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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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Intermittent Fasting Success Story: How I Lost 110 Pounds and Will Never Diet Again
Jennifer P Davidson
Davidson offers straightforward direction on intermittent fasting (IF) in this easy-to-read solo debut. Drawing from her personal experiences, and with the caveat to seek out medical advice before starting any new health plan, Davidson shares the reasons diets don’t work and why intermittent fasting—switching between a period of eating and a period of not eating—may be the answer to a slew of health problems. For readers new to the concept, she breaks down the different types of IF and covers its many benefits, while longtime IF fans will find plenty of new material to digest, including overcoming weight plateaus, how to conquer bad habits, and more.

Davidson tackles a sometimes-controversial topic with grace, offering upbeat motivation from her personal battles with weight loss while encouraging readers to be honest with themselves and set realistic goals. She avoids one-size-fits-all thinking when exploring the variety of IF plans available and breaks down common IF eating patterns, including the well-known 16/8 plan (fasting for 16 hours straight while consuming all calories in the remaining 8 hours of the day), continually emphasizing that readers must individualize IF plans to best fit their goals. Those goals can be lofty, according to Davidson, who proposes a multitude of health benefits from the IF lifestyle, including effective weight management, improved blood sugar, and decreased stroke risk.

For readers who are interested in the science behind IF, Davidson touches on its biological processes, such as the connection between our body’s ketones and stored fat and the reasons intermittent fasting can clear up “brain fog.” Most inspiring is her transparency and desire to motivate others to “live a long, healthy life” free of bad habits and self-limiting beliefs. Readers looking for a new way to tackle healthy eating will find plenty of inspiration here.

Takeaway: A clear-cut guide covering the basics of intermittent fasting.

Great for fans of: Gin Stephens’s Fast. Feast. Repeat.; Joelle Coy’s Intermittent Fasting for Women Over 50.

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

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I Messaged My Ex
Samuel Field
Field’s fourth poetry collection glimpses at the psychological journey from acute despair to eventual acceptance following the dissolution of a failed marriage that touches on the tension between grief and unrequited love, identity and romance. A personal selection of the author’s photographs are included throughout that are meant to alternately align with and juxtapose the poems they’re coupled with. Occasionally the images and poems achieve a sort of dual-medium unison, while at other times the images bear no obvious relationship to the poems they’re printed beside, but they do provide a visual element to the reading experience—and a chance to feel for possible thematic connections—that some readers may find enriching.

The poems themselves are structured in a narrative arc beginning with a study on the depths of grief as a result of divorce, illustrated in “Invisible Me”: “I offer you myself // I ask so little in return // Alone, I still yearn.” Field then delves into the consequences of sacrificing identity for love, leaving the seared ex in a place where “Invisibility unbecomes me // Yet its curse holds me fast”. The collection’s mosaic then shifts toward themes of renewal, a reclaiming of identity through self love, and above all hope for romance to blossom anew: I too will be a painter. // Bring your broken canvas, // Rejected by other painters, // I will cover it in deep love.”

Although some readers may find Field’s poems straightforward to the point of dullness and reliant on cliché, others may be moved by the collection’s unflinching honesty and occasional lines of real inspiration, such as “As long as I have known her // I try to walk the approach // Wearing heart skinned slippers”. To the best of his abilities, Field offers readers a courageous, introspective poetic report on his passage through the stages of post-divorce grief, covering the pages themselves with deep love.

Takeaway: A straightforward, heartfelt collection about recovering and acceptance after a divorce.

Great for fans of: Rupi Kaur, Courtney Peppernell’s Pillow Thoughts.

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

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The Trump Files: An Account of the Trump Administration's Effect on American Democracy, Human Rights, Science and Public Health
Jack Hassard
Pained, outraged, yet ultimately hopeful that “those of us who care about free and fair elections will be out in droves” to vote, science educator Hassard’s sweeping indictment of Trumpism offers an exhaustive accounting of the former president’s impact on American life, politics, democracy, and the globe itself. Writing from hotly contested Georgia, Hassard (Minds on Science among other works) covers not just Trump’s presidency and the violent aftermath, but also the increasingly polarized politics that paved the way for it, touching on voter suppression bills introduced during the Obama years, the Tea Party movement, and what sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild has dubbed “The Great Paradox”: “Why is hatred of government most intense among people who need government services?”

