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The One and Only You!: How to Be the Best, Truest, You-est You
Nicole Jon Sievers, MSW, LCSW
Sievers (co-author of It’s Your Mind: Own it! A Manual for Every Teen) offers a fresh take on self-development in this entertaining but weighty guide. Drawing on her experience as a licensed clinical social worker, she tackles crucial issues impacting younger readers, and offers them creative ways to cope, emphasizing above all else that everyone is "a masterpiece in progress.” With an emphasis on staying curious and viewing mistakes as opportunities, Sievers teaches clever problem-solving skills juxtaposed with rigorous explanations of the science behind them, all while presenting each concept in a playful, upbeat manner that will resonate with tween and teen readers.

The power of positive thinking ripples throughout Sievers’s writing, and adult caregivers will applaud her insistence on celebrating diversity: she addresses why different perspectives are not only necessary but helpful, stresses the importance of viewing diversity as a strength, and is attentive to the unique needs of her readers—including touching on neurodiversity, which is often overlooked in similar literature. Likewise, bold black and white illustrations by Darcy Cline give the subject matter a cheerful edge (while incorporating welcome diversity) even for the most serious of topics. And readers should expect substance along with the fun, as Sievers explores a host of essentials, from detailing brain processes to breaking down Howard Gardner’s theory on multiple intelligences.

Sievers’s willingness to employ a variety of resources is what sets this guide apart from classic self-help writing for younger readers, and her inclusion of group exercises at the end, offering adults enrichment activities to go along with each chapter, is invaluable. Every concept is accompanied by creative and kid-friendly worksheets that will energize readers and leave them eager to try out Sievers’s teachings, whether by designing their own comic strip on working together or rewriting lyrics to their favorite songs as an anxiety buster. Readers of any age will find this worthwhile.

Takeaway: A comprehensive and entertaining self-development guide for middle-grade readers.

Great for fans of: Imogen Harrison’s The Worry Workbook, Andy Cope, Gavin Oattes, and Will Hussey’s Diary of a Brilliant Kid.

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

Click here for more about The One and Only You!
Sell More with a Right-Brain Marketing Strategy: Learn How a Simple Change to Your Product Name and Sales Pitch Can Multiply Your Income
James Bond
A strategy-packed business marketing guide, Sell More with a Right-Brain Marketing Strategy is a quick-paced learning tool designed to show business owners, marketing professionals, attorneys, or others how to boost engagement and create a marketing kit that will grab their audience's attention. Presenting many helpful examples of successful marketing and branding, plus guidance on how to shape strategies tailored to individual needs, Bond has crafted a resource offering inspiration and practical advice for anyone looking to target their intended audience—or to fix what’s not connecting with that audience in an existing campaign.

Writing in inviting, conversational prose and insider’s lingo, and drawing on his years in the persuasion business and his work on big-ticket campaigns, Bond showcases his credentials as he presents his acronym-based “Brain Glue” method (with fourteen strategies to “to influence, persuade, and sell just about anyone, anywhere, anytime”) and his “Steam Attractors” toolkit, a suite of specific pointers for selling an idea, cornering tone, simplifying the complex, and “connecting your product or idea to something your prospect already knows and values.” Bond makes the case that these techniques have been tried, tested, and successful. Relying heavily on well known successful slogans and catch phrases that readers will remember, even from years ago, Bond showcases how making something "stick" in a potential buyer’s memory greatly increases the likelihood of creating an actual buyer.

Each chapter builds upon the last, pairing a crash course in Bond's methods with examples of their sources and potency. Consideration of famous lines such as "If the glove don't fit, you must acquit" or examinations of the brilliant marketing of brands such as Head and Shoulders offer examples of powerful strategies in practice while illustrating Brain Glue’s techniques as well as the persuasive power of familiarity. This will prove valuable to entrepreneurs, social media managers, or anyone who needs to build a better connection with a targeted audience.

Takeaway: A polished, practical marketing guide offering strategies and tips for targeting any audience.

Great for fans of: Seth Godin, Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology.

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

Once Upon A Predator (Dark Amusements #1): A Psychological Thriller
Alex Loch
The first in a promising new thriller trilogy, Loch’s captivating debut follows Samantha “Sam” Turner, a woman determined to capture the knife-wielding killer plaguing her hometown of Murphy, jokingly known as “The Best Little Hellhole Anywhere.” After two near fatal encounters with the murderer, including one that turns on Sam’s inspired handling of a fork, the resourceful hero teams up with fellow survivor Tim and her trusty golden retriever Buddy to bring the murderer to justice before he claims any more lives.

