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The Promise Of The Gateway
Nick Iuppa & John Pesqueira
Iuppa and Pesqueira’s (Alien Mission) hopeful young adult fantasy romance explores teenage anxieties around popularity, the corrosive effects of resentment, and the redemptive power of love. In 2019, nerdy amateur photographer Emily Perkins is mostly a social nonentity at her high school. Everyone in her small town, Green Mountain, knows that 24-year-old Jake Cane was a football superstar on a path to the NFL until he was grievously injured during a game in 2011. When Emily accidentally discovers a shimmering green portal that transports her back to the night of Jake’s injury, she shares it with him. Jake, convinced he can change the fateful game, takes various members of the 2019 football team through the gateway with him. His plan repeatedly fails—and each time Mr. Paulsen’s social studies class meets after a student has time-traveled, that student ends up reliving a shocking event of injustice in American history, such as 1962’s Bloody Sunday in Selma or the Salem witch trials. Can Emily convince the man she’s fallen in love with to change course before someone really gets hurt?

This is a plot-driven story in the vein of Back to the Future. The small-town setting lends itself to a sweet web of relationships between the kids, their friends’ parents, and older neighbors, and the football team gathers at a diner to brainstorm about the weird goings-on. Certain elements, however, strain credulity: Jake is at times selfish, threatening, and even violent, but Emily feels that “the boy she couldn’t stop loving” is “a reclamation project... she could handle,” even though he’s just “chased her two best friends across the schoolyard apparently trying to kill them.”

Readers who are hoping for explanations of the gateway’s origins, nature, and functioning will be be left wondering: it’s unclear why the gateway takes everyone back to Jake’s traumatic night, why traveling through it makes Emily more confident and attractive, why it causes temporal flashbacks only during one teacher’s lectures specifically about injustice, and why each student’s flashback concerns people who share their ethnicity and gender. But readers who put aside these questions will be rewarded with a fast-moving teen adventure that they’ll tear right through. Iuppa and Pesqueira’s uplifting message about prioritizing the here and now and leaving the past behind will resonate with YA readers.

Takeaway: Young adult readers will relate to the conflicted characters’ self-determination to change their future in this fantasy journey to the past.

Great for fans of: Ilsa Madden-Mills’s I Promise You, Arya Rose’s Deception, Stephen King’s 11/22/63.

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

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The [New] New Patriotism
Jennifer Blackburn
Debut author Jennifer Blackburn claims two things are incontrovertible: “History repeats itself and change is constant.” She immediately challenges her audience with this paradox in her meticulous exploration of the current state of American politics, while exhorting readers to be change agents in redefining the “American Ideal.” Part history lesson and part manifesto, Blackburn’s guide covers issues such topics as shifting definitions of nationalism and patriotism, recent challenges to the idea of American exceptionalism, and technology’s influence on modern Americans’ political identities. Blackburn calls millennials and “incumbent Gen Zs” to action, urging them “to continue flying the banner of American democracy at home while living in a global interdependence.”

Blackburn makes an effort to be nonpartisan, and she succeeds: in one chapter, she advocates for the philosophy of “America First,” while in another she unflinchingly characterizes American history as fraught with white supremacy—two viewpoints that are positionally opposed in the current political climate. Ultimately, however, some of her ideas will limit the readership with whom the book resonates: for example, in discussing the calls for stimulus packages to help a populace economically affected by Covid-19, she recommends that millennials read Milton Friedman and revisit “the war effort of the 1940s,” when “Americans rolled up their sleeves, enlisted in the military, worked factory jobs and bought war bonds to help support the government. Not the other way around.” Without suggestions about how readers whose livelihoods have been lost should survive, let alone pitch in economically to support the government, such sentiments are unlikely to convince readers who don’t already share both her views and the economic safety that makes this idea seem feasible.

Through mixing history, anecdotes, and opinion, Blackburn skillfully combines America's past with the present cultural moment in undertones of obvious pride and devotion. She seamlessly moves from paeans to Thomas Paine into reflections on the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Fellow centrists will appreciate this rousing blueprint for reviving American patriotism for the 21st century.