Hassard’s accounting is wide-ranging, sharp-elbowed, and deeply committed to democracy and equality. With sharp, clear-eyed prose he takes on racial injustice, the Trumpist worldview (in a discussion inspired by the work of George Lakoff), how “the United States drifted toward authoritarian and autocratic rule,” and most thoroughly how “science in the Trump era was diminished at the peril of the health and well-being for not only people and other living things, but Earth itself.” Breaking up the wide-view perspective are of-their-moment blog posts reprinted throughout offer close-up looks at controversies concerning Russian election interference, lies about mail-in voting, and the rolling back of environmental regulations.

While some of this material will be familiar to people who keep up with the news, Hassard’s rundown offers clear reminders of the breadth of Trump’s challenges to our system and the passion with which those challenges have been opposed. The freshest, most persuasive material is Hassard’s examination of the movement and administration’s assault on science and expertise, culminating in the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s tempting to describe Hassard’s prose in his examination of climate issues as “scorched earth,” but as he makes clear that now seems like a probable future.

Takeaway: This outraged survey of the Trump years makes an impassioned case for science and democracy.

Great for fans of: Paul E. Rutledge and Chapman Rackaway’s The Unorthodox Presidency of Donald J. Trump, Carlos Lozada’s What Were We Thinking?

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

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Poseidon's Storm Blaster: The Legend of Pineapple Cove, Book 1
Marina J. Bowman
Launching her exciting Greek mythology inspired middle-grade series, Bowman focuses on unconventional heroes whose innate bravery slowly surfaces during a watery adventure. Ten-year-old Kai, the son of a Pineapple Cove fisherman, takes the bucolic seaside for granted. Digging clams in the buttery yellow sand is “bor-ing,” and he wonders why everyone else is having more fun. Then Kai spies Delphi, the oddball outcast who “washed up onshore when she was little,” playing with her only friend Sammy, a raucous sea lion. Delphi is deathly afraid of the water, so when they hear a distress call from the ocean, both are eager to help, but it’s Kai who swims out to free a young dolphin from a net. In return for his good deed, Kai receives a gold trident necklace, which is key to unlocking the first secret realm in The Legend of Pineapple Cove series.

For all the book’s invention and adventure, its heart is in friendship, as Bowman makes cooperation the protagonists’ superpower: Delphi tempers Kai’s impetuousness with well-reasoned preparation; and he urges her to take action and put her knowledge to good use. Their reluctant, life-changing alliance encourages young readers to both recognize strengths (in themselves and others) and to build upon them.

Nathan Monção employs lightness and heft in his winsome illustrations. Pineapple Cove’s populace is densely muscular, as rounded and sturdy as the stones of their town’s buildings, while other images are airy and whimsical, like the massive wooden ship precariously perched on a small rock in the middle of a tiny island. Establishing Kai and Delphi as an interdependent team sets them up for future quests (there are three more books in the series), and it’s also a powerful force in helping Delphi confront her fears. The goal of these young adventurers may be exploring the deep mysteries of Pineapple Cove, but uncovering their own possibilities is their greatest reward.

Takeaway: Greek myth meets rollicking sea adventures in a series that encourages courage and cooperation.

Great for fans of: Lucy Coats’s Beast Keeper, Maz Evans’s Who Let the Gods Out, and Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams’s Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom.

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

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19 RULES FOR GETTING RICH AND STAYING RICH DESPITE WALL STREET
Eugene Kelly
This quick, concise guide breaks down ways to invest and create wealth for readers looking to learn the ways of the stock market, avoid unnecessary risk, and build their financial portfolio. The book has been crafted to elucidate the process of investing, making a profit, and investing again on your own terms, with the goal of maintaining a stream of steadily increasing wealth. Aly delivers easy-to-digest material, likening investments to “one all-encompassing business” that requires time, attention, and hard work to ensure success – and cautions readers to start with a true understanding of their long-term goals coupled with the acknowledgement that the future will always be unpredictable.