Loch tells the story with polish, power, and welcome senses of tension and momentum, though it’s the characters that most strongly set it apart. The daughter of an ex-police chief, Sam is a fighter who has faced more than her fair share of trauma, especially as friends, family, and loved ones’ lives are upended or even destroyed by the killer, known as “Charlie,” whose reign of terror is as psychological as it is violent.Thanks to her own troubled past, plus the fact that she happens to be around wherever Charlie strikes, many–including the new police chief– suspect that Sam must have some involvement with the murders.

Though a likable heroine, the ever-resilient Sam is gripped by a savior complex that goads her into bold, even reckless behavior as she pursues Charlie and disregards the toll this takes on her physical and mental health, That makes for exciting scenes–Sam’s as wild a wildcard as Charlie, another sharply delineated character. The killer’s creepy charisma makes him fascinating, sometimes even stirring reader empathy despite his heinous and gory crimes. A suggestion of the supernatural complicates the story, with Charlie appearing to know everything about his victims’ personal lives and Sam experiencing what appear to be prophetic dreams. All of these elements spin a riveting new thriller, which will make readers excited for the next two installments of the trilogy as well.

Takeaway: This gripping thriller pits a resilient small-town woman against a serial killer.

Great for fans of: Jennifer Hillier’s Jar of Hearts, Stacy Willingham’s A Flicker in the Dark.

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

Manifest Destiny: An Unholy Alliance
Jaiden Baynes
“Blood and guts gorily sprayed everywhere,” Baynes writes in the early pages of this darkly comic fable of power and powers, royalty and space empires, and a pair of misfit strivers, endowed with great abilities, who prove all too happy to spray blood and guts about as they seize their place in the universe. Antiheroes Norne and Chaos, a princess of the Arcosians and a nine-foot-tall telepathic man-child, meet just before Norne is slated to meet her betrothed, a prince of Tartarus who expects instead to marry her “hottie” sister. But her new friend Chaos lives up to his name, and soon this surprising duo are claiming the kingdom for themselves, facing all the complications—and bloodshed—a coup involves, the adventure powered along by their crisp, playful comic dialogue.

Structured as an epic step-by-step guide to claim and expand an empire, Manifest Destiny blends fantasy, science-fiction, satire, and cheerful violence while still offering rich worldbuilding and an intriguing magic system—and even risking a slow start to the novel with several explanatory prefaces. The satire targets assumptions about who deserves power, both the social and magical kinds, as Norne and Chaos draw on their innate (even “insane and completely unfair”) magical abilities to steamroll their opponents—and occasionally face off against each other. Baynes invites readers to wrestle with the question of whether they support the duo’s efforts even as the story encourages us to cheer for their slowly developing bond.

Of course, the stagnant empires they challenge aren’t sympathetic, either, and with descriptions of rulers who associate their “fair skin” with a “Master Race” Baynes parodies the worst thematic underpinnings of classic fantasy. Scenes run long and chatty, and the prose could benefit from tightening, but fantasy readers interested in the hard work of minion acquisition, keeping the military in line, and the question of whether power games can help the poor and oppressed will find much dark fun here.

Takeaway: A cheerfully bloody comic fantasy concerned with questions of power and powers.

Great for fans of: Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, Piers Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant series.

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

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The Nimmy Nimmy Dance
Tom Geier
Geier’s debut follows Penny Stevens and Henry Taylor, childhood best friends, through the ups and downs of life, as they endure a long separation only to rediscover their love for each other. Penny, content with her job as a corporate consultant in Germany, has plans to attend her girlhood friend, and Henry’s twin sister, Kate’s, wedding—but after career obligations interfere, she’s forced to miss it. While she’s stuck in Germany managing work crises, Henry, professionally successful as a lab research director, seems to have forgotten Penny, until a near fatal accident brings them together again.

