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FAMOUS SUMMER RESIDENTS AT THE NEW HAMPSHIRE OCEAN: THEIR STORIES NEED TELLING
Thomas C. Clarie
Clarie shines a light on the history of the coastal towns of New Hampshire with seventeen short biographies of summer residents of note at Rye Beach, the Farragut Hotel (the subjects of Clarie’s earlier study Oceanside History at Rye Beach and the Farragut), Little Boar's Head, and more, with an emphasis on the late 19th and early 20th century. That's when the wealthy—including major business people, artists, performers, and political figures like presidential son and secretary of war Robert Todd Lincoln—frequented and built stunning resorts, mansions, arts institutions, and clubs along this stretch of the Atlantic.

This survey starts out strong with an extended history of the Studebaker family and the automobile business they ran for decades, with Clarie’s telling intertwining local and national history with a compelling account of a burgeoning family dynasty. Contemporary press accounts, clarifying historical context, and Clarie’s love for period detail—“Paper lampshades of all colors lit up one corner of the hall like huge blossoms” lit up one corner of the Farragut Casino in 1899—bring life to the milieu, and Clarie throughout documents the construction and utility of Rye Beach landmarks, like the Lincoln-affiliated (and now long gone) Gates Ajar home, in North Hampton, and Norman Williams’ nearby colonial mansion, dubbed “one of the finest specimens of that school [of] architecture that can be seen anywhere” in the New Hampshire Agricultural Report 1907-08.

Clarie brings a strong local focus to the material—there’s much here about the Abenaqui Golf Club, organized in 1897, and its tournaments—but also follows his subjects into the world. A chapter on E. Lansing Ray, a St. Louis newspaper man who invested in Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and made a summer home out of the former Rye Beach Inn, boasts fascinating material about Ray’s trip England and France at the end of the first world war, and a surprising number of pages on Lindbergh’s flight. While at times discursive, Clarie’s brisk histories are rich with insight, surprises, and striking detail.

Takeaway: Historical survey of homes and lives of coastal New Hampshire’s “summer people.”

Comparable Titles: Lewis T. Karabatsos’s Rye and Rye Beach, Robert C. Gilmore’s Seacoast New Hampshire.

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

Journey of Awakening and Higher Consciousness
Jane Kim Yu
“You are on the path, the great journey within, to discover the truth of who you are” promises Kim Yu in this heartfelt debut of self-reflection and spiritual growth. She details her musings, from a young age, at the meaning of life, and shares the bonds of a childhood illness that, combined with a deeply touching spiritual experience in college, sparked her lifelong desire to understand “the truth of what is, of the bountiful love… the love that is, as we are.” That idea of love as the ultimate goal flows throughout Kim Yu’s writing, as she counsels readers on how to live in the present, pay respect to their emotions, and more.

Though more conceptual than experiential, Kim Yu’s thoughts whisper of the inherent goodness and benevolence that unite us with each other and the world around us, and she urges “unconditional acceptance” as the key to truly loving others, wisely observing “there is nothing that love does not touch.” Because change can be intimidating, she outlines three energies readers must master on their own path to awakening: a desire to understand life’s calling, an openness to learning new ways of being, and a willingness to put in the necessary work for change to occur.

There are practical pointers contained in the guide as well, including the importance of starting each day with meditation—a “breathing space to ground yourself”—and the need to find mentors who can serve as a sounding board along the way. Kim Yu also emphasizes the transformation that comes with journaling “to comprehend and navigate your mind,” and the power of music to “[capture] human emotion”—two simple practices that, when routinely implemented, can help foster a sense of peace. Perhaps most profound is Kim Yu’s advice that “you don’t need to try to be happy… It’s not about being happy always but reaching and releasing that inner joy.”

Takeaway: Gentle reflections on love as the catalyst for awakening.

Comparable Titles: Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening, James Hollis’s A Life of Meaning.