Aly starts with a solid introduction on key terms and educational information, including a short infographic with important tips from each chapter, with gems like “When the market is greedy, be fearful. When the market is fearful, be greedy” and advice to add the total amount of any inheritance to investment portfolios. Delving into more specific financial goals, Aly shares how to capitalize on real estate, the importance of establishing emergency cash reserves, understanding tax efficiency, and more. Readers will also appreciate the guide’s outline of personal risks-such as uncontrolled insurance costs or borrowing too much money in unsafe ways-that can interfere with long term financial success. Aly highlights investing for maximum results throughout, in logical steps that avoid unnecessary gambles.

Delivered in bite-size pieces that transform an often-daunting subject into clear-cut advice, this is the perfect how-to - complete with a glossary at the end to clarify confusing investment terms and a helpful step-by-step blueprint to create an Excel portfolio workbook. Aly sums the information with a friendly reminder that “Following these simple rules, investors will achieve their financial goals, not just at retirement, but at every phase of life.” Beginning investors will appreciate Aly’s down-to-earth style, and readers well-versed in financial planning will welcome the refresher course.

Takeaway: A compact yet thorough guide on how to create, gain and keep wealth by investing wisely.

Great for fans of: Tiffany Aliche’s Get Good with Money, Vikram Khaitan’s How to Grow Rich & Become Wealthy.

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

Only Half Human
Nathaniel Wright
Wright guides readers into the world of magic and fantasy in his debut, a fun and polished YA adventure. Lesley Robinson is a regular teenager until she suddenly sprouts horns and a complete set of wings. It turns out that her mother has been hiding a few secrets including the fact that she, herself, is a witch and Lesley’s dad is a demon, which makes Lesley a cambion—half-human, half-demon. Lesley and her mom move to the quaint fae-protected town of Misty Hollow where Lesley attends school with fairies, werewolves, and vampires. As if morphing into a half-demon wasn’t enough to make high school miserable, bullies start narrowing their focus on Lesley, and an old foe from her mother’s past comes to collect on a debt.

Wright whisks readers to a fanciful setting perfect for fantasy enthusiasts looking for imaginative characters. While the story’s built around a suspenseful set-up, with nightmares afflicting characters and nothing less than Lesley’s soul at stake, Wright takes clear delight in introducing Misty Hollow, an engaging cast, and everyday problems. Lesley’s new school boasts mermaids, harpies, satyrs, and even a bushy-tailed fox girl, known as a kitsune, that possesses paranormal abilities. Lesley, despite being a cambion, embodies the quintessential teenage experience—those bullies, self-doubt, and her first crush. Her relatability instantly draws readers in and makes her a sympathetic protagonist, especially when she struggles to accept her new circumstances. As Lesley navigates magical creatures and demons, she and the reader learn a valuable lesson about self-love.

The battles between good and evil create tantalizing tension that keeps the reader glued to the page. With each fork in the road, Lesley’s resilience is tested. Wright propels the plot toward the dynamic climax and purposefully leaves the readers salivating for more. Young readers looking for adventure coated in magic will enjoy following Lesley’s journey of self-discovery.

Takeaway: A teenage cambio searching for acceptance discovers magic, friendship, and self-love.

Great for fans of: Michelle Madow’sThe Discovery of Magic, Martha Carr.

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

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The Control Center (Book 1): THE CHINA AFFAIRS
Brad Good
The kickoff to Good’s China Affairs series introduces Jack Gold, a young American businessman in Shanghai who gets caught up in convincingly detailed international intrigue. Jack’s unlucky in dating, frustrated at office politics limiting his advancement at his job at a Chinese bank, and increasingly alarmed by comments from his friend Ari—an Israeli who claims contacts high up in the Israeli Defense Force—about China’s business dealings with Iran, subjugation of its own people, and stealing of U.S. military secrets. “Wait a second—Are you suggesting we should do something?” Jack eventually asks. Ari’s response is yes, of course—all he asks of Jack is secrecy, a lot of trust, and a commitment, eventually, to change the world.

