saviors lied, and Earth isn't entirely doomed. Now feisty bilingual human munitions expert Rory Espinoza and her well-muscled, cat-loving Staraban counterpart Bren must battle their mutual attraction and bring this troubling information—and a dangerous prisoner—to the All Alien Alliance entrusted with humanity's survival. But the tight quarters of a starship aren’t designed for avoiding sexy crewmates, and Rory’s hiding a supernatural secret of her own.

Given this entry’s indebtedness to the events of Moving Jack, some readers will find this sequel more accessible after reading its predecessor first. Newcomers to Mars’s world are tossed into the conflict between ARC and the Humans Against Relocation Movement, to which the series’ human protagonists belong, with little explanation of Earth’s crisis or the major human players. But that won’t stop them from getting sucked into the action or enjoying the quippy interplay between the characters.

Inspired in part by the culture of the real-world Gitano people of Spain, Rory is a heroine all romance fans will root for. She is equal parts brilliance, directness, and stubbornness to a fault, traits that come in handy on her interstellar mission of diplomacy. Her chemistry with Bren is electric and adversarial: though they constantly fight over their mission’s next steps, their vastly appealing differences keep them—and readers—hooked. This enjoyable blend of comedy, sci-fi, intensely physical romance, and women’s empowerment is sure to please readers.

Takeaway: This witty, sexy adventure’s mixture of sci-fi thrills and paranormal romance makes it a solid addition to any adult reading list.

Great for fans of: Grace Goodwin, Jennifer L. Armentrout, K.F. Breene.

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

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What Dog is That?
Lois Nicholls
Lois Nicholls’ (Bye-bye Bikini and Aussie, Actually) delightful debut children’s book introduces youngsters to a different dog on each page, sharing fun tidbits about both the individual animal and their breed. Children meet dogs of common breeds, such as “Tarna the Golden Retriever,” dogs of no specific variety like “Oogie and Moogie,” and newer breeds like “Fwuffy the Groodle.” Joyful poems introduce each character, describing their personalities and interests, as well as mentioning common physical qualities that differentiate breeds and each dog’s distinctive temperament. When the occasional word comes up that young readers may not know, such as “paddock,” the author provides easy-to-understand definitions at the bottom of the page.

A poem about each dog sits beside a whimsical watercolor portrait by the author’s daughter, Lara Nicholls; they illuminate the dogs’ personalities and draw readers in with their expressive eyes. Lara Nicholls also ups the enjoyment factor for young readers by adding one tiny, intricate bee on every page—hidden on a dog or in a word—as a seek-and-find challenge that older kids and adults will enjoy, too.

Lois Nicholls’s charming poetry is not the only star of this show; she ensures an enjoyable reading experience for budding readers with the creative use of fonts and imaginative formatting for a quirky touch. An amusing game at the end titled “What’s My Name” tests how well readers paid attention to the narrative. Kids and adults alike will revel in the entertaining format, and the reading combined with games will have them returning again and again.

Takeaway: Young readers and those reading along with them will delight in this entertaining introduction to loveable pooches.

Great for fans of: Kevin O’Malley’s The Perfect Dog, Avery Corman’s Bark in the Park!: Poems for Dog Lovers, Maira Kalman’s Beloved Dog.

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

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Water Must Fall
Nick Wood
Prolific South African writer and psychologist Nick Wood deftly portrays an Earth run dry in his vision of an uncomfortably near future. Protagonist Graham, a South African journalist, travels across the globe, including to the Federated States of America, to document the worldwide water crisis. This strains his marriage to Lizette, who’s confronting a painful case of endometriosis, her church’s unyielding views on homosexuality in a time when she’s honing in on her own, and how to best serve a community that resents her whiteness. Meanwhile, Art, a data sweeper, is tasked with finding and stretching the little water available. Can these three overcome their struggles and bring some relief to this parched world?

Wood’s dystopian portrait is not without its rough edges. Despite the first-person narration, the characters’ inner thoughts are constant and can include confusing expository passages. Readers will find some story lines rushed, such as that leading up to Lizette’s outburst in church, and the antagonists are typical: powerful people hell-bent on hoarding all the water they can. But within the rough patches, there’s a diamond in Wood’s writing.