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

Jestin Kase and the Secrets of Chaos Metal
J. Michael White
In this twisty, emotional third adventure in White’s Dragon Metal series, Jestin Kase and his group of friends face off with the Three Great Schools as they prepare for a Final Crusade that could devastate our world—"a big, all-out magical war.” Still reeling from loss and betrayals, Jestin is haunted by previous battles with his nemesis and former friend, Emma, and her mysterious hooded sidekick, Malachite. Soon, Jestin gets kidnapped while on a mission with his roommate, Jacob Colt, and that scene-stealer Growly McHissy-Face (Hiss, for short), the shapeshifting cat. Colt and Hiss team up with some familiar faces to rescue Jestin, who is being held by one of the Great Schools, Ishraqi, and the leader Dhiraar, who promises to expose Jestin to the truth and "the Light.” With few options, Jestin plays along with Dhiraar’s cult on a hunt for the First Relic, a magical super weapon.

White again brings heart, thrills, inventive magic, and a striking vision of how dragon metal power, demons, and other beasts would feel in the real world. For all the epic moments and bizarre beasts that truly earn the term “metal," White centers his cast’s hearts. As Jestin fights to protect the innocent, his friends, and himself, he holds to his values—“Kill demons and thralls? Sure. Kill humans? No”—even when he’s not sure who to trust—or must align with those he knows he can't. As a wielder of the Dragon Medal of the Sun, Jestin again is thrust into a role he doesn't have the confidence to believe he can truly handle, that of a hero.

This thriller will keep young readers turning the pages as Jestin and his quick-witted, fun-to-follow friends fight against ever-more-powerful forces, but with stakes as personal as they are epic: for every Beast of Tiamat, there’s a surprise into characters’ pasts, hearts, and trauma, which in this series is a manipulable source of Metal power. Though easy enough to follow as a standalone, Jestin Kase and the Secrets of Chaos Metal works best as a culmination, and readers are advised to start at the start.

Takeaway: Complex, engaging heroes face demons, cults, and truly metal magic.

Comparable Titles: Tochi Onyebuchi's War Girls, James Dashner's The Maze Runner.

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

Rock Music, Authority and Western Culture, 1964-1980
James A. Cosby
Cosby comes out swinging with the second entry in his de facto trilogy dissecting the “socio-/spiritual history” of rock and roll music in the West (after Devil’s Music, Holy Rollers, and Hillbillies). He opens with Alexis de Tocqueville’s “prediction” of rock and roll—as one of the “strange, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, and almost always strong and bold“ outcomes of the burgeoning American democracy—and connects that prescient insight to the musical style’s emergence against the greater cultural backdrops of Western civilization, painting the sounds of rock as a barometer for the West’s cultural force.

Cosby also covers what he terms “Cultural Checkpoints” that define the political and social settings that have driven, and been influenced by, rock’s emergence as a story of “freedom but also a certain recklessness.” As expected, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, James Brown (“arguably the most dynamic performer of the rock era”) and the powerhouse Stax and Motown labels often take center stage, but Cosby also celebrates the Velvet Undergrounds “annihilation of any pretensions and preconceptions in rock and roll” and features the lesser knowns, like the “cult heroes of power pop” Big Star. Their more subtle influence, he demonstrates, helped the genre push the envelope with an intense edge that was “visceral and… as beautiful as it is bleak.” Cosby brings incisive insight to the interplay of rock and roll’s ethos with religion, counterculture movements, and the oppressed—including Black genre offshoots that Cosby describes as “distillations of the Black experience through centuries of repression and voiceless-ness.”

Perhaps most entertaining and revealing are celebrations of often-overlooked musical phenomena, such as Cosby’s tour of Tutwiler, Mississippi, where at the dawn of the 20th century W.C. Handy discovered and popularized the first strains of the blues. Those memorable portrayals override the book’s somewhat sentimental view of rock and roll as the “inspiration to create a new way of living,” highlighting instead its power to transform the world.

Takeaway: Sweeping analysis of rock and roll’s impact on Western culture.