With a wealth of persuasive local, cultural, and financial world detail, Good captures Jack’s feelings of excitement and disorientation, of facing sudden business and romantic opportunities—and even surprise threats of violence—all while possibly being in over his head. The plan itself, when at last revealed, is a shocker, a scheme much more elaborate and public than anything Jack expected, involving a neurotoxin and an address to all of China, revealing to the populace shocking truths about the government and a Communist Party committed to keeping the populace poor and uneducated.

Good has planned a quartet of books, so Control Center ends with much story left to tell. Good doesn’t skimp on major developments and twists upending the international order as Jack and co. take bold, dangerous steps to “open” China. At times, these major events happen too quickly to stir traditional tension, but readers who prefer their international thrillers humane and thoughtful will find much to enjoy. Jack has been crafted as less of a two-fisted espionage hero than a persuasive truth teller who will make the most of his chance to address over a billion residents of a nation not his own.

Takeaway: An American businessman finds himself tasked with speaking truth to all of China.

Great for fans of: Alex Berenson’s The Ghost War, David Ignatius’s The Quantum Spy.

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

Comedy Techniques for Variety Artists: Creativity for Entertainers Volume 4
Bruce A Johnson
Johnson, a.k.a. Charlie the Juggling Clown, offers this delightful, exhaustive, and charmingly illustrated guide to delighting an audience, vaudeville-clown style, offering a rich array of gags, set-ups, exercises, skit and scene models, and much practical advice crafted to give readers a serious leg up all over the other clowns in the car. Aimed at emcees, magicians, variety artists, as well as the seltzer-squirting set, and cheekily subtitled “Vol. 4” despite being Johnson’s first book, Comedy Techniques for Variety Artists bursts with crowd-tested ideas and approaches for cooking up (or perfecting) an act to entertain a family audience. While the opening pages offer illuminating thoughts on how jokes work, what jokes are appropriate for individual acts, and the niceties of timing and running gags, the emphasis throughout is on highly specific techniques and routines any performer can make their own.

Making it your own is crucial for any performer. Johnson encourages this with a host of exercises for readers (inventing new words; writing malapropisms appropriate for your comedy character; crafting specific styles of scene or improvisation prompts). These follow inviting, incisive chapters on classic comedy techniques and routines like spoonerisms or “Deflation of Authority/Pomposity” that briefly examine the history of these bits reaching back to the circus, the funny pages, Burns & Allen, and Fibber McGee and Molly—and persuasive consideration of why they work: “Part of the appeal of a character flaunting authority is the audience vicariously enjoying the character getting away with something they wish they could, but didn’t dare do.”

The advice throughout is flexible and pragmatic. Creating a comedy character demands establishing sets of rules and disciplines that can’t be violated and finding clear justification for the character’s actions. The joy of the book is in how explicable Johnson makes this, and how he lays bare the structure and logic of the many amusing routines he shares, inviting readers to understand—and to create.

Takeaway: This guide to crafting variety-show comedy for family audiences illuminates and inspires.

Great for fans of: Eli Simon’s The Art of Clowning, John Vorhaus’s The Comic Toolbox.

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

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Seven Beyond
Stella Atrium
“And now we should have a story,” Lady Elizabeth Tasgneganz declares just pages into this heady, idea-rich science fiction novel from Atrium (author of the Dolvia Saga among other works.) Requesting a diversion to make a slog of a journey easier, she calls for “A fanciful tale that will transport us to another time. Full of simile and metaphor, a broad-shouldered allegory elastic enough to convey some great truth in our lives.” That finely wrought description both heralds and undersells the novel that follows, a consideration of a culture and its rituals and beliefs, touched with allegory and satire, in the vein of Ursula K. Le Guin, but also a vivid travelogue that anticipates (the first edition was published in 2002) the work of Sofia Samatar.

That’s not to say that this defiantly unclassifiable novel doesn’t abound with arresting stories. One turns on the murder of an imperial guardsman and such men’s conviction that young women’s bodies constitute “A precious resource … that begs to be mined before it deteriorates.” Another reveals a blood feud among the Longists, an alien specie, that only births 20 or so per decade. And there’s the beauty about the “pitiful, empty poverty” of life in a zoo on the planet Markturum-5.