Geier has crafted a warm and pleasant novel that moves at a relaxed pace, with little major conflict or tension. The characters are generally likable, mostly doing the right thing regardless of their circumstances. Even Hyatt Emerson, marked by an ambitious nature and desire for power, ends up not being the villain readers may initially suspect. Penny is a hardworking and friendly protagonist, who’s open to Henry’s plans of their future together, even when that may mean putting her career on the back burner, and she manages to stay good friends with her boss, Clara, despite the initial roadblocks her job throws in their path. Likewise is Henry’s response to life: he takes his accident in stride, gets along well with his colleagues, and nurtures a deep and meaningful relationship with his sister Kate. The only enduring tension in the novel is whether Penny and Henry will end up together.

This gentle story is told in polished, inviting prose. Readers who prefer feel-good love stories steeped in innocence will enjoy this idyllic romance, where even the dark cloud that is Henry’s accident and subsequent hospitalization quickly clears the way for sunny skies. In comparison to the blissful world Geier has created, readers may find reality dull and dreary.

Takeaway: This feel-good romance and its big-hearted characters offer a relaxing summer read.

Great for fans of: R. J. Lewis’s Carter, Kasie West’s On the Fence.

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

Click here for more about The Nimmy Nimmy Dance
The Ultimate Guide to Successful Job Interviewing
M. L. Miller
Miller (Guide to Successful Salary Negotiation) draws on his professional experience as a recruiting agent in this straightforward, accessible guide. Emphasizing the crucial need for prospective employees to prepare well before an interview, he burrows into the job interview process to deliver a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what employers are truly looking for—and how candidates can do their best to fit that “ideal profile.” The prep work, according to Miller, should involve tasks such as practicing how to respond to possible questions before ever setting foot in an interview, researching potential companies to learn their culture, and other logical steps that will help readers achieve the job of their dreams.

Miller’s focus on preparation drives the material he offers, and readers with limited experience applying for jobs will prize the down-to-earth, sensible advice. Assuming that applicants are applying for positions that somewhat match their credentials and experience, Miller concentrates on breaking down the interview process in an ordered, methodical way: what to expect at every level, different interview structures, and how to best respond to typical interview questions. He also shares key dos and don’ts for candidates, cautioning against the cardinal sin of airing out dirty laundry from past jobs, stressing the need to exhibit positive body language, and imparting how to follow up interview answers with insightful questions for prospective employers in order to foster fruitful back-and-forth communication.

Despite this guide’s main focus on basic interview skills, there are some intriguing nuggets included, most notably Miller’s “STAR technique”—a method of practicing responses to anticipated behavioral interview questions (queries that spotlight candidates’ past handling of work situations) that recommends applicants rehearse past situations, tasks, actions, and results (STAR) before an interview, in an effort to come primed and eager to share. Those on the hunt for the perfect job will find this a good starting point.

Takeaway: A simple but insightful guide to nailing your next job interview.

Great for fans of: Kathleen Gerson and Sarah Damaske’s The Science and Art of Interviewing, Annette Lareau’s Listening to People.

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

The Plot to Save America - A Novel
Avraham Azrieli
Azrieli (The Masada Complex) wraps a political worst-case scenario inside a suspenseful procedural mystery thriller that follows an unnamed investigator, sent by the government to quickly assess the case of Former Chief Inspector Stuart Tenison, a hero and government official who has been branded a traitor and sentenced to death. Tenison’s case takes place in a world where the January 6th insurrection succeeded and was blamed on Antifa and Black Lives Matter, with Donald Trump declaring martial law and suspending the Constitution to impose ever-more draconian decrees in the service of white supremacy.

The investigator is hunting down the facts, which leads him to the curious matter of a government official named Kevin Pendleton, who seemingly died by suicide, as well as the whereabouts of a document Pendleton wrote called "The Plot To Save America." The investigator follows a series of clues that Tenison leaves him to uncover a conspiracy, each of them connected to a horrifying vision of America where being a feminist merits a domestic terrorism charge, immigrants are executed en masse, and all Black people are scheduled to be deported to Africa. Despite the political focus, Azrieli doesn't skimp on the suspense or action, including a brutal fight with a poison-ring-wielding agent and a showdown on a plane.

The nightmarish scenario Azrieli creates is extreme, though this dystopia’s roots in an actual effort to thwart the peaceful transfer of power make it all the more disturbing. Although the happy ending feels tacked-on, and less realistically developed than the rest of the novel's events, readers of political thrillers who aren’t onboard with Trumpism—or this exaggerated forecast of what it could have become—will likely find relief in the tidy conclusion in a story so chock full of terrifying events. This portrayal of an America with a totalitarian at the helm is at its most effective when describing how, given the right set of circumstances, otherwise reasonable people do horrible things.

