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Could It Be You?: Love in Dunes Bay Book 3
Lynn Crandall
Crandall continues her Love in Dunes Bay series with disgraced Chicago police detective, Dobson Ramirez, on a brand-new transfer to the Dunes Bay Police Department in hopes of a fresh start. While working on an FBI task force investigating the infamous Esposito crime organization, Dobson has a tense run-in with Jasper Steele, a swoon-worthy Dunes Bay EMT, when a potential witness for her case is shot and left for dead. Despite being annoyed by Dobson’s short temper and unpredictable reactions, Jasper finds himself compelled to help with the investigation, but Dobson vows to keep her distance—until a spontaneous fling between the two changes everything.

Dobson and Jasper’s chemistry is awkward at first, but ultimately a deep emotional connection forms as the story advances. Although the plot centers on their budding relationship, Crandall skillfully blends their personal lives into the high-stakes investigation, resulting in a natural progression of romance, sleuthing, and, ultimately, a dangerous but satisfying conclusion to the Esposito family wrongdoings. Crandall keeps a firm grasp on her characters, mirroring their internal conflicts—Dobson struggles to find the balance between taking care of her ailing mother and not failing at her demanding job, and Jasper’s professional success and good looks are countered by his self-doubt, especially when it comes to his ability to protect Dobson from the growing mob threats she’s facing.

Romance readers will find plenty to enjoy here, but Crandall elegantly balances the passion with enough crime novel drama to give the story an edge, and Dobson’s intense guilt at the very hint of any potential misstep in her career lends her a relatability that fans will appreciate. Jasper’s tender treatment of Dobson is endearing, even as her past life in Chicago circles back to haunt her throughout, and the will-they-won’t-they suspense keeps readers guessing until the final pages.

Takeaway: Contemporary romance fans will enjoy this pairing of crime drama and passion.

Great for fans of: Nora Roberts’s Night Tales Series; Sandra Brown’s Sting.

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

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Choosing Life, a memoir: One man's journey through alcoholism and depression to wellness and self-discovery
Blue Andrews
Andrews’s riveting debut lays bare his painful journey through depression, alcoholism, and attempted suicide, culminating in his inspiring path to recovery. He relates his early encounters with alcohol and the profound loss of a cherished friend in high school, alongside his mother’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death that leaves the family reeling—and forces Andrews to move in with a father he barely knows. Despite successfully finishing school and entering college, his experience with loss is just beginning: before long, he loses a close friend to cancer, followed by that friend’s mother a few years later.

More than just a life story, this powerful memoir—divided into two sections, first detailing Andrews’s decline, followed by his recovery—reveals the factors that often contribute to depression and alcoholism, highlighting the complexities involved and emphasizing there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery. Andrews reiterates that there were few “ah-ha” moments during his journey, characterizing it instead as a road full of minor setbacks and bad days, while he was “trying to function with the weight of a knight’s armor draped on me at all times.” He encourages readers to view recovery as a marathon, not a sprint, debunking the myths of quick fixes and easy answers in favor of commitment, hard work, and uncompromising honesty.

Readers will find plenty of inspiration here, as Andrews unflinchingly shares his darkest moments—including a suicide attempt that should come with a trigger warning. He interjects teaching points as well, such as offering the reframe “having alcoholism” versus being labeled an alcoholic, stating “It is something I have, not who or what I am.” Perhaps most uplifting is his rediscovery of the beauty in life’s simple moments, whether that’s celebrating unburnt toast or enjoying an easy meal with his kids, as he wisely advises “Gratitude is an excellent barometer for wellness.”

Takeaway: A riveting account of triumph over depression and alcoholism.

Great for fans of: Sarah Hepola's Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, Shaheen Bhatt's I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier.

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

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The Struggle of Women: Major Female Figures Throughout World History
PAUL BAWEJA
Baweja (A Philosophical Treatise of Reality) spotlights notable women throughout history in this absorbing read, exploring the “indispensable role of women in society, culture, and politics" through bite-sized vignettes that feature famous women in the fields of science, medicine, sports, and more. Delivering a general synopsis of women’s historical roles before delving into their individual contributions, Baweja emphasizes their need for recognition alongside their ability to inspire achievement in others—and candidly points out cultural double standards that often prevent women from attaining the same success as their male colleagues.