Takeaway: Political junkies and patriots alike will appreciate Blackburn's blend of American history and modern social commentary.

Great for fans of: Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities, Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner’s What Unites Us, Amitai Etzioni's Reclaiming Patriotism.

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

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Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary
Jody A. Forrester
How does one become a happily married, middle-class chiropractor after spending years in a communist group? In this galvanizing debut memoir, short story author Forrester takes readers behind the scenes of her college years in a communist group. She begins in 1960s lower-middle-class Los Angeles, skillfully illustrating how idealistic young college students can easily get sucked into extremist groups. Anti-Vietnam war protests (“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”) and drug experimentation lead her to join the radical communist group the Revolutionary Union. In 1969, Forrester quickly evolves from a middle-class teenager to sleeping with a “30-ought-6 and a M1 rifle” under her bed—and, after leaving the group in 1972, she feels she’s lost part of her family.

A born storyteller whose prose immediately draws readers in, Forrester vividly portrays the fear of crouching in the dark with guns in case of a police raid, the horrors of being sexually assaulted by a babysitter’s husband, and the heartbreak of romantic betrayal and a subsequent abortion (which, pre-Roe v. Wade, required psychiatrist approval). She also skillfully outlines what can happen when starry-eyed teenage idealism meets bad actors—and the sometimes-lifelong results (in Forrester’s case, difficulty finding employment and an FBI investigation). Her skillfully crafted prose is studded with evocative, tender details (her hospitalized grandmother “looked like a wizened overripe potato. I cried to see her laboring for each breath”; she follows a women’s lib group’s instructions for masturbation “as though piecing together a balsa airplane”).

At the outset of this gripping account, Forrester muses, “I decided it was time to reclaim those lost years, to learn more about how I got there, and how I got from there to here.” She adeptly records how, despite her early choices closing some doors, they contributed to her becoming a strong, determined woman and led her to discover a happily-ever-after with her husband and two daughters. Readers will devour this deeply honest and heartfelt memoir.

Takeaway: This insightful and incisive memoir brings the ’60s to life and powerfully illustrates what it’s like to be radicalized—and deradicalized.

Great for fans of: Patricia Campbell Heart and Alvin Moscow’s Every Secret Thing, Bill Ayers’s Fugitive Days, Hari Kunzru’s My Revolutions.

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

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What the Hell is an Economy?
eric johnson
Johnson characterizes his painstaking economic debut as “the journey of an engineer’s self-education in finance and economics.” In the tradition of Physics for Poets, Johnson’s investigation and explanation of an often misunderstood science is targeted toward non-majors, in this case the show-your-work stalwarts of the STEM world. With dispassionate rigor, Johnson explains the fundamental rules that have shaped global economies, with the goal of ascertaining how the U.S. government could prevent future humanitarian crises like that surrounding Covid-19: by creating societal wealth, not just wealth for individuals but also well-maintained infrastructure, high-quality education, minimal debt, low unemployment, and fully funded pensions.

Engineers are trained to build models that work, and Johnson continues in this vein by testing established economic principles with his own examples and hypotheticals, followed by showing his work and revealing the reasons behind his presented solutions. In one example, he determines that short-term treasury debt is the optimal mode for banks’ repurchase agreements. Johnson’s prose is often straightforward—a just-the-facts presentation only occasionally leavened by humor—though he does amusingly use the root word “corpus” to compare corporations to zombies and draws some economic conclusions from the board game Settlers of Catan. Energetic, cartoonlike illustrations by Cormac Power add interest, too, beginning each chapter with depictions of such things as Blind Justice weighing Medusa’s detached head, helicopters dropping cash, and Darth Vader.

Johnson spares few words in his considerations of centralized versus decentralized economic management (he suggests a balance) and the fascinating role that faith plays in economies. His approach offers readers little hand-holding: he introduces a topic, analyzes it in the space of a few lines or with some math, and then presents his conclusions before moving on. This book is less a primer than it is an extended, sometimes dazzling proof, making the persuasive case that our economy could do more for us all while simultaneously warning against excessive centralization.

Takeaway: An engineer argues that economies can serve their participants better in this dense introduction to economics.