Comparable Titles: Greil Marcus’s The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs, Brad Schreiber’s Music Is Power.

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

When the Tamarind Tree Blooms
Elaine Russell
Russell (author of Across the Mekong River) gracefully captures the fraught atmosphere of 1931 French colonial Laos through the eyes of Geneviève “Vivi” Dubois, 18-years-old and fresh out of the orphanage in which she has spent the last 14 years of her life. Her memories of her family are still raw, and Vivi finds it too painful to crush her hope, however small, that her mother will, one day, return for her. With her new status as an adult, she vows to find her family and “discover a way back to my beginning,” but that dream, sparked inside a half-Laos and half-French sheltered young woman just entering a world that doesn’t want to accept her, is fragile at best.

Laos—and its divided, tense undertones—springs to life in Russell’s capable hands, as Vivi desperately tries to decide where she belongs. Her struggles mirror the greater battles of the Laos people to find their own footing against the backdrop of France’s colonization: Vivi wisely describes the orphanage girls as “uprooted—ripped from our families and native Lao culture, everything familiar, to be raised as French citizens,” only to be turned out into a world that refuses them (“Many terms had been coined for our unseemly blend of races” Vivi remarks). Despite the disregard of her surroundings, Vivi perseveres in her mission, devoted to recovering her family and, in the process of growing into her own, finds herself torn between two suitors and unsure of what kind of future she wants to build.

Russell’s gentle narration allows readers to experience Vivi’s blossoming firsthand, in poetic prose that stirs vivid imagery, as when Vivi observes “I drew in a deep breath and began with what I remembered of my childhood…It was like a great spool of thread rolling across the floor and gathering speed.” This coming-of-age is a stunning declaration of resilience and belonging.

Takeaway: Stunning coming-of-age set in French colonial Laos.

Comparable Titles: Helen Fripp’s The French House, Jennifer Anton’s Under the Light of the Italian Moon.

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

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Tribal Logic : Book Four of The Tribal Wars
Stella Atrium
In the fourth installment of the ongoing Tribal Wars series, Atrium continues the multilayered, deeply humane epic set in an inequitable future where planets strive for self-rule against the malicious Consortium. After time in Paris on Earth, Jesse Hartley, daughter of retired General Hartley, is traveling to Dolvia, the planet at the heart of the series, to negotiate the release of Brianna Miller, imprisoned for her work exposing the Consortium’s corruption and abuse of conscripted slaves forced to work in silicide mines. Jesse’s first task is to risk treason by diverting the coffin of investigator turned miner John Milan off the space station Stargate Junction, which sits on the edge of a stable wormhole, to prove that conscripts are being worked to death.

Atrium populates these richly detailed worlds and societies with complex, relatable, and diverse characters determined to prevail in the face of greed, inhumanity, and relentless power struggles. The storylines tour readers through Atrium’s intricate vision: Jesse’s shuttle crashes in a suspected act of sabotage; someone is assassinating the sons of Khalif Ananke, who is holding Brianna Miller prisoner, as the reptilian gualarep dragons use their dream melding skills to help rescue Brianna.

As ever, Atrium is fascinated by the “machinations of diplomacy,” as one character puts it, and the contrast between the tribal cultures of Dolvia and the Consortium, milieus she invests with rewarding anthropological detail, striking prose, and a mastery of practicalities: the plotting here turns on economics, tribal ritual and spiritual practice, the challenges of journalism, issues of succession, the logistics of shipping and space travel, and the utility of beastmaster skills in blockading a port. Familiarity with the previous books is key to keeping up with the intricate world building and unique terminology, complex politics, multiple plot threads, and action from the points of view of numerous characters. Atrium offers an epic adventure with a humane edge in a singular world for enthusiasts of science fiction blended with social commentary.

Takeaway: Exciting culture, politics, and world building in Atrium's epic saga.

Comparable Titles: CJ Cherryh, Charlie Jane Anders.