Baweja’s featured women are riveting, both personally and professionally, and readers will be caught up in their dynamic stories. He covers leaders such as Wilma Rudolph, the youngest competing team member of the 1956 United States Olympic Women’s Track and Field Team, who overcame debilitating childhood medical crises and racism in the segregated South to become a highly awarded international sports icon; Hannah Arendt—a German of Jewish descent classified by Baweja as “one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century”—who survived Nazi imprisonment and immigrated to the United States, writing on ethics and the nature of evil in established academic circles; and women’s suffragette Lucy Burns, whose public activism heavily influenced ratification of the 19th amendment.

Readers will spot many widely recognized names in Baweja’s writing, like Margaret Thatcher and Marie Curie, but he offers portraits of lesser-known standouts as well, including scientific genius Janet Taylor—widely accomplished in maritime navigation and inventor of the Mariner’s compass—and Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, whose research in the medical field led to breakthroughs in diagnosing medical conditions and unprecedented advancements in the treatment of Type II diabetes. Though heavily academic in places, Baweja’s work is a valuable resource on women’s history, and readers will be equally inspired and educated by each of his renderings.

Takeaway: A riveting account of notable women throughout history.

Great for fans of: Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe; Olivia Campbell’s Women in White Coats.

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

Temple of Valor: Astar's Blade Book 3
Joe Lyon
A vivid and deadly attack on a village, weird beasts and visions and portents, a mysterious pit in the woods, and a powerful healer disturbed to hear a name from the past—just 50 pages in, the fast-paced third entry in Lyon’s adult epic fantasy series should grab fans of the genre, hard, as it both celebrates and upends genre expectations, introduces compelling characters and mysteries, and quite simply just moves. Like its predecessor, Kilmer's Ghost, this volume is unusually inviting for an ongoing epic, as hero Astar and his demonic challenges, while connected to what’s come before, can be read as a standalone adventure in a rich world filled with backstory.

Lyon is keyed into the mythic, and for all the complex worldbuilding, a simple, powerful current of adventure surges the narrative along. Astar’s friend has been hauled into the depths by colossal Devourers, harbingers of the greater conflict to come: an assault on the Temple of Valor, a vital house of healing, led by the villain Zorn. With the aid of young historian Aberfell, Astar must take action. He arms himself with the golden blade Soothsayer, “the most dangerous weapon in the known world,” the soul-feeding last remnants of the goddess Ehlona. Wielding the blade means resisting its urge to slay, and Astar’s first words once he feels its power suggest this will be a battle: “I am the one true God in this world. The one all will fear!”

The tale might sound familiar in outline, but Lyon, a devotee of the genre, continually offers fresh takes, surprise twists, and innovations. Astar’s power to duplicate himself is put to clever use, the demon Grim reveals unexpected depth, and figures returning from earlier books, like Kilmer, have weight and majesty. The climax and denouement are suitably grand, but what lingers is the book’s crisp prose and playful spirit.

Takeaway: This fantasy epic blends inviting prose, rich worldbuilding, and inventive magic and action.

Great for fans of: Raymond E. Feist, Brent Weeks.

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

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Frisky Intentions: A grumpy-sunshine, steamy romcom. (The Frisky Bean Book 1)
Michelle Mars
Summer, co-owner of The Frisky Bean, a bakery with suggestively named selections, is living out her professional dream when her morning Goddess card warns her of a new beginning—and that beginning comes in the form of straight-laced Jason, agent to high strung Hollywood actors, who breezes into her café one day, sparking an instant attraction between the two. Though Jason is all business, assertive, and withholding at times, Summer’s adventurous spirit soon prompts him to open up, and before long the two are headed down a path of happy endings in this cute romantic comedy.

Mars’s cast is brimming with witty banter and personality, and she crafts well-rounded characters with rich development, tackling deeper issues like childhood traumas without overwhelming the plot. Readers don’t have to wait long before the heat blossoms between Summer and Jason, as the pair try to focus on their budding careers while balancing a new relationship at the same time. Though sparks fly in the beginning, reality eventually sets in, causing them to question whether they’re both ready for the inevitable work that goes into a long-term relationship, as Jason struggles to let Summer in to every area of his life and she feels disappointed that he’s holding back.

