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In Women We Trust
Naim Haroon Sakhia
Attorney Sakhia’s tense English debut novel draws attention to the societal inequities in a small Pakistani town when a servant's son is found in a compromising position with a landowner’s daughter. In Hayatabad, Pakistan, landowner Sardar Timur Barlas exerts his power as he plans to inflict punishment on Gul, son of housekeeper Zara Bibi, when Gul is discovered in a kitchen pantry in an improper embrace with Sardar’s daughter, Farah. Mullah Aziz, imam of the largest town mosque, is appointed to select members for the Panchayat, an unofficial tribunal responsible for deciding Gul’s guilt or innocence. Zara Bibi’s only hope to see Gul avoid the punishment of castration is to sacrifice her daughter, Badri, whom Sardar wants to be “given” to his men for three nights. Zara Bibi faces a decision that no mother should be forced to make--and if she doesn’t choose which child will suffer, Sardar will decide for her. As the Panchayat convenes, Mullah Aziz’s acquaintance, Turab, a journalist, documents the trial and questions the truth behind the accusations against Gul.

Sakhia deftly explores the injustices faced by those in subservient positions in Pakistan, vividly exposing brutality and corruption. The novel also highlights the disparate treatment of women as Sardar’s and Mullah Aziz’s wives must be deferential to their husbands' decisions, and Badri suffers a vicious assault.

Sakhia focuses on disparate characters, revealing how Badri dreams of her grandmother Mimi Jan while she is in pain, and Mullah Aziz’s arrogance in controlling those who come to his mosque. These narratives initially appear unrelated, slowing the flow of the novel’s opening, but Sakhia adeptly connects them, rewarding patient readers. This in-depth study of life in a small town in Pakistan, the first installment in a series, richly outlines class and gender inequities while embracing believable, well-developed characters and a cliffhanger conclusion.

Takeaway:This intense novel of power in a Pakastani village reveals urgent truths and will keep readers turning the pages.

Great for fans of: Sejal Badani’s The Storyteller’s Secret, Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field.

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

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We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest - Ghana, 1807 -
Dorothy Brown Soper
Offering up a historical adventure featuring African culture and the Akan tribe in the Asante Kingdom, Soper’s debut middle reader follows the circuitous lives of three young boys: Kwame, the chief's son; Kwaku, the chief’s heir; and Baako, a slave hoping to earn his freedom. Friends from a young age, though individually different and on divergent paths, the boys experience life lessons together and find themselves in dire situations that they must escape. Peppered with beautiful illustrations, and offering history and knowledge of the Akan clans, Soper weaves a powerful coming of age story set against a rich display of African culture.

Engaging characters will keep young readers involved, and Soper’s use of the native tongue, Twi, lends authenticity to the story as We Are Akan touches on the history of the Akan tribe leading up to and during the Atlantic Slave Trade and the voyages that originally carried African people to North America. Opening chapters deliver a crash course on the class system, the commerce industry, and the daily lives of the Akan people, with absorbing specifics like the spearing of a cobra and the “smoked fish that he carried wrapped in a leaf on top of a flat rock.”

At the end of the book, Soper includes a more thorough “Introduction to the Akan People,” covering, among other topics, their deep-seated extended family structure and formidable army. For readers not already well-versed in the Akan culture, this might have proven more helpful at the start. James Cloutier’s illustrations offer snapshots of daily Akan life, including acts such as pounding fufu (a well-known African dish) and the “Descent of the Golden Stool,” a festival ritual honoring Akan legend.This story’s action-packed, educational style will resonate with readers of all ages looking to gain knowledge of African history and charm those seeking a narrative that features diverse history and characters.

Takeaway: This richly historical African adventure will entertain and inform young readers and their parents.

Great for fans of: Kwame Mbalia's Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky, Beverley Naidoo’s Burn My Heart.

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

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The Art and Science of Real Wealth: Earn Real Wealth
Dhyan Appachu Bollachettira
Appachu draws on his experience as a real estate investor and speculator to give practical and philosophical advice in this guide to acquiring wealth. Appachu focuses on the poor planning, lack of discipline, and unethical investment practices that can hinder the accumulation of real wealth. As he recounts the mistakes he made as a novice investor, he makes this book’s central idea clear: He wants to enable readers to “manage money wisely” and to earn a consistent income while achieving the security of Moksha, the “freedom from the permanent influence of Karma.” Rather than offer shortcuts to wealth, he argues that the “world’s greatest investors succeeded only because of logic, reason, patience, and discipline.”