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

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My Ailing Champion: A Memoir
Demetrius Koubourlis PhD
Any dream worth chasing becomes an even more arduous pursuit without social and familial support. This is the premise of Koubourlis’s contemplative, plaintive, and ultimately rousing memoir, a story that begins in Nazi-occupied Greece, faces that nation’s harrowing three-year civil war, and builds, after agonizing bureaucratic hardship in a system “designed with zero respect for the citizens,” to the author’s immigration to the United States, where he earned a BA and doctorate in just eight years. Doing so involved much sacrifice, including “irrevocable family ostracization” and declining his own inheritance. Koubourlis grapples with family relationships, especially a standoffish mother and an autocratic and abusive father who considered—like many in their community—education “a privilege reserved for the upper crust.”

Through sharp, observant writing, Koubourlis recounts an impassioned pursuit of learning in spite of a restrictively traditional culture. Once, his mother burned his newspaper collection clippings, and twice, his father betrays him—denying their deal of financially supporting his study in Italy in exchange for running their grocery store unpaid—by commanding with finality that the dowries of Koubourlis’s unmarried sisters come first before his studies. "Ignorance has its own blind strength," Koubourlis notes. "It is intolerant, sure of itself, unreasoning" Still, he persists through ordeals— facing poverty, hunger, and unplanned marriage—but still striving for his dream. There’s power in his choice to come to America, a nation he champions: what better way to liberate a thwarted dream than to migrate to a place that claims democracy for all its people?

His striking definition of self-worth— the "protector and motivator in the struggle for success"—powers the narrative, as Koubourlis narrates, with insight and vivid detail, his navigation of indifference, insensitivity, and cultural clash, asking probing questions and sharing sage advice about what it takes to succeed, namely self-worth, wise use of time, and that which happens when preparation meets opportunity—luck. He finds that future in America, and perhaps, through the writing, some peace with the past, too.

Takeaway: Pointed, pained, touching account of coming to America for learning and freedom.

Comparable Titles: Nicholas Gage’s A Place for Us, Jessica Lander’s Making Americans.

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

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Fanning Fireflies
LS Delorme
Delorme’s haunting third in the Limerent series (after Bright Midnights) introduces Veronica Crane, a strong woman who, in 1944, is determined to live her life the way she wants—even though doing so could threaten that life. Signing up soldiers for the war in her small town in North Carolina is her first time being around Black people. She feels an instant connection with a man named Lazlo, and even though they only have the chance to meet briefly, the two fall in love. The next day, Lazlo leaves for the war. Secrets are impossible to keep in a small town, and as rumors—and virulent racism—fester, Veronica struggles between fighting for the right to love, and protecting her family from losing everything.

While the hatred brewing in Harrisville is terrifying, Delorme adds a dash of the paranormal to the stress of Veronica’s life. A”Furiae,” a hereditary trait passed down among the women in the family, Veronica can see ghosts, even communicating with some. Some are scary, like a possessed nearly-dead raccoon; but most try to help her, like her beloved chicken, Betty, who died years before and now alerts her to danger. Both scary and a bit fun, a ghost named Dante helps lead her to the knowledge that her town is in danger and she and her family must get out.

Character development of all kinds—animals, humans, ghosts, and wisps—is strong in Delorme’s writing, leaving readers’ hearts racing right along with Veronica, and deeply feeling for the many in the town that are treated horribly, often fearing for their lives. Also painted clearly is the town itself, like bringing readers into the cigarette factory with Veronica where she works, smelling the smells, and feeling the heat and long hours. Never holding back from describing even the most difficult moments with candor and sensitivity, Delorme pulls readers into 1944 Harrisville in a way they won’t want to leave, needing to find what happens next.

Takeaway: Unflinching portrait of love, race, and 1940s America, with a paranormal twist.

Comparable Titles: Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Tananarive Due’s The Reformatory.