Mars dedicates plenty of space to secondary characters too, including Summer’s roommate, Jessica, and her lively business partner, Kevin—cast members who will be eagerly anticipated by readers in future installments of The Frisky Bean series. Mars’s attention to entertaining dialogue never disappoints—in describing Jason to her family, Summer references Thor, sketching him as “no tights and cape, just tall, blonde, and lots of muscles”—and there’s just the right amount of steam for readers who want spice with their romance. Between the likable characters and realistic ending, this fun study on meeting the right person at the right time is sure to please.

Takeaway: A witty romantic comedy with plenty of heat.

Great for fans of: Mimi Grace's Make A Scene , Tessa Bailey's It Happened One Summer.

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

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Many Are Invited
Dennis Cuesta
Steve Galanos, a service delivery manager at his phone company in the mid-1990s, is floored by the news that their IT systems may not transition all that smoothly into the year 2000. When he’s assigned as a liaison for the Year 2000 Conversion Team, he finds himself shoulder to shoulder with John Goertz, the only actual team member, and isn’t sure he can stomach working in such close quarters with him. The nature of their work means John holds more power than Steve would like, and Steve’s fairly certain John is only promotion hunting. Despite the odds, the two develop a close, albeit tumultuous, friendship, but when John’s fiancée Mary—and her roommate Lauren—arrive on the scene, everything changes.

From the start, Cuesta (Stuck in Manistique) is a suspenseful storyteller. Though the novel seemingly revolves around the Y2K problem, and John and Steve’s efforts to fix it before it’s too late, the characters’ interactions center on a fateful housewarming party, hosted by Mary, that’s scheduled to take place at the turn of the century—a party to which John, Steve, and Lauren, among others, are invited. But the tension between Steve and John escalates, with Lauren’s destructive impulses accelerating the pressure, and transforms the party into a devastating event.

Cuesta’s characters are richly drawn, with subtle edginess and uncertainty that colors their interactions and builds to an explosive night. Steve alternates between jealousy and admiration of John, and his barely hidden attraction to Mary, coupled with Mary’s suspicions of Lauren, thickens the plot. The Y2K technical lingo is complex, and the constantly evolving—and somewhat contradictory—interplay between the characters will require a suspension of belief at times, but overall, Cuesta deftly captures reader interest, and fans will be hooked on the highly troubled but deeply riveting lives of the main players.

Takeaway: A suspenseful story of tension, betrayal, and destruction.

Great for fans of: The Goodbye House by Lawrence Coates; The Exit Strategy by Lainey Cameron.

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

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Dentistry Xposed: : Protecting You, Your Smile, and Wallet
Dr. Peter Hofmann
“A dentist should be a perfectionist who is willing to focus on a patient’s unique needs” Hofmann writes in this passionate debut. Noting his over 40 years of professional experience, he outlines cost effective methods to protect teeth, emphasizing the direct link between our mouth and general wellness, and asserts that many common dental practices may do more harm than good. Hofmann’s claims are bold—often contending that money drives the dentistry field—but he balances those claims with heartfelt advice and an obvious respect for his profession.

Readers will find much to digest here, and Hofmann’s quirky style is a perfect fit for creative thinkers. He offers several tips (or “Truth-Bites”) for reader consumption, such as the benefits of drinking with a straw, why soft toothbrushes are the ultimate at-home dental accessory, and more—including what he considers to be the groundbreaking treatments of xylitol and silver diamine fluoride. In fact, Hofmann’s admiration for xylitol factors prominently throughout, as he proclaims its numerous benefits: it neutralizes cavity-forming bacteria, stimulates saliva production, and may help prevent colon cancer. In Hofmann’s own words, “Xylitol is the best answer to counter worsening health conditions of people around the world.”

Hofmann’s scope is expansive—he dives into the cost of startup dental offices, touches on how dentistry has evolved over the years, and even debunks common dental myths (despite what you’ve heard, losing adult teeth is not normal and root canals will not poison you). Some digressions may overwhelm, but they illustrate his passion for the field, and readers interested in alternative treatments will appreciate his unconventional advice, like avoiding those deep cleaning recommendations from your dentist and opting to keep metal fillings that are still in good condition. Supplemental information includes a glossary of medical terms and detailed illustrations of dental hygiene practices.