The worldbuilding is fully fleshed out with technology, consequence, and history; a direct line can be drawn from the present day to Wood’s imagined future (via, for example, “the Make America Great wall,” the “new Pence administration,” a “Black Lives Still Matter” poster). Atop the plausible political and corporate machinations are elements more fantastical (such as sentient AI, which in one captivating case has been given the form of a dragon to represent the Chinese water protection god Bok Kai) and spiritual. The book’s relationships are abundantly complex and it does not offer simplistic, easy happy endings. Wood’s dystopian creation, with its warning about global warming, makes for an emotional and satisfying ride.

Takeaway: Fans of plausible sci-fi with a political bent, eager to envision a very near future, will connect with this dystopian environmental novel.

Great for fans of: Omar El Akkad’s American War, Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife.

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

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The Epic of Gabriel and Jibreel
Marin Darmonkow
Marin’s (The Tale of Was and Das) fourth entry in his 2Gether picture book series is a dark story friendship, adult violence, and tragedy set against the backdrop of a refugee crisis. Gabriel, a boy of indeterminate age, lives a somewhat privileged life alone with his father, after his mother’s death in childbirth. He and his father travel to the beach weekly, on the day his nanny does not work, and Gabriel spends time exploring while his father stays in the car. On one of these trips, Gabriel meets Jibreel, another motherless boy who lives in a makeshift refugee camp on the shore, and they form a fast friendship.

Addressing potentially upsetting topics with younger children is a difficult undertaking, and Marin makes every effort, via the use of evocative digital collage illustrations and vivid prose, to make comprehensible to his readers the typically mature topics of racism, the dangers refugees face, and loneliness. However, the story’s word choice learns toward a more mature audience than that of the typical picture book. And one main element of the plot is not fully explained (the boys’ building of a “digital airplane”).

Moreover, the book’s bleak, abrupt ending, in which the boys burn to death as the result of a hate crime perpetrated by Gabriel’s father, will strike many adults as inappropriate for picture book readers. While there is some hope—the narration describes Jibreel’s dwelling turning into an airplane and taking off with “the two angels inside,” as though to carry them to the next phase of their cosmic journey—this is a shocking development, and the last sentence of the book is “life isn’t fair.” This ambitious story is well told, but its subject matter may be too much for young kids.

Takeaway: This dark picture book addresses racism, hate crimes, and cosmic unfairness in bleak fashion.

Great for fans of: Irena Kobald’s My Two Blankets, Wendy Meddour’s Lubna and Pebble.

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

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When Courage Comes: A world at war. Two siblings separated by 6,000 miles. The enemy soldier who changes their lives forever
Paul Fleming
Longtime entrepreneur Fleming turns to historical fiction in his debut novel. Stephan Jurgen is a reluctant member of the German army in 1943. A native Austrian, his Christian ideals clash with the fanatical loyalty of the Nazis in his regiment. Serving in North Africa, he is captured by American soldiers and, after a freak accident, saves the life of his American interrogator, Ralph Bauer. When Stephan is shipped off to the hastily constructed POW camp in Huntsville, Tex., he begins work on a farm, striking up a relationship with Rose—who is Ralph’s sister. Neither Rose nor Stephan are aware of the other’s connection to Ralph: will it bring them together or tear family members apart? Meanwhile, intrigue at the camp grows, as a group of Nazi prisoners attempt to take on the well-meaning German chaplain Major Heller for his campaign for peace in the face of the Third Reich.

Fleming’s rich period piece is carefully researched; atmospheric details capture the tensions of the war. At times, however, the prose feels melodramatic, detracting from the novel’s thrust. And even though the story is set in wartime, the stakes are low, without much suspense. Big questions—whether Rose and Stephan will end up together, whether Stephan will recover from an attack—can feel like foregone conclusions.