Great for fans of: Roger E. A. Farmer’s How the Economy Works, Niall M. Fraser and Elizabeth M. Jewkes’s Engineering Economics: Financial Decision Making For Engineers.

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

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YOU BE YOU
Richard Brehm
Brehm’s children’s debut immerses readers in a stunning mélange of color and prose illustrating a girl’s journey of self-discovery. The second-person narration explains that, on the appointed day, “Old Master Paint awaits you” in “a whispery house at the edge of the wild.” The Master leads the girl to a room, where he leaves her alone in front of the huge, glowing “Great Canvas of Life,” which is “daunting” and “so very very…white.” She struggles to decide what to fill it with, fighting the master’s disapproval and her own uncertainty, until her breakthrough materializes—and she takes control to design a beautiful life.

A loose, inconsistent rhyme scheme may trip up some readers, but the story will captivate them. Readers will empathize with the girl’s self-doubt and mistakes (“In frustration and despair, you tear a hole in the canvas” that allows monsters in) and cheer for her when she realizes she can make her own choices about her life canvas. Rogério Coelho’s extraordinary illustrations spin a web of enchantment around Brehm’s story, bursting with vibrant color and movement and enhancing the sense of magic.

The book’s promotion of both acceptance and daring (“Why, this is your life you’re painting… Dream large, head high!/Nothing can hold you back.”) will resonate with children and adults. Readers of all ages will be swept away in this bewitching allegory about building a meaningful life.

Takeaway: Readers of any age will be enchanted by this kaleidoscopic journey of self-exploration and discovery.

Great for fans of: Eileen Spinelli’s Someday, Nancy Tillman’s The Crown on Your Head.

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

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Embrace That Girl: A Love Story With The Girl In The Mirror
Cris Ramos Greene
In this debut memoir, Ramos Greene recounts her search for direction in her early 20s. In Miami, Ramos Greene flounders after college, “during the Great Depression of our time,” becoming rapidly disillusioned with her entry-level job and earning the nickname “Ms. QLC” (“quarter-life crisis”) from her friends. She struggles with her ethnic identity, labeling herself “other” on application forms even as her Cuban-born parents argue their Spanish heritage makes them “100% white.” Spurred by her “craving to be wanted,” she moves from soulmates to one-night stands in a “parade of suitors.” She applies to MFA programs and consults a fortune teller, seeking purpose, but for the moment considers that “maybe it's okay to be in the questions.”

As the subtitle indicates, Ramos Greene’s memoir intimately engages her relationship with her body, containing confessions like “I’ve never felt beautiful.” The narrative is also bursting with vivid bodily jokes and descriptions, as illustrated in its very first sentence starkly describing “pee on the [bathroom] floor.” During a breakup, Ramos Greene depicts herself as not just sad, but “dry heaving.” Her body humor serves to highlight her account’s thematic concerns—questions about her identity and future whose answers, she suspects, lie “on the other side of my comfort.”

Ramos Greene’s memoir dramatizes experiences common to many millennials and members of Generation Z in snappy, heartfelt fashion. In smooth and competent prose and dialogue peppered with Spanish expressions and endearments, she reminds readers that, amid the stagnation and sadness, it is okay to be uncertain, because after all, “growth is a complicated thing.” Readers looking for catharsis and hilarious relatability will enjoy Ramos Greene’s depiction of her quest for stability.

Takeaway: This well-crafted postcollege memoir will appeal to young readers and those looking for insightful humor on the journey to self-acceptance.

Great for fans of: Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today.

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

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Frostbitten
Cassie Cole
A man and his best friends mean three times the fun in this playfully erotic reverse harem contemporary. When Allison gives her blind date, Hunter, a ride back to the remote cabin he’s renting, a one-night stand turns into an extended stay when a late-season blizzard makes the roads impassable overnight. Over the next several days the power goes out in the cabin next door, which is being rented by Hunter’s best friends and business collaborators, Chase and Justin. As they’re forced into increasingly close proximity, things heat up among the four of them.