The stories and storytellers of Seven Beyond draw from a host of Earthly traditions and cultures—the biblical, the mythic, the historic—while Atrium teases out, in prose of sparkling precision and wit, the curious overarching tale of 800 year-old Dr. David Christopher Meenins, on a tour that takes him and his retinue from an ancient monastery to a sheik’s yacht to New York City to the mysteries of “kka” and the Longist resting place of the dead. If that sounds mysterious, well, that’s how Atrium’s “fanciful tale” goes, charting the journeys, relationships, beliefs, and discoveries of these travelers through tales that reflect and challenge our own world and culture.

Takeaway: This bold S.F. travelogue offers stories within stories and mysteries within wonders.

Great for fans of: Sofia Samatar, Ursula K. Le Guin.

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

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Gridiron Gypsies: The Complete History of the Carlisle Indian School Football Team
Tom Benjey
Benjey reveals a fascinating, little-known slice of American history with this exhaustive examination of the football team at the Carlisle Indian School, a federally funded Pennsylvania boarding school for Native Americans that opened in 1879—and, before its closure in 1918, shocked the nation with its sports teams’ athleticism and competitive spirit. Those qualities are exemplified by the football program’s most famous alumnus, Jim Thorpe, a three-time All-American at Carlisle. Benjey tells the story of Carlisle’s football team, the “Indians,” season by season, drawing from press accounts and painting it all with a sportswriter’s sense of drama and color, while also explicating controversies and challenges the program faced, the intentions of its founders, and the stories of its participants.

As the title suggests, this work is written in the spirit of the times it surveys. Benjey’s use of “Indians'' throughout (not just as a team name) reflects the tenor of the century-old press accounts that he draws on, which tend to sound like this: “Hoodwinked and hypnotized by the native trickery and masterful strategy of the aborigines … St. Louis University went down to an ignominious defeat.” The accounts of games and seasons are engaging and exciting, bursting with fascinating revelations, like Carlisle losing to Harvard 12 to 11 in the last-ever game at the original Soldiers Field, as Benjey charts the team’s growth from underdogs to powerhouse.

Benjey’s focus is on the games themselves, two decades’ worth recounted with vigor and attention to the history of college football and Carlisle itself. Especially interesting is America’s response to Carlisle’s success and the question of what a Carlisle education offered its students—and whether and how they benefited afterwards. Abundant photos, newspaper cartoons, and other well-selected visual documentation fill out the story, both celebrating these athletes and offering an illuminating (and sometimes upsetting) glimpse of bygone attitudes.

Takeaway: The fascinating history of a Native American college football program founded in 1879.

Great for fans of: Wade Davies’s Native Hoops, Steve Sheinkin’s Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team.

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

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Stumble & Fall
Amy Rivers
This polished, character-driven thriller, the sequel to Complicit, finds psychologist Kate now in private practice in New Mexico, after her shattering experiences uncovering a powerful sex-trafficking ring while working at her hometown high school. Her goal is noble: not just “to create a safe haven for victims of abuse,” though that’s essential. She’ll also use her new connections as a business owner to begin to “infiltrate” (that term comes from her romantic partner, an ex-cop) the shadowy network they know involves Chamber of Commerce members and the chief of police. The arrival in New Mexico of Kate’s sister Tilly, a nurse practitioner, complicates her life, especially after Tilly’s unmoored by a family tragedy—and the harrowing experiences of women whom the sisters each strive to help in their jobs.

Some of those wrenching accounts of rape and abuse, of course, might connect to Kate’s larger mission. Stumble & Fall builds to the kind of tense scenes—investigations, attacks, escapes—that readers expect in a good series thriller, all described with crisp clarity and power. But Rivers digs deeper than that, investing readers in the sisters’ relationships with each other, their father, and their romantic partners—intimate, convincingly drawn relationships that prove as gripping as the more conventional suspense material.