But the author gives readers a deep sense of divided loyalties. Stephan’s objections to Nazi philosophy give the character depth, painting a picture of a man caught between duty and fear. He must persevere against the attacks in the camp from the fanatical Nazis, eking out a precarious existence in a hostile environment. Likewise, Rose’s struggle to reconcile her feelings for Stephan with being loyal to the American cause is equally complex. Fans of introspective fiction will appreciate Fleming’s sensitive depiction of WWII experienced from the sidelines.

Takeaway: Fleming’s rich period piece is a sensitive depiction of romance and divided loyalties during World War II.

Great for fans of: John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

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

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The Woman Who Fell Through Time
J.M. Frey
When recent university graduate Jessie Franklin survives a plane crash, she finds herself inexplicably transported to 1805, where she’s rescued from the mid-Atlantic by Francis Goodenough, post captain of the HMS Lyre, following the Battle of Trafalgar. As Jessie recovers from her injuries, she slowly comes to accept she’s stranded in the past. After accepting a position as companion to Goodenough’s younger sister Margaret, Jessie is startled to realize her new friend is an author who will become famous for depicting the first lesbian kiss in British publishing. As Jessie and Margaret fall for one another, Jessie must figure out her place in an era she barely understands.

Frey (The Accidental Turn series) skillfully portrays Jessie’s complicated emotional state as she copes with the assorted traumas incurred by her near-death experience and subsequent temporal stranding. Frey doesn’t shy away from the social realities of 1805 England, and Jessie’s frequent chafing at customs and expectations makes for good story fodder. However, the story’s beginning is often dark, including a subplot where Jessie must face off against her would-be husband, an unrepentant domestic abuser. This contrasts sharply with the charmingly sweet romance she later develops with Margaret, and despite the emotional payoff, the early heaviness asks much of readers.

Jessie’s relationship with Margaret will satisfy readers with its expressive richness, playful banter, and well-crafted sensual scenes—making the over-the-top villain and certain late-breaking dramatic moments feel almost unnecessary. Thankfully, Frey pulls all of the threads together to bring this tale home. Her attention to historical detail provides both grounding for Jessie’s experiences and a constant source of friction against her 21st-century upbringing, especially her out-and-proud bisexuality and sexually liberated nature. For those seeking a time travel romance with a distinctly queer feel, this will hit the spot.

Takeaway: This sweet yet complicated story’s overlap of Regency courtships, queer romance, and modern sensibilities will appeal to those searching for a drama with a happy ending.

Great for fans of: Olivia Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Catherine Friend’s The Spanish Pearl.

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

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Pearls of Wisdom: Be Truly Set Free
Terry Sweeney
Sweeney’s readable and down-to-earth debut aims to help others live their best lives by sharing his own rocky—but frequently humorous—journey. The author shares how his 12-step program and faith in God guided him from destruction to restoration and revealed inspiring truths. In thematically focused chapters, Sweeney recounts episodes from his childhood and adulthood, starting with growing up in a Boston suburb and being educated at strict Catholic schools while dodging his parish's predatory priest. His father was a renowned WWII war hero and raging alcoholic secretly called “General Nuisance” by his children, and his mother was quick to use a belt as punishment. Despite years of physical and emotional abuse, Sweeney grew up to join the Marines, work as a stockbroker, become a successful businessperson, and get in touch with his feelings and faith.

The essays address a wide array of meaningful topics, including humility, trust, and pornography. Sweeney recounts both trauma and healing in conversational, often funny prose (“I understood what the people in the [12-step] group were talking about. Well, except for one lady who shared about talking to God while sitting on the toilet that morning.”) His sincere desire to help others is on frequent display: he recounts his rewarding experience as a mentor in the Big Brothers program; taking in two young women whose parents had kicked them out of their homes as teenagers; and offering school and career advice to his younger neighbors. Some readers, however, will be put off by Sweeney’s habit of referring to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus” and government-provided cell phones as “Obamaphones,” and others will be alienated by the assertion that “most of the protesters” at Donald Trump’s rallies “make between $50 to $100 per day, just for carrying a sign.”

The book is at its best when imparting sage advice Sweeney received from his mentors, particularly 12-step program sponsors. Some of the counsel is simple (“Don’t die wondering”), but Sweeney’s heartfelt stories drive home his guidance in poignant and unforgettable ways. Sweeney and his tales make for entertaining companions along the bumpy road of life.