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

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The Loon's Song: A Wynter Island Mystery
Kim Herdman Shapiro
Shaprio’s followup to The Raven’s Cry finds Kate Zoe Thomas now managing the local community television station on Canada's tiny Wynter Island when now-famous actress Rosalie Morgan requests an interview to let the island know she's come back home, with entourage in tow. Islanders are not rolling out the welcome mat as Rosalie left after dalliances with many eligible—and not eligible—men, leaving a trail of angry wives with axes to grind. This puts Kate in a tough spot: take advantage of the boost this interview will bring the station, or support friends who are none too pleased to see Rosalie again? But just as Rosalie begins to discuss, on air, why she has come back, the unthinkable happens: Rosalie collapses and dies. Now, Kate must help find Rosalie's killer to save the station and the reputation of her friends.

The stakes are high in finding the killer before innocent people are accused and Kate's livelihood is destroyed. The story embraces a classic mystery format, offering a host of potential suspects: women who feel Rosalie ruined marriages and lives, members of Rosalie's entourage, old lovers from Rosalie's past. Seasoned sleuth fans may not find the ending too surprising, but Kate’s journey to it is fun and often surprising, powered by crisp dialogue, a strong sense of local dish, and a fascinating isolated milieu. The Kate readers meet in this second book in the series is recovering from the trauma of all that came before, including being accused of killing her fiancé, a charge some people still find credible, complicating her life. Keeping backstory and relationships straight will prove daunting to new readers, who are advised to start with the earlier entry.

Kate stands again as a strong protagonist, one with a passion project that rewards checking in with her over the course of a series. She’s highly dedicated to her television station and a loyal staff of volunteers. Once the news of Rosalie's murder on live TV hits the outside media, suddenly the press is everywhere, and the station's rich and anonymous benefactor is threatening to pull their financial support, a dilemma that adds real urgency to the case. The Loon's Song is a fine mystery and quick read, given welcome depth by the woman at its heart.

Takeaway: An on-air murder shocks the world in this brisk island mystery.

Comparable Titles: Lara Dearman’s Jennifer Dorey Mystery series, Thomas King’s Dreadfulwater Mysteries series.

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

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Ali's Big Adventure
Roxie Fiste
Soft hued and rich with themes of friendship and working together, Fiste’s debut provides young readers with a warm-hearted glimpse of the power that comes with helping others. Young Ali is a puffball—one of the “soft, rubbery creatures that live in a hidden valley near the Southern Cliffs”—who hasn’t yet quite mastered that key skill of his kind, bouncing. When he forgets his parents’ warnings that out-of-control bounces aren’t safe, Ali learns the hard way that sometimes the most fun can lead to the worst consequences, finding himself far away from home, dependent on the kindness of strangers to make his way back.

Fiste’s story charms with a muted innocence that suggests simpler times, as the characters—all uniquely different from each other—quickly come together to lend a helping hand. Ali, who, after jumping at a dragonfly inadvertently bounces away into a far off forest, is suddenly alone and exhausted—so exhausted, he immediately falls asleep, only to wake up with a human named Mika staring him in the face. Luckily for Ali, Mika is all smiles and full of compassion, immediately willing to help Ali get back home once he gets the scoop on the puffball’s problems. As Mika and Ali set off, they’re joined by Scout, “a golden pony,” and a watchman at the Sand Palace gate who gifts them with magical balloons—balloons that later come in handy when a broken bridge kickstarts their creative problem solving.

Fiste adorns each page with delicate colored pencil illustrations that showcase Ali, Mika, and Scout in exotic locales and sometimes precarious situations. This provides a subtle background for the story’s implied message that working together delivers the best results, even when that means joining forces with others who seem extraordinarily unfamiliar. Of course, Ali’s reunion with his family is sweet to behold, as is his hope that his new friendships will be lifelong.

Takeaway: Sweet tale of why working together produces the best results.

Comparable Titles: Giulia Belloni’s Anything Is Possible, Leo Timmers’s Elephant Island.