Though the erotic elements of this story are front and center, all four of the main characters are fully developed as individuals with personalities, needs, and interests outside of the sexual. Hunter is a writer who’s felt blocked since the end of his last relationship. Justin is Hunter’s editor and a kind and generous figure from the start. Rounding out the trio of men is Chase, a restless people person who feels frustrated with both their confinement and Allison’s intrusion into their secluded getaway. Not to mention, he’s struggling with his role in the trio. As the weather forces them into ever-closer proximity, details emerge about a past relationship the three men shared with a woman named Olivia and how it affected their lives.

This contemporary lovefest is expectedly light on plot, though the author thoughtfully explores elements such as Allison’s job and its importance to her, so the mundane isn’t lost to the erotic. Each relationship Allison develops is distinct and individualized, and the characters’ motivations are all clear and reasonable. This erotic romance is both hot and cozy, and will appeal to readers who find that more is better when it comes to sexual fantasy scenarios.

Takeaway: This flaming hot “forced proximity” erotic romance will appeal to readers who appreciate a little more man in their steamy stories.

Great for fans of: Ivy Asher and Raven Kennedy, Eve Langlais.

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

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Arrival Mind
Louis Barry Rosenberg
AI researcher Rosenberg (Monkey Room) imparts a cautionary tale about rogue AI in this quirky picture book for adults. When society is introduced to a new arrival—one that didn’t come from the stars but was created here on Earth—it quickly becomes all-powerful. This newcomer meets everyone’s needs and wants (“he dazzled us with mental feats that left us feeling small”) and takes over almost every industry, but what is the cost of all this convenience? What does “it” want, and can society reverse course if the stakes become too high?

Rosenberg’s compact warning is beautifully assembled, accompanied by Khmelevska’s appealing digital illustrations with lettering that looks like crayon. The picture book format and simple rhyme scheme evoke the seeming innocence of the AI, which is portrayed as a vaguely anthropomorphic bundle of wires wrapping around the Earth, with a television-and-satellite-dish head.

The narrative gives a broad-strokes introduction to social dependence on artificial intelligence, playing on readers’ apprehension and suspicion. But it doesn’t specify what in particular could go wrong, only stating that humans are told, “if he ever turns on us,/ We’ll simply pull the plug” but that they lose their nerve “when the time came.” Consequently, the narrative reads more like an inspired PSA than a fully fleshed out story. But Rosenberg’s “closing thoughts,” which make up a second half of the book, contain gratifyingly concrete explanations, such as “We can’t stop AI from advancing” and “Our only choice is to prepare for its arrival.” This aesthetically pleasing premonitory tale will get readers thinking about unchecked dependence on AI.

Takeaway: Readers will be intrigued by this short and sweet advisory on the dangers of unchecked dependence on AI.

Great for fans of: Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories, Isaac Asimov, Randall Munroe.

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

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Allegiance
Darien Hsu Gee
In this arresting memoir, Gee (Friendship Bread) crafts engrossing and poetic scenes from her life that illuminate struggles with identity and feeling out of place as a Chinese-American woman. Her writing reflects both a lifelong weariness with these challenges and her resilience in carving out a maverick path as a writer and mother. Gee initially reflects on her childhood and relationships with her family; the second section discusses her own children, specifically as related to her writing career; and the final section details living in extraordinary times. Each section informs the others in distinct, nuanced ways.

Gee provides exceptionally rich and vivid detail. In “On Chinese New Year,” she describes a moment in which “smoke hangs in the air like ducks in the butcher shop, dripping fat and prosperity.” “Vine” shows off Gee's sense of humor, when she portrays herself as “a woman whose road most traveled is between the desk in her bedroom and the kitchen.” In “This Is Not A Drill,” she cleverly narrates receiving a mass text that her home of Hawai'i was being threatened by missiles, depicting the period when all she can do is wait with repetitive lines of only timestamps, written out with no text.

Gee insightfully encapsulates her experiences: in comparing a broken relationship with her brother to her father's career as a geophysicist, she writes, “fractures have their place—they allow for movement.” Gee's vulnerability regarding her flaws, fears, and hopes creates an intimate experience, giving readers an inside glimpse of her struggles, both personal and universal. This poignant, poetic memoir will draw readers in.