Appachu doesn’t shy from harsh criticism of “today’s casino capitalist stock markets”, Wall Street, or what he calls “con acts in the finance” industry such as mutual funds and the “Buy and Hold” strategies promoted by hedge fund owners and investment managers. He follows up this criticism with detailed market predictions and investment advice based on personal experiences and research of historical economic downturns and stock market crashes. Appachu offers striking--sometimes dire--claims about the financial futures of India, Singapore, the U.S., and several European markets. Charts and links to outside resources scattered throughout the guide add credibility to the author’s forecasts.

At times the book reads as a memoir. Appachu’s memories of past investments are presented as a cautionary tale, but his sometimes harsh language may give some readers pause: “By this time the Zyprexa had completely raped my mind and body. I was introduced to the horrors of fraud gutter pseudo ‘science’ of Psychiatry." The book takes a light spiritual turn with Appachu giving advice on high risk and dividend investing, while providing insight based on Hindu teachings and the principle of Dharma. With strong assertions and thought-provoking language, this guide sheds light on both financial and spiritual wealth.

Takeaway: Financial gurus and professionals will enjoy these strong opinions on investing and the future of finance.

Great for fans of: Richard Teitelbaum’s The Most Dangerous Trade, Sebastian Mallaby’s More Money Than God.

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

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Arty and The Forest of the Forsaken
Nicholas Jauregui
In this exciting middle grade fantasy debut, Jauregui, who works in visual effects on animated features, strikes the right balance between familiarity and novelty. The Arty of Arty and The Forest of the Forsaken is an Arthur, recently moved to the grand city of Camelot, where his father has found work as a blacksmith. There, Arty bands together with scrappy kids eager to become squires to knights. What they lack in noble pedigree, Arty and company (including Galahad, Gawain, Percy, and the bow expert Gwen) make up for in spirit, pledging themselves to the righteous protection of friends, family, and kingdom. The attitude of Camelot’s actual knights, meanwhile, is summed up by snobby squire Lance, who sneers at Arty, “Being a knight is about power, privilege, and nobility. Of which, you possess none.”

By the end, of course, Arty and friends will prove themselves, and a certain sword of legend might get yanked from its boulder. Jauregui’s quick, clever plot pits the heroes against a scheming wizard, a terrifying dragon, and sundry beasts of sea and forest. This Camelot lies in the fantasy playground of Atlium, alive with fairies, trolls and romantic settings for adventure, such as the Forsaken Forest, where Arty and friends face vivid (but not too scary) dangers. Older readers will enjoy the connections Jauregui draws between this unique vision of Arthurian legend and other myths.

Jauregui’s crisp, clear prose surges readers through his tale. He’s adept at quick sketches of character, offhandedly comic dialogue, and brisk, memorable action. Occasionally, when introducing the cast or laying out the scope of the world, Arty offers up a large lump of expository text; in other instances, the narrative occasionally bucks ahead too quickly for some emotional beats to resonante. Those minor pacing issues aside, though, this adventure will engross young readers and charm the adults who share it with them.

Takeaway: This playful take on Arthurian legend will delight middle grade fantasy fans.

Great for fans of: Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince.

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

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The Zealots
G.K. Johnson
Johnson’s debut novel is a beautifully imagined re-telling of some of Christianity’s most beloved stories from the viewpoints of two friends. Friends Shim’on and Yeshua are two young men in their mid-teens in Capernaum, a small village on the Sea of Galilee. Yeshua’s father is a rabbi and craftsman while Shim’on is the son of a fisherman. When Shim’on’s father is killed by the Romans occupying the region, the boys’ paths diverge as one seeks vengeance while the other seeks righteousness. As the story progresses, their experiences run the gamut from the chance to study in Jerusalem to interactions with the Zealots, a Jewish resistance movement opposed to the Roman occupation of Judea. The tales of both young men run a parallel track to that of Jesus, the rising Mashiach, or Messiah.

The intricately woven storylines flow at a wonderful pace, as readers are swept along on a tide of lovingly rendered details – from the wonder of Yeshua’s arrival in the Holy City to Shim’on’s time out on the open water. Johnson imbues cornerstone tales of Christianity’s origins with a fresh view through the eyes of fictional people, demonstrating a deep respect and love for both the ancient Jewish traditions and the new religion that grew out of them. Shim’on and Yeshua’s eventful lives are presented with little fanfare, but instead an enticing blend of action and introspection.

While aimed at young adults, the novel’s violence and attentiveness to the rigors of spiritual journey may push it toward the higher end of that age range, especially when coupled with some unfamiliar terms that are not immediately explained. The glossary at the end proves helpful, but could have found more use at the novel’s beginning. The prose otherwise is invitingly easy to read, though occasional inconsistencies -- such as the names of the boys’ mothers being switched in several places -- may pull readers away from the central message.

Takeaway: A deeply respectful take on the origins of Christianity through the eyes of two young men and their coming of age.

Great for fans of: Lynn Austin’s The Restoration Chronicles, Ken Gire’s The Centurion.