Takeaway: Sweeney’s conversational, funny prose makes for entertaining company along the bumpy road of life.

Great for fans of: Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Phil McGraw's Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out.

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

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Snakes and Lovers
Anne Lovett
In this punchy romantic comedy, Lovett (Rubies from Burma) introduces readers to 38-year-old Daisy Harrison—a two-time divorcée avoiding responsibility on the Florida coast, whose life is turned upside-down when she learns that her parents are splitting. Simultaneously, Daisy’s friend Lorelei mysteriously skips town, leaving Daisy to care for her nine-year-old son, Raj, and pet python, Bogart. Saddled with these unexpected burdens and hoping to solve her parents’ struggles, Daisy returns to her Georgia hometown for the first time in years. While there, she’s forced to confront her childhood sweetheart, Luke, in order to reunite her parents and get her own rocky life back on track.

Daisy is a likable, independent woman who marches to the beat of her own drum. Readers will sympathize with her plight after realizing that Luke married Daisy’s ex-best friend, Alyssa, because his prim and proper parents didn’t approve of Daisy’s free-spirited personality. Daisy’s inevitable reconciliation with Luke, who is now separated from Alyssa, is predictable but nevertheless sweet. Before the happy ending, readers will enjoy rich buildup and Daisy’s snarky inner monologue (“in case it might not be Luke McDuffie, but his evil twin, Fluke, whom they’d hidden in the attic all these years”).

There are many important characters, and each is well-rounded and purposeful in both their own arcs and Daisy’s narrative. With Lorelei indisposed after a serious injury, Raj’s absent father comes into play; he tracks the Harrisons down to meet his son but ultimately helps Daisy forge a path to her own maturity. As she unknowingly and unwillingly grows more attached to Raj, Daisy’s endearing relationship with him becomes the central and most satisfying element. Her winding path to love, family, and identity will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever stumbled in finding happiness.

Takeaway: Women’s fiction readers will be delighted with Daisy’s wittiness and independence and enjoy her unusual path to love and happiness.

Great for fans of: Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back, Jennifer Weiner.

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

Click here for more about Snakes and Lovers
The Last Day of Paradise: A Greek family saga that highlights the powers of love!
Kiki Denis
Novelist Denis crafts an eccentric, scandalous coming-of-age tale that flips between 1960s and 1980s Greece. It all kicks off when 15-year-old protagonist Sunday finds out her dad may not actually be her biological father. She relates her struggles with love and her parents’ fractured love affair; the story shifts every few pages between the “ancient era” of Sunday’s mother and her own “current era,” highlighting their different approaches to sexuality and relationships. While Sunday’s experiences are rife with mischief and promiscuity, her mother’s life reads like a more traditional story of love and deceit.

Their stories are in conversation and present lessons on female liberation, sexuality, and generational differences (“It’s them who didn’t keep up with their promises, letting their dreams fall short. How long will we have to pay for their mistakes?”). Sunday is confident, spunky, and sometimes prickly (“‘Cause I am not the nurse type and I don’t want to be the teacher type,’ I say feeling glad that I called him antique ‘cause his ideas are coming from a thousand years ago.”). Her narration spools out in long, stream-of-consciousness threads: “Of course that’s my personal view of the matter ‘cause mama still believes that money doesn’t buy happiness only rents a portion of it and those who depend on rent end up homeless.”

This story is not for the faint of heart: it includes cruelty, unpleasant sex, rape, abuse, casual racism, a suicide attempt, and many images of feces and food as excrement. Denis offsets these intense elements with soft simile (“Now her mood is a bit clearer, semi-transparent, like a steamed mirror”) and playful onomatopoeia, making for an interesting juxtaposition. Sunday is a likeable and compelling character surrounded by chaos. This novel will grab readers and take them for a wild ride.

Takeaway: Denis’s raunchy novel of love, sex, and generational conflict, with its spunky teen protagonist, will grab readers and take them for a wild ride.

Great for fans of: Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, Fran Ross’s Oreo.

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

Click here for more about The Last Day of Paradise

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