Takeaway: A searing procedural thriller imagining Trump held onto power after January 6.

Great for fans of: Leni Zumas’s Red Clocks, Hillary Jordan’s When She Woke.

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

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Morbid Thoughts & The Domino Effect: A Memoir. Passing thoughts during cancer.
Perry Muse
Muse’s lively, life-seizing memoir builds, in its first half, to the author, a businessman and father, asking the hardest of questions: “And so, Doc, with all of your years of experience, what do you feel are my chances of making it ten more years?” The answer is devastating: 35%. Muse had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the doctors suspected that, despite treatment, it could spread into his bones. So Muse and his family embark on a hair-raising odyssey of surgeries, radiation, and trying to live as much as possible. He writes with welcome frankness about pain and fear, about facing “the dark shadow” that whispers the “morbid thoughts” of the title, about the family meeting where he and his wife, Nila, broke the news to their kids, about being moved to tears by Tom Petty on the radio.

There’s even some laughs: after an insurance settlement affords an opportunity for home improvement, Muse writes, “I looked at Nila and said, ‘Well, Nila, at least cancer bought us a fence.’” The memoir’s narrative is an exhaustive account of treatments and surgeries and periods of painful recovery, with Muse striving to strengthen “Mr. Skeleton” for the bone cancer that seems inevitable, and to get the most out of his days. He skydives, go-karts, sips Royal Crown; he exhibits tenderness describing his and Nila’s mixed family and a storyteller’s relish recounting the many crashes and injuries he’s sustained over the years, incidents that lead to excruciating complications after his diagnosis.

More a detailed record of an ongoing health crisis—and the author’s zeal to live and live well—than a traditional narrative memoir, Morbid Thoughts & The Domino Effect documents Muse’s state of mind and body, with photos of the family and pets he loves and also the wear and tear on his body. Readers touched by a prostate cancer diagnosis will find invaluable information, and anyone navigating health crises will find inspiration.

Takeaway: A detailed, tender account of facing a tough cancer diagnosis and seizing life.

Great for fans of: Robert K. Brown’s Hundred Percent Chance, Sheila M. Burke’s Bullsh*t to Butterflies.

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

Click here for more about Morbid Thoughts & The Domino Effect
Introducing Sai the Peacock: The Unique Beak
Estani Frizzell
Feeling judged by taunts and insults from the other peacocks, Sai Peacock decides that his beak is too big and his singing voice is not good enough to share with the world. But then he meets Cricket, an unlikely friend who loves his unique sound and wants a front-row seat to watch Sai perform. With Cricket’s confidence, Sai is free to follow his dream, and the two embark on a worldwide journey of performances—billed with the message “beakonfident” as an homage to Sai’s newfound courage. Brimming with heart, The Unique Beak will uplift young readers and show how even one friend can make a difference.

Sophia Frizzell’s textured and layered illustrations, boasting a striking indigo and emerald color palette, render a lush and regal world that especially suits Sai once he ascends to international fame. Though the distinctive illustration style lends itself well to animal stars in the story, the one human figure portrayed when Sai visits London comes across as two-dimensional by comparison, creating the intriguing impression that he is out of place in Sai’s world. Author Frizzell’s clever rhyming text (the book’s impressive first rhyme: ginormous and warned us) pairs nicely with Sai’s musical nature, though readers only get one line that he actually sings: “There’s no day like today!”

Sai’s path to self-confidence (and eventual fame) feels honest, in the sense that it doesn’t happen overnight, and even after he reaches stardom his best friend Cricket stays by his side and is credited with Sai’s successes—or at least plays a major role in them. Most importantly, Cricket treasures those qualities that set Sai apart, and adult readers will value the lesson of friendship over celebrity status, while younger readers-particularly those who are shy-will delight in Sai’s uniqueness and eventual victory over self-doubt.

Takeaway: A peacock and cricket show the power of friendship in this tribute to self-confidence.

Great for fans of: Giles Andreae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance, David Cunliffe’s Whoever Heard of a Flying Bird?.