Takeaway: An unconventional dentistry guide with thought-provoking advice.

Great for fans of: Angie Stone’s Dying From Dirty Teeth; Mary Otto’s Teeth.

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

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Edison in the Hood
Nadia Uddin
In Uddin’s near future debut, PR rep Aisha Malik accepts a job offer with the Brain Reinvigoration Project in hopes that her new boss, Jay Edison, will be able to extract her deceased mother’s brain and unravel the secrets she hinted at before her death. But Aisha is tempted by Jay’s maverick project for deeper reasons: she and her smart but unsuccessful brother, Sam, have been increasingly at odds with each other, and Sam’s relationship with their mother has deteriorated, leading Aisha to wonder “if artificial intelligence had the potential to solve the world’s most challenging problems, why couldn’t it fix difficult family relationships?"

That theme of just how much AI can do runs throughout, as Uddin explores its wonders alongside the inequalities it creates. While Aisha turns to science for answers, Sam is attracted to the Modern Neo-Luddites—a group opposed to the blind march of technology—but still falls under Jay’s spell, arranging for him to meet some of his fellow Neo-Luddites in hopes of better understanding each other. Uddin’s rich world building skillfully portrays the novel’s dichotomy: technology has made life easier and more beautiful, but those who can’t access it are left stranded, and the gap between the haves and have-nots is stark.

Uddin’s choice to switch between Aisha and Sam’s perspectives throughout brings the characters to life as they struggle to understand whether the human side of AI is actually possible and how to navigate their tumultuous relationship: Aisha learns from a chatbot that it longs to dream as humans do at the same time she has an awakening that her brother’s ethnicity won’t allow “him the privilege to choose his identity.” Uddin delivers some twists that may shock readers while leaving the concept of identity appropriately vague in the end, a fitting conclusion to the story’s philosophical reflections.

Takeaway: This sci-fi debut explores the benefits, and the darker side, of AI.

Great for fans of: Louisa Hall’s Speak; Dennis E. Taylor’s We Are Legion (We Are Bob).

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

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The Pilgrim Soul in You: A Story of Love, Loss, and Redemption
Martin Mutka
This moving debut novel from playwright and author Mutka follows Will and Laura, incoming graduate students at Golden Gate University, as they build a promising future together. Will, who quickly falls for Laura after their first meeting, finds the belonging he’s always searched for in Laura’s “close, tight-knit, successful, upper-middle class family,” a welcome respite from his grief over losing both parents and his only brother. Laura is no stranger to loss herself—her father died when she was only six years old—and the couple immediately bonds over their shared experiences, building a strong foundation in this appealing romance.

As Will and Laura move in together to pursue higher education and career goals, they join forces to shepherd Laura’s brother, Rob, as he enters rehab for a drug addiction, and Laura supports Will’s securities jobs while prepping to pass the bar exam herself. But all is not as perfect as it seems, and when tragedy strikes the pair shortly before their wedding, readers will empathize with the couple’s stunning highs and painful lows. Mutka lays bare their emotions and exposes their heartache in raw, meaningful prose: “I learned you can gain deliverance from your suffering through your actions and that those actions affect your life path,” Will reflects when looking back on his painful personal journey.

An emotional rollercoaster from the beginning, Mutka’s romantic elements play more towards realism than fantasy, in a way foreign to the genre at times (Will notes that life's greatest fulfillment comes from "being together and loving each other”), and Mutka delivers a happy ending, but it comes at a great cost. Still, readers will relish the natural bond that develops between Will and Laura as their mutual affection spills effortlessly across the pages, a testament to their willingness to “endure the pain” that often accompanies tremendous love.

Takeaway: A story that captures the beauty and pain of intense love.

Great for fans of: John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars; Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You.

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

Click here for more about The Pilgrim Soul in You
Thorns of Chaos
Jeremiah Cain
Cain’s (Devoid of Grey) dark fantasy novel is a tender testimony to the power of love, sacrifice, and family. Carefree fisherman Finn is one of the Feah—a race of winged humanoids living in unison with nature and led by a chief druidess. At twenty-five, Finn’s seeing friends settling down into married life and can’t help but feel left behind, particularly when Kyran, a young man whose company he's frequently enjoyed, breaks the news of his own marriage plans. But fate has something bigger in store for Finn, in the guise of a powerful human army, the Dayigan, who pose a sinister threat to Finn and his kind.