Takeaway: This poetic, introspective exploration of family, writing, and Chinese-American identity will delight readers.

Great for fans of: Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese, Anne Lamott.

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

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Mommy, Daddy Please Teach Me!
Michael A Brown
Criminal justice specialist Michael A. Brown (What I Tell Myself series) delivers an enthusiastic call to action for parents to view everyday things as learning opportunities for their children. The book is narrated from the perspective of a child—observant and future-conscious—who challenges parents to teach their children skills based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, from getting dressed and budgeting to building self-esteem.

The intended audience of this book is somewhat unclear. The simple rhymes suggest that the book is for children, but, unusually, the implied child narrator only addresses readers who are parents and seems to serve mostly as a vessel for parenting advice: “Work every day of the year?/ Don’t just work; teach me how!/ You make money for me somehow.” The book doesn’t have characters per se; the illustrations show a variety of families with children of different ages, and the narrator is not identified. The rhyming text is sometimes repetitive (for example, rhyming “me first” with “me first”) and occasionally vaguely ominous (“You gave me life. Now I am here/ For who knows how many years”).

Expressive digital illustrations by Zoe Ranucci breathe life into individual pages, depicting diverse parents and curious children engaged in everyday opportunities for growth together. The concept is unlikely to engage a child audience and therefore doesn’t quite mesh with its picture book format, but it boasts stimulating pictures and a sincere, well-intentioned message. This sweet picture-book poem encourages parents not just to care for their little ones, but to make the effort to impart practical abilities to them.

Takeaway: This sweet picture-book poem encourages parents to take time to teach their kids.

Great for fans of: Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop On Market Street, Judith Viorst’s Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday.

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

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Strange Deaths of the Last Romantic
Moses Yuriyvich Mikheyev
Mikheyev’s (The Hack) pleasantly unsettling science fiction follows Adam Micah—a man who can’t die, no matter how many times he’s tried. When he was young, Adam’s mother was killed in a car accident, and he was placed in the foster system. Stuck with a horrible family, he’s convinced his only way out is suicide. After shooting himself, Adam is surprised to wake up washed ashore by an ocean, with little memory of who he is. Over the years, he experiences horrific deaths multiple times, with severe headaches and memory loss worsening each time, until he is rescued by Lilyanne Beloshinski after drowning. Lilyanne and her father undertake a voyage to help Adam that unknowingly puts them directly in danger’s path. Meanwhile, DNA scientist Dr. Richard Bonn has been tracking odd reports of people with strange regenerative powers and incidents of people disappearing from the scenes of violent accidents.

As a student of philosophy with a graduate degree in theology, Mikheyev adds depth and thought-provoking passages to the story, including well-placed Bible references. Readers will enjoy the three-dimensional character of Adam, who is deemed a “romantic” from a young age. One scene finds the teenage Adam reading Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics of Love at a New York City bookstore.

Mikheyev takes readers for a spin on the darker side of immortality, portraying it as having sinister effects, attacking the body and mind, and attracting undesirable attention from opportunistic rich people desperate to grab it for themselves. The protagonist’s painful journey will resonate with readers, and readers will be hypnotized by the twists in this page-turning account of the catastrophic consequences of immortality.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a dark, philosophical take on immortality will find this sci-fi a page-turner.

Great for fans of: James Gunn’s The Immortals, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time.

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

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Up the Creek
Alissa Grosso
Grosso (In the Bag) crafts an appealing supernatural mystery, centered around a family whose dreams have real-world consequences. Since childhood, Caitlin Walker has been able to predict the future while sleeping. With the help of a miracle drug, she lives a dreamless life, free of psychic disturbances—until her son, Adam, begins having eerily familiar nightmares. Meanwhile, Caitlin’s husband, Lance, has sleeping problems of his own, waking up in mysterious places. When Adam goes missing from Caitlin’s car, detective Sage Dorian is assigned to the case and realizes the Walker family may be the key to the unsolved murder of a young girl 19 years earlier.