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

Ode to Murder: A Larkin Day Mystery
Nicole Dieker
Dieker (Frugal and the Beast) offers a smart, snarky series kickoff, in which thirty-five-year-old, unemployed, would-be theater director Larkin Day uses her dramatic chops and thespian savviness to corner a killer. Broke and languishing on her parents’ sofa in Iowa, Day joins a community choir rehearsing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” at the insistence of her mother. Day grumpily endures the tedium until she discovers a body—that of Harrison Tucker, the choir’s accompanist, a notorious, flask-toting Lothario. After learning that he may have drugged a young soprano, Day slyly interviews exes and choristers. A confession from an unlikely source doesn’t convince her but leads to a risky hunt for the real murderer.

Each of Dieker’s characters sparkle, such as the soprano who spews inspirational phrases and the cycling-enthusiast financial writer who drinks “poop tea.” Along with Day’s mother, they model satisfying career choices for a confused hero. At first sloppy in her despondency, Day redeems herself with tangible affection for family, a dawning awareness of the value of friendship, and a renewed appreciation for the power of choral performances. Understated romance seasons the subplots, and Larkin’s inner thoughts shine with humor, especially when pertaining to the Midwest. Whether silly—an interpretation of the lyrics “Freude, schöner Götterfunken” as “Freud should get funky”—or snide, Dieker’s shrewd sense of comedy stirs continual laughter.

Day’s unique sleuth skills include classic techniques from an actor’s repertoire—improv’s “yes, and” ethos, body language signaling, and more—the very tools that she wishes she could use to make a living. The motif of theater applied to reality blends with the detective narrative and solidifies into a surprisingly profound finale. Readers will cheer as Day doesn’t just crack the case but finds new goals. This sardonic sleuth delights as she muses about career paths, Iowa pride, and choral masterpieces.

Takeaway: Cozy mystery readers looking for wit in a lively theater milieu will adore Larkin Day.

Great for fans of: Bobbie Raymond’s Dying to Audition, Joelle Charbonneau’s A Chorus Lineup.

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

Click here for more about Ode to Murder: A Larkin Day Mystery
Tommy and the Order of Cosmic Champions
Anthony J. Rapino & Anthony D. Grate
In this polished story of growing up 1980s-style with a touch of the fantastic, Tommy Grant sits at the precipice of his final summer vacation before entering middle school. He dreams of adventures with his best friend Evan—both mega fans of the Order of Cosmic Champions (OoCC) toy line and cartoon series—but nothing goes as Tommy hopes. First, his friendship with Evan suddenly shifts, leaving Tommy reeling. When his parents’ fights escalate, Tommy’s childhood hits a turning point of no return. His only ray of hope: an OoCC character drawing contest. If he wins the contest, maybe everything else will get a little brighter. What follows is a stellar, surprising, and heartfelt coming of age fantasy filled with battles with inner demons, relatable heart clenching obstacles, and winning moments of wit and comedy.

Rapino and Grate stir the reader’s emotions from start to finish, taking care to navigate themes of bullying and family dissonance with delicacy. Tommy is a loveable, empathetic young man caught between the whimsical world of childhood and the budding challenges of adolescence. He faces bullies and disintegrating friendships, low self-esteem, and his parents’ distant behavior as they struggle to keep their marriage together. The fantasy elements and introduction of an unexpected ally create a fanciful alternative reality for Tommy to fight his demons both external and internal as he takes on a quest filled with adventure and moments of bravery that shape the person he’s going to be.

This exciting fantasy is filled with fun 8-bit era pop culture references, spot-on comic dialogue perfect for kids, and plenty of thought-provoking morals that will engage readers of all ages. Tommy, his parents, and his friends are well developed characters with layers of depth. This endearing and heart-tugging adventure will capture readers’ attention and stick with them long after the final page.

Takeaway: This heartfelt, ‘80s set YA adventure blends the fantastic with real feeling.

Great for fans of: B.B. Alston’s Amari and the Night Brothers, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, Esther Ehrlich’s Nest.

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

Click here for more about Tommy and the Order of Cosmic Champions
The Book of Demons
Kevin Moore
Ghost-touched teen Jack Kelly returns in this polished urban fantasy/horror sequel to Moore’s The Book of Souls. Having recently awoken from a coma, Jack, a young man with the ability to see and hear ghosts, is recovering the best he can while supporting his older pal, Peter Cairo, who’s also recuperating from a possession. Meanwhile, an aged art collector, Mr. Philips, has come around in search of a painting Peter possesses, though his interest is anything but simple collection. Jack must protect Peter and himself while searching for the truth on who, or what, Mr. Philips is–and the haunting secrets and powers of the painting itself.