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

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Tomcats Killers of Innocence
Patsy Shook
Shook’s debut novel finds a young woman, Sarah, grappling with her autonomy in a mid-century American south that affords her little. After her father’s death, her family is exploited by Al Cantlin, her new stepfather, and Sarah only narrowly escapes his abuse. Sheltered by her grandparents, Sarah faces further trauma at 17 when assaulted by Frank Honley, a military man, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy. Heeding her grandmother’s advice, Sarah marries Frank to protect her reputation and ensure her financial security. Unexpectedly, the abuse she anticipated from Frank actually wanes after marriage, yet Sarah senses a deeper malevolence in him, compelling her to remain vigilant in their tense marriage while pursuing her dreams of education and freedom for both her and her children.

Tomcats: Killers of Innocence meticulously navigates the life of a young woman grappling with her own vulnerability amidst dehumanizing circumstances. As Sarah endeavors to comprehend the depths of her husband’s cruelty, she confronts the daunting challenge of securing a path to freedom for herself and her children. Shook deftly portrays the intricate dynamics of a woman ensnared in a marriage with her abuser, demonstrating with psychological acuity how Sarah grapples with a sense of complacency and recurrent struggles to trust her instincts, though the plotting and relationship dynamics at times prove predictable, in a true-to-life way. Still, Shook illuminates, with compelling lived-in-detail, a time where societal norms often discouraged women from pursuing lives outside the confines of the family home.

Shook skillfully depicts Sarah's resilience, capturing the essence of her struggle toward independence. While some readers may struggle to empathize with Sarah's character, perceiving her as a passive observer of events rather than an active participant, others will find this passive aspect adds complexity to her character, enriching her depth and authenticity, resonating with readers drawn to real human depictions of resilience amongst uncertainty.

Takeaway: Illuminating historical story of a resilient woman forced into an abusive marriage.

Comparable Titles: Minka Kent’s The Stillwater Girls, B.A. Paris's Behind Closed Doors.

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

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Grief Sucks (But Your Life Doesn't Have To)
Brooke Carlock
Blending self-help, memoir of loss, and a sense of humor, Carlock’s debut offers a hopeful look at the long road through grief from an author who has navigated it so often that she wonders, in a preface, “exactly whom I pissed off in another life.” Carlock shares her own story while offering hard-won, practical advice—like how to handle people who disappoint as you try to build a support system, or facing “firsts” after bereavement—all broken down into small, manageable pieces. She emphasizes the importance of grievers being emotionally honest about their experiences and, as part of the healing process, remembering their lost loved ones. She also stresses the need to reach out to others and presents research suggesting positive-minded people cope with grief better.

Carlock has endured a seemingly overwhelming amount of tragedy, from her parents’ vicious divorce when she was eight, to her own two divorces to the year and a half in which she lost several family members, including her ten-year-old daughter, Libby. This was “the worst pain I had ever experienced,” she writes, and she addresses these losses with earthy candor. Her slow healing, especially all she’s learned about “grief, resilience, and post-traumatic growth,” informs the TRUST method at the heart of the book, a distillation of her guidance for others into a mnemonic device she’s crafted for simplicity, noting “Grief leaves most people feeling like they’ve lost about fifty IQ points.”

The book is compact and approachable, offering an inviting, honest, and sharply plainspoken survey of what the author has learned as she pulled herself “out of the suck,” with neither genre, memoir nor self-help, fully dominating. While the guidance is sound and the revelations often moving and insightful, the brisk storytelling by design emphasizes Carlock’s own experience, with touching material about her love for her family and thoughtful consideration of her own “deeply, deeply personal” choices involving medication and treatment. Throughout, she makes clear that one guiding voice is not enough—readers facing grief should seek out support and professional help.

Takeaway: Lessons and hard-won insights from a life facing grief.

Comparable Titles: Megan Devine’s It’s OK That You’re Not OK, Joanne Cacciatore’s Bearing the Unbearable.