There is never a dull moment in this novel, with a sprawling cast of characters and no fewer than four unsolved crimes. Certain elements, such as the relationships between Caitlin and Lance or Caitlin and Adam, feel underdeveloped, and the basic plot requires some suspension of disbelief (the characters are all remarkably unfazed by Caitlin’s psychic abilities)—but the inclusion of the otherworldly builds upon the novel’s unsettling atmosphere. To preserve ambiguity, some of the plot relies on characters remembering (and forgetting) important information from their pasts, and readers may wish for more detailed explanations for the varying and circuitous events of the story.

Grosso’s well-paced thriller deftly switches perspectives throughout, incorporating chapters that reveal the backstories for Caitlin, Lance, and Sage. The plot is engrossing, with enough twists and turns to be enjoyable despite some predictability and implausible elements. Grosso has created an immersive world of supernaturally flavored intrigue with this first series installment.

Takeaway: This psychic-centered whodunit is perfect for mystery lovers with a taste for the occult.

Great for fans of: Tana French’s In the Woods, Kay Hooper’s Touching Evil.

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

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Death in the Holler
John G. Bluck
Bluck’s (the Fantastic Tales Series) mystery pairs up Kentucky game warden Luke Ryder and his best friend, county sheriff Jim Pike, to solve the murder of Louisville gang member Carlos Rios. Ryder, a self-professed alcoholic on the brink of being fired, is pulled into the investigation because the murder occurred on a farm during black powder hunting season in 2029. His alcoholism haunts his attempts to become a respectable lawman; Pike clings to the notion that solving the murder will jettison Ryder into sobriety. The men join forces to piece together an ominous puzzle and bring justice to this small Kentucky town.

Murder, gangs, and black-market marijuana run rampant in this testosterone-filled thriller. Whether a given reader connects with it will depend on their tolerance for a few elements. Many of the men surrounding Ryder enable his drinking and, surprisingly, his eventual attempts at recovery don’t get much focus. He jumps into a romantic relationship with a woman within a couple of hours of meeting her. Racism is treated as a fact of life in the Holler in 2029; while Ryder, who is white, is shown to be actively opposed to discrimination and prejudice, he describes his sister Renee as “not a racist” even though she has held off on admitting Black children to the daycare she runs because existing white clients “don’t like that idea.”

But Bluck’s mystery keeps readers quickly flipping the pages with short, fast-moving chapters and weaves comprehensive explanations into the dialogue for readers who aren’t already familiar with hunting and black powder weapons. Ryder’s struggles raise the book’s stakes: he’s trying not only to quit drinking, to avoid losing his job and pushing away the people who care about him, but also to overcome a tragic past fueling his inner demons (“The dead man seemed...like a discarded puppet.... Seeing him as a kid’s doll is my defense mechanism kicking in”). And the mystery itself is twisty, with multiple potential suspects and motives. Southern murder mystery fans will feel right at home in the Holler.

Takeaway: For Southern murder mystery fans, this whodunit and its heart-of-gold protagonist will hit a bullseye.

Great for fans of: James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux Series, Brian Panowich’s Like Lions.

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

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The Crocodiles Will Arrive Later
Kathy McCoy
McCoy (We Don’t Talk Anymore) draws on her experience as a journalist and psychotherapist in this arresting memoir. She frankly faces her suburban childhood with an abusive father and the systemic ways in which generations of women in her life have been thwarted from achievement, and her story is powered by her determination to realize her full potential. McCoy’s opening lines irresistibly establish the stakes: “When I was five years old, at the dawn of the Fifties, my greatest fear was that I would grow up to be a San Fernando Valley housewife. My second greatest fear was nuclear annihilation.”

Painful yet witty, McCoy’s story lives up to its start, as she recounts being inspired as a child by women who dared to embrace life despite a patriarchal society’s cruelty, including her aunt Molly (a poet of model openness at odds with McCoy’s father, who abhorred sentiment) and an empathetic nun whose encouragement nudged McCoy toward a life of public expression. McCoy eschews any hints in early chapters of where her story is going, so readers will be surprised at her life’s direction: despite polio, a fungal lung disease, and a family disinclined to pay for out-of-state college, she studied journalism at Northwestern University and became a leading writer for teen publications at the dawn of the sexual revolution.