At times an intriguing mystery, at others a chilling thriller, The Book of Demons offers a sensational stroll through the hustle and bustle of an inventively paranormal version of 80s New York City. The diverse cast of characters allows Jack to learn more about the world as well as his own unique psychic abilities, as the witty teen and some surprising allies (including the spirit of a nun once accused of witchcraft) moves through this unsettling Big Apple–and the borders between life and death–with a youthful swagger. His face off against a dark magic user with a penchant for shapeshifting evokes imagery of knights and wizards battling forces of dark evil determined to corrupt and consume mankind.

Jack’s development throughout is an adventurous, if spooky, coming of age story that will thrill and at times scare readers of classic urban fantasy and YA series, especially as Jack must face off against a powerful, mysterious foe who seeks to destroy him. Jack’s story stands out, though, for its well-realized real-world setting, and the suspense Kelly mines from the fact that authorities will regard Jack’s experiences as a delusion. Not only must he discover the true extent of his powers and deal with a villain much stronger than him, but he must hide the truth from those around him.

Takeaway: A teen boy and the dead face dark magic in 1980s New York.

Great for fans of: Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, Richard Kadrey.

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

Click here for more about The Book of Demons
Trine Revelation, The Kinderra Saga: Book 3
C.K. Donnelly
High stakes and agonizing choices drive this polished climactic entry in Donnelly’s Kinderra Saga as hero Mirana—revealed in earlier books as a multifaceted “Trine” capable of channeling the three aspects of magic, including visions of apocalyptic futures—must decide whether to continue to seek the deadly power of Jasal’s Keep which might allow her to save Kinderra. Or it might not, as the Aspect of Sight suggests that wielding that power to defeat the Dark Trine might not just kill her—it could engulf her world in an “otherworldly pyre of radiance.” Complicating matters is a key betrayal from Book Two, as a trusted mentor insists his own seizing of power as the only way to unite the land, creating an army of thousands of captured, broken “killing machines” out of Mirana’s Fal’kin people.

A desperate quest, a shattering betrayal, a terrifying sacrifice, a rush to prove prophetic portents wrong—again, Donnelly reveals a love and a talent for the essential elements of epic fantasy, spinning a story that hits the marks of the genre with feeling and inventive vigor, while often finding fresh angles on the material. Mirana remains a rousing hero, taking bold action even when her choices are limited, and exhibiting welcome tenderness to her mount, to her romantic partner, and to her world and people, all of which are vividly rendered—and all eventually touched by her light of hope.

As with most epic fantasies, new readers are advised to start with the first book in the series, as Trine Revelation, while swiftly paced for the genre, still is dense with enough proper nouns and references to earlier plot points to leave The Unaspected scrambling to keep up. Fans of fantasy with strong female leads, deep worldbuilding, and a lot of heart will relish the journey to a final showdown that’s as tense as it is satisfying.

Takeaway: The satisfying climax to this epic fantasy series blends deep worldbuilding with lots of heart.

Great for fans of: Deborah Falaye, Tracy Deonn.

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

Fans Have More Friends
Ben Valenta and David Sikorjak
Valenta and Sikorjak, both avid sports fans, debut with a data-driven treatise making the case that sports fandom improves lives. Building off of their personal experiences with teams and fandom, and responding to their intuition on the social benefits of being a sports fan, the authors share years of data they’ve amassed that all points to one compelling revelation: the more avid the fan, the greater the personal happiness. Digging even deeper, they propose this happiness springs from the perceived sense of belonging that often becomes second nature for aficionados of a team or sport.

Valenta and Sikorjak speculate that the common and easy-to-understand language of sports proves to be deeply connecting, manifesting as an “antidote to loneliness,” and they ultimately identify this benefit as the “the reason this entire business exists at all.” Social bonding through sports also cuts through political issues, they contend, backing up the contention with data that shows enthusiastic sports fans are more likely to be more community-minded–and even more flexible in their beliefs regardless of political affiliation–than people without a passion for sports.