When Finn finds himself wrongly accused of murder by a Dayigan soldier, he's forced to flee the only home he’s ever known, desperately seeking the Feah’s previous Chief Morgana, who he hopes can save his kind from the religiously fervent, xenophobic, and intolerant Dayigans. Finn, a flawed young man, doesn’t stop from blundering forward to do what’s right, no matter the cost to himself, and he’s joined by a small army of elegantly drawn secondary characters, including his brother, Cal, and standout Laisren, a childhood friend and son of Morgana who develops a gentle, and welcome, romance with Finn—a relationship that adds tenderness to the story’s otherwise vicious foundation.

Cain crafts a vivid world built around coming-of-age and man-vs-self tropes, a world rich with detail and myth-lore that traipses brightly through the darker themes of oppression and suffering. The Feah stand to lose everything, and Cain’s painstaking examination of the characters’ mental states gives readers a window into their anguish at the cost to protect their way of life. Depicting the brutal Dayigans as blatant, Christianity-derived acolytes may be off-putting to some readers, but that discomfort only serves to spark deeper reflection on the story’s nuances.

Takeaway: A dark fantasy embodying the power of love and sacrifice.

Great for fans of: Mercedes Lackey; Emily Lloyd-Jones’s The Drowned Woods.

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

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Climate Crisis Plan: A step-by-step guide on how to connect, communicate, influence, and compel action on climate change
Philip Kent-Hughes
With much of the country experiencing record-high temperatures, natural disasters, or other unusual weather events, talking about how to mitigate climate change seems not only timely but essential. In this hands-on, encouraging book, Kent-Hughes (Career Crisis Plan) describes how individuals and organizations can take action to make meaningful progress toward solving the climate crisis. He starts by outlining the severity of the problem, but he doesn’t dwell on doom— instead he offers positive examples showing that when people take action, real change can occur. “Positive change never comes from submission, resignation, or despair. By acting now, we can be less worried about the future and know that we are playing our part in making the world a better place.”

When it comes to solutions, Kent-Hughes offers suggestions that are achievable for most people, which is important in an overtaxing world where everyone is already overwhelmed. Mobilizing a team, for instance, starts simply by having open and honest conversations with family, friends, and neighbors about climate change and reducing emissions. The action items are also broken down into digestible categories—food, production and consumption, energy, and transportation—allowing people to consider their role in the problem and create specific goals. To streamline this process even more, Kent-Hughes provides easy-to-understand graphs, charts, and to-do lists and encourages evaluation of objectives based on the SMART criteria.

For those interested in diving deeper into climate change causes and solutions, Kent-Hughes offers several appendices with more information, as well as the lengthy list of sources he consulted for this book. Sections detailing what he personally has done to change his lifestyle demonstrate that making a difference doesn’t require perfection or grand gestures. It simply necessitates a sustained commitment to doing better and small changes that help make a huge problem seem more manageable.

Takeaway: An encouraging action plan for individuals and organizations in the face of the climate crisis.

Great for fans of: Charles F. Sabel and David G. Victor’s Fixing the Climate, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac’s The Future We Choose.

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

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Related By Murder
Robin Castle
An indie author, Elise, and her mystery book club get roped into investigating the murder of her swaggering news-anchor brother, Chester, in this spry kickoff to Castle’s Detective Pear Mysteries. Elise drives a chugging old car, lives behind a succession of deadbolts, has few friends outside of her reading group, and muses that, like her editor, she works with words because she’s “short on personality.” Fortunately, Castle’s words have plenty, and once Chester—“Mr. Fake Teeth And Spray Tan”—is killed, the story zips along on crack comic dialogue, Elise’s uncertain-at-first team-up with Perla “Pear” Marquez, and the tantalizing possibility that the crime has something to do with the club’s recent contest: each author had one month to write a mystery for the others.