Kate helping Tilly face trauma in her own past is especially touching, and Rivers deftly mines the genre of psychological thriller for more than just thrills. She makes healing and connection as engrossing as Kate’s efforts to stop these crimes. The men, too, are sharply written, and Rivers’s attention to socioeconomic reality (and what it feels like to languish between jobs) is refreshing. The story surges toward a jolting-yet-in-hindsight-inevitable revelation and a touching scene of solidarity among women, moments that less humane thrillers might sensationalize. Rivers, though, is too attuned to how people actually live, feel, and process trauma to reduce their lives to mere plot twists.

Takeaway: This superior thriller finds as much suspense in sisters’ relationships as in their efforts to stop sex traffickers.

Great for fans of: Brianna Labuskes, Lisa Regan.

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

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Something Sinister Within
R.G.Johansen
Johansen (A Message from Boo) goes for the jugular in this not-for-the-faint-of-heart mystery brimming with suspense, shocks, and supernatural evil as it follows a teenage girl in the 1960s on her hunt for the killer ravaging her small town. Jamie, a 16-year-old tired of living with her alcoholic mother in the slums of Paradise Point, wants nothing more than an escape for herself and her younger brother, Tommy—but as she strives to create a better life, Jamie is drawn into a series of brutal murders close to home that no one can seem to solve. When the town starts to suspect an evil presence is behind the deaths, Jamie joins ranks with her boyfriend, Lenny, to unravel the puzzle.

Readers should come prepared for plenty of bloodshed: the murders are gruesome, and Johansen skillfully elicits the fear and torment that plague locals when they’re unable to solve the crimes. Jamie, an unlikely hero in many aspects suffers her share of trauma as she chases down the killers, but her pluck and resolve will resonate with fans of strong female protagonists. The supernatural elements lurking behind the town’s troubles emerge gradually, but once Johansen introduces them through the locals’ superstitious beliefs, the story quickly comes to a head, alongside a dramatic ending that’s equal parts hair-raising and proudly, can-you-top-this? excessive.

Though the length may intimidate some readers, Johansen’s steady stream of action keeps the pace balanced—even when the narrative delves into the somewhat stereotypical backstories of the main characters. Happy endings aren’t the norm in this thriller, but Johansen manages to keep the outcomes believable despite the onslaught of paranormal savagery sprayed across the pages, and readers cheering for Jamie will be satisfied that her efforts to put the pieces together are eventually rewarded. Fans of paranormal mysteries with elaborate carnage will be pleased.

Takeaway: A small town falls under the spell of paranormal violence in this relentless thriller..

Great for fans of: Alex North’s The Whisper Man, Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s I Remember You.

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

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VOYAGE TO THE WALL
Manning Rubin
Based on his experiences as a young soldier immediately after WWII in Europe, the rousing debut novel from Rubin (author of Keep Your Brain Alive) is an exploration of the questions of identity, faith and justice. Nineteen year old Joey Goldman, an American stationed in supply at Nuremberg Ordnance Depot, finds himself attending the trials of the notorious Nazi officers. It is then that he becomes intensely aware of his Jewish identity. Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, he had never felt any different from others. The grisly films of torture and killing of the Jews, shown during the trials, and his visit to the Dachau concentration camp start him off on a journey of discovery of what it is to be a Jew. At a displaced persons camp he befriends two survivors of concentration camps whom he helps relocate. Meanwhile his growing affinity for the Underground Jewish Brigade and for the Zionist movement threatens to put his military career in jeopardy.

Rubin’s portrayal of Joey’s increasing awareness of his heritage, and his shame at not knowing much about his heritage, is nuanced and engaging, and the characters come alive on the page. Whether it is Joey’s mates Skip Say or “Red” Blake, or his boss Lieutenant Forner, or his love Leah Chalowitz, they are all whole, rounded and real. A character who remains with the reader is Joey’s father, forever changed by his illness, and the short chapters help maintain a steady pace.

Eventually, Joey is discharged from the army and joins the Underground Jewish Brigade, and the novel edges into thoughtful suspense (and even a touch of romance). Battle scenes and accounts of exacting justice from Nazis in hiding have power, though Rubin’s language is invitingly simple and casual, an effective vehicle in immersing readers in the landscape, characters, and emotions.