Anecdotes from their interviewees pepper this research-heavy book, making the charts and numbers seem more personal. One account is especially resonant, that of a Nigerian-born man who was “assigned” the Dallas Cowboys as his team when he was young, by his mother, resulting in a lifelong affinity that he eloquently describes as “I am part of the tribe of Dallas Cowboys, and now and forever will be a member of that tribe.” Though the authors acknowledge they are not sociologists (both have been executives in the sports industry for years), and their research focuses mainly on the positive aspects of fandom, the result is still a fascinating examination of how and why devoted sports fans build such strong social networks, networks we could even call “team”s.

Takeaway: An upbeat, data-driven sociological breakdown of the benefits of sports fandom.

Great for fans of: S.L. Price’s Playing Through the Whistle, Larry Olmsted’s Fans.

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

Click here for more about Fans Have More Friends
American Monster: The Search for the Sunset Killer
JT Hunter Hunter
Hunter (The Vampire Next Door) delivers a chilling true crime account of serial killer and rapist Oba Chandler, revolving around the June 1989 triple murder of a mother, Joan Rogers, and her two daughters, Michelle and Christe, whose bodies were found floating in Tampa Bay, Fla. Hunter opens with the day the bodies were discovered and delves into the ensuing investigation, detailing the multiple procedures used by authorities to solve the crime, but the story doesn’t end with Chandler’s arrest. Hunter also recounts his trial and eventual sentencing, in the process affording readers a glimpse of the public and private perceptions of Chandler’s heinous crimes.

Like any good true crime book, American Monster successfully balances factual accuracy with a gripping narrative. Readers are transported down a dark road, as the mystery falls into place, clue by painful clue. Hunter’s description of those clues is painstakingly meticulous, detailing every red herring in order to craft a thrilling final resolution. What emerges is the portrait of a man no one would think capable of murder: affable, helpful, and chatty, appearing like a “harmless old Charlie Brown” according to one of the characters in the book, and Hunter capitalizes on the disquiet of knowing a serial killer could be just a regular guy.

At times, particularly towards the end, the material becomes more of a court transcript than an immersing read: instances where Hunter gives a detailed play by play of the prosecutor’s questioning and the defense’s legal strategy may be too dry for some readers, but overall, Hunter is careful to balance this out with details about Chandler himself—his personality, his reactions, his lack of remorse—which all merge into a riveting character portrait. The end result is transfixing despite the darkness, and true crime aficionados will devour this book.

Takeaway: A gripping true crime account of the case against a shocking Florida serial killer.

Great for fans of: Charles Graeber’s The Good Nurse, Casey Sherman’s Hell Town.

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

Click here for more about American Monster
Danger Peak: A Kid Adventure
Michael Thomas Perone
Adventure and adolescent hijinks set the tone for this lighthearted debut novel by Perone. Thirteen-year-old Robert Kin is the fearless leader of his friends’ dirt-bike club, the Wild Boars, and spends his spare time tinkering with gadgets—when he’s not trying to convince his buddies, Chris and Rinnie, to scale the heights of legendary local mountain, Danger Peak. The mountain, spoken about in hushed whispers and almost supernatural in status, has never been climbed, despite multiple attempts. Rumor has it the peak uses magic to keep people away, and if anyone should know better, it’s Robert: his older brother, Danny, was killed attempting the very same thing Robert is now itching to do.

Perone sets up the perfect teenage boy crusade in these pages, packed with dirt bike racing, mechanical know-how, a dash of romance, and even some high-speed chases, all under the guise of Robert’s quest to “conquer the mountain that had conquered his brother.” Robert is single-minded in his focus, almost to the point of obsession, as he tries to dodge painful memories of his brother while coming to terms with his father’s poor handling of his own grief, and the story exposes the cracks in his family through flashbacks to when Danny was alive—and a curious scene at the end, when Robert gets a chance at an emotional breakthrough.

Ultimately, Robert’s mission is successful, although it takes the help of his eccentric crew and one mysterious teacher to get him there. The fun is diminished at times by Perone’s humor—cracks like the one about coming “out of the closet” make it hard to read the line about the boys keeping “their silence like altar boys in church” in any but the darkest sense. In the end, this feel-good tale on how to handle grief, accompanied by a crash course on refusing to give up your dreams, will please younger readers.

Takeaway: A teenage boy sets his sights on the impossible in this lighthearted adventure

Great for fans of: Brandon Wallace’s Wilder Boys, Gary Paulsen’s Woods Runner.

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

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