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

Becoming Carly Klein
Elizabeth Harlan
Harlan’s smart coming-of-age story, set in a vividly evoked 1980s Manhattan, showcases how benign neglect makes for fertile ground for self-discovery. Sixteen-year-old Upper East Sider Carly Klein’s habit of clandestinely reading her psychiatrist mother’s patient notes leads her into an obsession with one of her patients, an attractive blind Columbia music major named Daniel. Encouraged by her best friend Lauren, Carly secretly trails Daniel after his appointments, and when she sees him post an ad for a reading assistant on a local bulletin board, Carly creates an alternate persona as a Barnard student to use the job as a way to begin a romantic pursuit.

With sparkling prose and witty dialogue, Harlan captures the electric energy and tension of a teen awkwardly keeping secrets, both the juicy ones like her secret expeditions to the club where Daniel plays saxophone, and the unhappy ones like her discovery of her father’s gay affair. Carly’s uncertainty and at-times questionable decisions make her a believable teen protagonist, even in her precociousness, especially as she auditions new selves (in a wig!) and lunges after what it is she thinks she wants. Though structurally secondary to the story, scenes that take place in the terrible summer camp to which Carly is sent against her will particularly highlight teen social dynamics, and in contrast, show how different Carly’s energy is as she attempts to embody the role of an undergrad.

The depiction of an awkward first relationship that is neither disastrous nor idealized feels refreshingly authentic, forming only one branch of Carly’s exploratory story rather than pivoting the book into teen romance. Though many of the core themes carry through for teens of any generation, Harlan illuminates hallmarks of the Gen X era of latchkey parenting and feeling free to explore a city undisturbed by adults, with the storytelling spiced by smart 1980s specifics like yuppies, Reaganism, campaigns to save the whales and ban nukes, and Carly’s crush on Michael Landon.

Takeaway: Clever story of growing up unsupervised in 1980s New York.

Comparable Titles: Paula Danziger’s Remember Me to Harold Square, Susan Azim Boyer’s Jasmine Zumideh Needs A Win.

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

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Lonely Riders
Michael D. Dennis
This genre-crossing story of punkish romance and an out-of-time Los Angeles begins on Valentine's Day. Knowing Elise's penchant for traditional celebrations, amateur chef Kyle—a grunge-era “anarchist” lacking “the drive or commitment to really protest the government”—surprises her with a romantic dinner in their loft, only to be surprised in return by the news that Elise, a fashion “tastemaker,” has lost her job with a well-known luxury hat company. The night takes a sad turn when he finds her bloodied on the bathroom floor—not for the first time. Facing financial strain, Kyle's encounter with a mysterious scientist offering a job becomes their pivotal lifeline.

With sharp-elbowed prose, slicing cultural commentary, and a zeal for surprise, Dennis disrupts genre expectations, transitioning from contemporary romance to a blend of erotica, science fiction, and psychological apocalyptic fantasy. Kyle agrees to be part of an outlandish experiment: enter a time-travel portal. Kyle does, and Dennis seizes the opportunity to conjure wild, dramatic images of conflagration and destruction, weird creations—Riders, Wraiths, Washouts, and the witch Epiphany, with whom Kyle will forge a surprising and intimate connection. Visions of a ruined Los Angeles and talk of a prophecy have unsettling power, but one thing in Kyle’s adventures with wormholes and Telepaths truly scares him: forgetting Elise. "It was too easy to forget your past in this place,” Kyle says of an uncanny Los Angeles. “ It was like you'd been brainwashed, but you could be whoever you wanted to be."

An unsettled and unsettling ending finds Kyle tested in ways readers won’t anticipate, as he battles for a seemingly lost humanity. Themes of survivalism and the endurance of love amidst temptations and forgetfulness resonate, though the story’s pointed provocations, flights of poetic language, and circuitous mysteries will challenge readers. Still, there’s urgency to the key questions: whether Kyle will reunite with Elise and return to his present or survive with others in a ravaged world.

Takeaway: Unsettling, genre-bending, apocalyptic time-traveling literary lulu.

Comparable Titles: Gene Doucette’s The Apocalypse Seven, Lee Kelly’s With Regrets.