Despite the playful premise, and an emphasis on writers and publishing, Related By Murder never makes actual murder seem light or funny, and Castle proves adept at crafting convincing characters who face loss and disappointment. She also deftly handles the complexity of new and intensifying friendships among her diverse cast, plus the competitive spirits of a group of writer friends—especially once Chester dies, Elise is out-of-the-blue contacted by a top-tier agent, and her brother’s surprising connections to some in the group begin to get exposed. The plotting is smart, as is Castle’s characterization of writers: Elise yearns for a publishing deal, but of course when the life-changing break finally comes, she’s suspicious. Readers, too, will wonder: is everything somehow connected?

Helping sort all that out is Pear, a mysterious figure in her own right. She’s blunt, and nobody’s sure how she came to join their club, but despite that, she lifts Elise’s spirits with horchata and tamales—and soon gets her out of sticky situations—in spite of Elise’s clear distaste for her. The book’s chief pleasure is getting to know this striking creation alongside Elise.

Takeaway: Murder rocks a book club in this polished, character-rich series starter.

Great for fans of: Betsy Reavley’s Murder at the Book Club, Catherine Moloney.

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

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The Bush Clinic: Book I of The Tribal Wars
Stella Atrium
Atrium (Seven Beyond) offers another thoughtful, accomplished science-fiction story in the spirit of the genre’s great humanists, this time centered on a doctor who runs an adobe-and-thatch clinic in a remote savannah on the divine planet Dolvia, tending the local tribes and refugees. Eventually, Dr. Greensboro’s choice to stand up to a local authority brandishing a laser pistol at girls results in her being summoned before a magistrate—just one of many incidents feeding her political awakening. Among the others: an abusive doctor, the mistreatment of women in Dolvia’s tribes; a colonizing company run amok; and her bond with Brianna, a mixed-race orphan from a society that won’t allow such a woman to refuse a man’s attentions.

Two statements from the novel’s succession of narrators suggest the protagonists’ gripping arcs, as these medical pros move from simply reacting to daring to achieve more sweeping change: “Out here one must select one’s danger,” Dr. Greensboro declares in an early chapter, justifying her decision to arm a wounded boy with a karkar. Much later, facing health crises and systemic abuses, another doctor is bolder still: “Whatever is needed,” Dr. Beecham declares. Dr. Greensboro’s development is affecting and multi-faceted, as she forms bonds with lizard-like gualareps (one of many delightful creations) and fields a marriage proposal.

Atrium pens the hard choices, tense confrontations, and moments of suspense that keep this epic series opener’s pages turning. But what’s most striking is her rich, convincing worldbuilding, as she reveals—with a storyteller’s concision but an anthropologist’s depth—a host of cultures, species, locales, rituals, and beliefs. Feasts and ceremonies are as thrilling as the accounts of deprivation and colonial cruelty are harrowing. A common thread throughout is the tendency of men with power to rob women of their autonomy, giving an urgent edge to Dr. Greensboro’s discovery of her own cause and power.

Takeaway: This knockout series starter finds a rural clinic doctor discovering her cause.

Great for fans of: Ursula K. Le Guin; The Future Is Female: More Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women.

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

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FAMILY MATTERS: dreams I couldn't share - and how a dysfunctional family became America's darling, The Addams Family
Lance Lee
Lance Lee (Second Chances), son to David Levy, records his family’s turbulent history amid their well-known entertainment ventures, including his father’s production of fan favorites Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, and The Addams Family. Lee candidly shares his family dynamics, starting with his Jewish father’s challenges with antisemitism in the advertising field, to his mother, famous model Lucille Wilds, and their multiple marriages to each other—alongside their tumultuous relationship based on secrecy and bursting with friction. Lee unearths heartbreaking truths in this deeply personal journey, as he explores the impact of his upbringing on his own life as a husband and father.

Readers will be absorbed by the memoir’s dramatic twists and turns as Lee weaves his family’s history from a variety of resources. He draws from his mother’s diary entries, anecdotes from his father’s writing, and publications like 1955’s Housekeeping Monthly to illustrate the popular American worldview at the time—one in which his parents “dismissed or denounced the imperfections around them.” This fantasy and myth-driven childhood profoundly impacted Lee, who writes “under what now appears absurd were real lives, real distortions, real guilt over any nonconformity or individualism.” Family Matters is, in many ways, Lee’s philosophical analysis comparing the family value model of his youth to the starkly different truth of his memories.