Takeaway: A novel that explores identity, faith and justice through the eyes of a Jewish American soldier after WWII.

Great for fans of: Steven Hartov’s Last of the Seven, Neal Bascomb’s Hunting Eichmann.

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

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ONLY THE DEAD (Know the End of War)
Jan Notzon
Notzon writes a gripping and heartfelt 19th century tale revolving around the lives of three families from Mexico and Texas, struggling to survive through wars, famines, the ever-changing political and social atmosphere, and the contested ownership of the land itself. Notzon twines the historical record of the Mexican War of Independence and the Texas Revolution with his characters’ experience of love, lust, grief, and loss as the novel spans some three decades of hotly contested land claims, skirmishes, and clashes between competing Republics. Clear throughout is how the intertwined fates of his people, many attempting to “carve out a life for themselves in this seeming wasteland,” so often are determined by forces beyond themselves, forces hungry for power.

Notzon’s take on the futility and inevitability of war is refreshing, as he gives readers a hard-hitting perspective of what it means to put one’s life on the line. “To acknowledge the humanity of those you must kill paralyzes the will,” he writes. Only the Dead proves as engaging at capturing the everyday and the drift of mind of its cast as it is when depicting monumental—sometimes harrowing—historical events involving the likes of Sam Houston and Santa Anna. Use of terms like “savage” and “barbaric” to describe indigenous people may give some readers pause, though Notzon’s project is to capture how his 19th-century cast perceives their world.

Only The Dead will inspire in readers a productive reckoning with the devastating effects of western expansion on the people and the land. Notzon poignantly writes, “This land is littered with the grave of those it conquered”—a striking reminder about the peril and hardship faced by those who, insearch of better futures, dared to migrate to unknown lands that would swallow them. This is a thoughtful, persuasively detailed story of people longing for a place they can call home, both colonizers and colonized, Spaniards, Creoles, and Indians, and Mexicans and Texans.

Takeaway: A gripping novel about 19th century Mexican and Texan families, caught up in relentless war.

Great for fans of: Jeff Long’s Empire of Bones, Stephen Harrigan’s The Gates of the Alamo.

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

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Pepperoni, Jalapenos & LSD: The World is My Ashtray, Vol I
P.H. Mountain
Mountain’s vivid memoir of a Dionysian coming-of-age opens with Paul, an IT entrepreneur, waking up to the aftermath of a bender of hedonistic proportions. Promising yet again that this will be the last weekend of unnecessary debauchery, Paul contemplates whether it’s finally time to sit down and write “THE BIG ONE,” the writing project that preoccupied him back when he was young—and before “the tech revolution distracted me and provided a viable path to financial freedom.” With his tech firm comfortably able to manage most of his tasks, he begins retelling his story, flashing back to 1989 and a Beat-adjacent, LSD-fueled I-70 road trip in his hard-chugging Sunbird that brought him to Boulder.

Mountain writes from an honest place where no offense is spared and no shocking detail is left to the imagination, the material leavened by flashes of adult insight. Filled with the off-color banter you can expect from young men trying find their place in the world, Paul finds solace in a relationship with Lonnie, a slightly older woman, amongst other companions and lots of drugs and sex, some explicitly described. Mountain does not glorify these experiences or present himself and his friends as any more enlightened than they were—expect a lot of chatter about Lonnie’s breasts—nor does he shy away from the euphoria his younger self felt.

Rude, crude and occasionally philosophical, Mountain’s memoir offers an unflinching look at being a young American man out of control in a now by-gone era, testing limits and surprising with extremes, such as the scene of Paul snorting cocaine and making love with an older woman in a dingy bar restroom… but only after she tells him to roleplay as a fourteen-year-old. His shock after coming down saves him from being a total lost cause doomed to “steadily worsening addictions.” If you can stomach that, dear reader, then you’ll do just fine with the first of Paul’s memoirs.

Takeaway: An entrepreneur reflects on escaping a proudly debauched American coming of age, circa 1989.

Great for fans of: Jim Carroll, Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight.

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

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