McCoy adeptly plucks readers’ heartstrings (“I marveled at how they lived so fully, even with their terrible sadness”) and, like that of any seasoned magazine pro, her sharp, polished prose abounds with candid reflections. McCoy’s recollections, both humorous and shocking, will reverberate for readers of all backgrounds.

Takeaway: This vital memoir of thriving in magazines after a difficult childhood will resonate with readers.

Great for fans of: Elaine Welteroth’s More Than Enough; Lizzie Skurnick’s Pretty Bitches.

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

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Between the Walls
Tuula Pere
Pere delivers an enchanting and topical tale of two towns contending over a shared harbor in this beautifully illustrated picture book for young readers. Friends become foes, and unhealthy competition mounts, as a dispute over an old dockyard escalates between once-friendly communities settled on opposite shores. With no side willing to repair the collapsing pier, the mayors go on to angrily end all relations and barricade their respective towns inside high stone walls. Only a small strip of land, a “no-man’s-land” where the decaying pier still stands, is left between the imposing barriers. A mysterious little wanderer, Leo, arrives at the coast one day and builds his cabin on the lonely strip after convincing the authorities. In creative and musical ways, he brings together people from opposing sides, and proposes the perfect solution for rebuilding the harbor.

Children from competing towns, along with Leo, lead the change in the tale and embrace kindness and friendships, rejecting the ill will that surrounds them. The picture book positions Leo as a moral compass for others, as his notions encourage compassion from characters and readers alike. Although Leo’s unannounced arrival is never explained, and the pacing is sometimes slowed by overlong paragraphs, Pere’s elaborate storytelling successfully makes a strong case for choosing to love over hate and portrays the strength in uniting for a cause.

The book’s flawed and magical world is gracefully upheld in the well-cultivated details of Alemanno’s amusing, lively illustrations. Pere’s message is strongly rooted in the idea of communities banding together to resolve a crisis and coexisting with renewed acceptance. Her whimsical representation of conflict educates young readers about sociopolitical conflicts in an age-appropriate way.

Takeaway: Young readers will immediately warm to this intricately illustrated, charming picture book about acceptance, kindness, and teamwork.

Great for fans of: Tricia Springstubb’s Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures, Michael Slack’s Bunny Built, Beth Ferry’s Swashby and the Sea.

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

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The Turning Point
Julia Ash
Ash (The Tether) concludes the ELI Chronicles with vampire Ruby Spencer facing old enemies and new threats as an organized animal uprising threatens the balance of power on multiple planets, including Earth. Ruby is kidnapped in order to exploit the vast power of her blood, setting the stage for abundant intrigue. Meanwhile, the wolf queen Filtiarn stands ready to fulfill the prophecy of the Turning Point by becoming King of the Animals, which will allow her to wage war against all those who have exploited and abused creatures in the past. Adding to the uncertainty, an unexpected twist with one of Ruby’s allies may provide a solution to all of their problems.

Ash clearly builds on the previous installments, weaving extant plot threads together and surging toward resolution. Readers new to the series will be at a distinct disadvantage; as the novel rarely takes the time to stop and recap for their benefit, so they’ll want to start at the beginning. There are admitted holes in Ash’s world building: Ruby, as the Tether, is supposedly the most powerful being in the universe, but her powers and limitations (and those of other empowered characters) feel both nebulous and plot-convenient, without in-depth explanations. And the magic system’s open-ended nature will leave followers with unanswered questions.

But this adventure immediately draws in readers with skilled prose, complex themes, and an epic story involving genetic manipulation, vampires, an animal civilization on an alien planet, and longstanding grudges. And all of Ash’s characters—human, vampire, and animal alike—feel fleshed-out and complex, gracefully moving the plot along and delivering a satisfying resolution to the trilogy. Ultimately, Ash’s ability to weave together multiple genres into a well-paced synthesis of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (with appealing dialogue and welcome moments of humor) makes this futuristic series a genuinely one-of-a-kind experience.

Takeaway: This unusual, genre-blurring adventure offers a well-crafted, fresh spin on vampire myths and intelligent animals.

Great for fans of: Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines, C.C. Hunter’s Eternal: Shadow Falls After Dark.

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

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