That contention between the Levy family’s glamorous dynasty and their behind-closed-doors reality is expertly depicted, and Lee’s musings will prompt readers to reflect on their own history. He begins with a detailed family tree, and ends with a collection of his poetry, offering in between a rich account of his family’s metamorphoses, including the eventual breakdown of his parents’ marriage and the subsequent fallout between immediate and extended relatives: “a wave generations in the making had finally broken and run up the shore and begun to sink into the sand.”

Takeaway: A profound examination of family and the power of love.

Great for fans of: Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club; Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s Small Fry.

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

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The Testament of Thirteen
Sara M Schaller
Schaller’s epic adventure of heaven, hell, and the mortals trapped between comes to an appropriately realms-shaking conclusion in this final volume of the Empyrean Trilogy, in which a couple of human friends, cut off from the angels that have helped them so far, must find a way to stop Lilith, the mother of blood magic, from gathering the keys she needs to bring about the Union of the Spheres, a ritual granting the power “to dominate any land.” Jordan, Sophia, and Dane have faced dire odds before, but this time one’s literally in Hell, while the others, now winged and imbued with unfathomable power, are held captive by forces committed to controlling them.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, and Schaller again proves adept at generating page-turning tension from her blend of the divine, the infernal, and the human. Winged and wielding hellfire, her heroes must dig up grit and ingenuity first to escape and then to prevail. Even Satan himself, one of many first-person point-of-view characters, is fully rounded and engaging as he faces a fascinating challenge: how to escape the wastelands of Purgatory, with or without the help of angels eager to kill him. Meanwhile, Lilith proves an arresting villain, her will and strength terrifying. Fantasies with a theological bent demand on-the-fly explanations of how their worlds work, and Schaller is deft at ensuring the sphere-prisons, rules for flying, and everything else make sense—and, crucially, connect to characters. (A glossary helps.)

For all the apocalyptic action and satisfying revelations of parentage and ancient secrets, the story’s heart is in its characters, their choices, and their connections. As in many of the strongest ongoing series, moments of reunion and parting prove as exciting as scenes of climactic combat. Especially strong here are the ones following the climax; the tears shed as angels and humans part feel earned.

Takeaway: This superior heaven-and-hell fantasy series comes to a satisfying (and epic) conclusion.

Great for fans of: Jackie Morse Kessler’s Hunger, Mary Ting’s From Gods.

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

Click here for more about The Testament of Thirteen
Dissection: A Medical & Political Thriller
Dr. Cristina LePort
When mysterious tan cards start appearing in the mail, causing their recipients to suffer massive heart attacks and strokes, doctors and FBI agents struggle to find the perpetrator in this medical and political thriller. All leads initially point to Silvana Moretti, a biophysicist with a cutting-edge invention that seems to be causing the deaths, and when her grudge against one of the victims comes to light, Moretti is pulled into the investigation, along with her former boyfriend, cardiologist Steven Leeds, who is convinced something’s not right. Before long, he learns that Moretti’s daughter has been kidnapped, and the situation explodes when a government official is threatened and terrorists become involved.

LePort, a cardiologist, draws on her own experience to bring the medical crises in this debut to life, crafting a frightening plot while skillfully describing surgical processes alongside the political issues that all too often impact medical care. Less successful are the Capitol Hill machinations, which deflect the book’s focus some as FBI agent Jack Mulville and private investigator Kirk Miner race to find answers and prevent a national disaster.

Although the emphasis is on action, LePort expertly crafts the key characters: Leeds’s love affair with Moretti interferes with his need to know the truth about the bioterror attacks, and at the other end of the spectrum is a terrorist, twisted by a horrific interpretation of Islam while driven by desperate secular needs. Caught in between is Agent Mulville, described by Leeds as “a real thug,” who is forced to expand his worldview and rethink his reliance on procedure when bureaucracy starts to get in the way of saving lives. LePort makes it clear that no technology is as frightening as the darkest parts of the human mind, and readers will be satisfied with the characters’ well-deserved fates as they travel to the nail-biting finish.

Takeaway: A team of investigators and doctors race to stop bioterror disaster.

Great for fans of: Michael Palmer’s Side Effects; Jenifer Ruff’s Only One Cure.

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

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