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

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Logos
Nicholas Theodosiou
Nikita’s brutal yet rousing debut opens in the bloody darkness of prehistory, the prose as raw and slicing as the mouths of the beasts gnashing at an early human family in its cave. Soon, two young brothers find themselves alone in a harsh world, with the eldest—that’s how he’s identified for much of the novel, as nobody in it has yet enjoyed the luxury of coming up with concepts like names—tending to his newborn brother and fighting for survival in the Drylands. An elemental poetry powers through Nikita’s storytelling: “All hope is buried deep in the waterless soil where the crawlers fill their bellies with rot from the bodies of the slow and the careless.” Scenes of the brothers facing snakes, lions, starvation, and at last other humans both harrow and thrill.

The wrenching, at times difficult-to-parse opening passages will challenge readers, but Nikita’s storytelling is smart and assured—and Logos, like life itself, gets easier as its characters become increasingly human. Nikita has crafted the story as a series of firsts, like the eldest’s first kill; his first experience naming things; his first impulses toward communication through artistic creation; his discovery of the Promethean element he and the youngest call “fos”: “This merciless, glorious thing or creature or state, hissing and roaring as it destroys everything it touches.” Keeping a fire going, like survival, brings rules and ritual and the language to explain them.

Eventually, the brothers are the heart of a community, with Nikita exploring the key trait bringing humanity to that point: not just the will to survive, but the conviction (“I want more!” one brother realizes in a truly epochal moment) that life can be about more than endurance. As the humans share and develop language, the novel itself becomes more conventional in its prose, though thoughtful readers interested in the dawn of consciousness will find the denser passages reward the effort they demand. Pushing through is how we became human.

Takeaway: Brutal, richly imagined vision of prehistoric humanity emerging from the darkness.

Comparable Titles: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman, Peter Dickinson’s The Kin.

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

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Earthquake Ethan: Forces of Nature Book Three
R.L./Rochelle Merrill
Despite its Hollywood setting, the upbeat and relatable third entry in Merrill’s performer-centered Forces of Nature series keeps the social drama mostly good-natured and its gay romance down to Earth. After a scandal leaves him a persona non grata in London, struggling actor Ethan Bradley lands on the doorsteps of Los Angeles-based friends and producers Reese Matheson and Toby Griffiths. Busy with mounting Reese’s grandfather’s musical about young gay love, Reese and Toby pass Ethan on to their prim manager, Arthur Frye, for a career reboot. Though Arthur is initially annoyed, he finds himself quickly both impressed by Ethan’s sincerity and talent, and attracted enough to him to reconsider his policy of never dating actors.

Merrill creates a delightfully intergenerational whirlwind of personalities, from Arthur’s dramatic parents still holding parties with the celebrities of Hollywood’s heyday, to the boys working through their on-stage awkwardness about touching. However, she is careful to have her characters explicitly aware and careful of ethical landmines; rather than leaning in to the power, wealth, and age gap, Arthur hands Ethan’s account to his junior colleague to avoid impropriety, and is outraged that Ethan has been asked for sexual favors by managers in the past, while Ethan suggests a professional intimacy coach as part of the way he coaches the boys on expressing desire through their performances.

The energy is overall positive, with everyone around them enthusiastic about Arthur and Ethan’s connection—even the drama coming from Ethan and Toby’s past resolved in good faith. The pivot from unsure flirting to deep commitment is a little abrupt, and it’s not always clear how the characters find the space for lazy exploratory days in the flow of intense career building action, tight performance deadlines, and parent wrangling. Still, readers will quickly find themselves emotionally invested in both Ethan’s career and relationship. Merrill’s commitment to her characters not having to choose between love and performance, but having each aspect enhance the other, keeps the novel firmly on the side of queer joy rather than angst.

Takeaway: Optimistic Hollywood-set m/m romance with lovers with good hearts.

Comparable Titles: Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material, Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive.

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

Click here for more about Earthquake Ethan
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