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

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Living in Cleveland with the Ghost of Joseph Stalin
Marc Sercomb
Sercomb’s imaginative second novel seems to have been pulled straight from the summer of 1953 and serves as homage to that time, despite some touches of the absurd. Calvin Jefferson Coolidge is thirteen years old. His father is an inveterate gambler, and as for his mother, well, as he puts it “most people called her nuts.” After a stint in foster care, Calvin moves in with his Aunt Evelyn in Cleveland. Evelyn is a rough woman who has a taste for alcohol, suffers from agoraphobia, and tells Calvin to “fend for himself” when it comes to meals. His life in shambles, Calvin makes a surprising discovery in Aunt Evelyn’s cluttered attic, where he’s looking “for her lost husband’s cheap second-hand accordion.” There he meets the ghost of Joseph Stalin, who wants Calvin to write his memoirs--“to counteract all of the lies and false information perpetrated by my detractors and enemies!”

This would be enough to keep any kid occupied, but Calvin’s life is a maelstrom of weirdness even beyond Stalin. (His cousin reports being “abducted by men from Mars and taken up into their spaceship.) Still, as Calvin deals with a school psychologist and the lavish encouragement of an English teacher, the narrative’s emphasis lies in exploring childhood in the context of American suburbia in the 1950s. This is a story with soda jerks and beatniks in the streets and Howdy Doody and Senator McCarthy talking about communists on TV.

The humor and observations make this truly enjoyable beyond being an engaging slice of Americana. This is a funny story told in the energetic, curious voice of a teenager, but one with thoughts that will entertain adults. While slightly long, and offering more incident than plot, Sercomb’s novel will appeal to those who lived through the 1950s as well as those fascinated by that era.

Takeaway: A sharp teen voice drives this episodic, playfully ambitious novel of 1950s America.

Great for fans of: Tom Perrotta, A.M. Homes

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

Black Rifle
Alex Davidson
Alex Davidson’s fast-paced thriller pairs an unlikely duo of Los Angelenos—ATF Agent Miranda Lopez and mercenary for hire simply known as Cal—as they track down the mastermind(s) behind the murder of Arianna Barros, killed in a mass shooting of the South L.A. apartment building where she lived. Arianna is the daughter of the powerful Senator Marco Barros, and the Feds are under pressure to handle this case with delicacy. Cal is dispatched by a private client, ostensibly from Barros’ camp, to find the murderer, too. Uneasily aligned, neither Agent Lopez nor Cal are prepared for the complicated case they’re about to get sucked into—terrorists, gun fanatics, leaders of the nefarious WorldMovers Church, and a possibly sinister father who doesn’t even cry at his daughter’s funeral.

Davidson slowly unravels the web of gun owners and the clandestine puppet masters calling the shots as Cal and Lopez’s hunt for the murder weapon, an AR-15, takes them to the South Side of Chicago, the backroads of Arizona, and just over the border into Mexico. As their investigation touches on prophets and sex traffickers, it’s clear that Cal and Lopez are in dangerous waters. Cal, an assassin addicted to killing for a price and Agent Lopez, a career Fed in love with her girlfriend Camilla, must work together to make it out alive. In crisp, swift prose, Davidson captures the tension between the heroes: “Miranda was never one to be intimidated. Not by anybody. Except maybe Cal.”

Guns —a Ruger American Rifle, a Ruger .380 and a Beretta M9—are the third protagonist in Davidson’s gritty tale, playing as important a role as the humanity of Cal, and the burning ambition of Lopez. With haunting characters and memorable action, readers will be glued as Cal and Lopez get closer to cracking the murder, their drive leaping off the page to the very end.

Takeaway: Fans of tightly written thrillers with memorable detectives will enjoy this noir-tinged page turner.

Great for fans of: S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, Kathleen Kent’s The Dime.

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

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Reflections on Transcendence: Everything You Have Been Searching For Is Already Inside of You
Elizabeth M. Lykins
“What causes our unhappiness?” asks transformational coach Lykins in this browsable collection of reflections on inspirational quotes, illustrated by the paintings of Steven Lyons. Lykins grounds her philosophy in the Three Principles articulated by Sydney Banks, Universal Mind, Universal Consciousness, and Universal Thought, inviting readers into an “inside-out” approach to life centered on the understanding that our lives are not created by our external circumstances, and that we can choose to ignore our toxic and fearful thoughts and look to our inner essence for calm and happiness.

Lykins advises readers not to approach Reflections in “chronological order” and instead to “surrender fully” to what they “see and feel” while browsing the book.That means that Lykins’ repetitive revisiting of a few powerful ideas is less of an issue than it might be in a traditional guidebook, but the inconsistent layout is not optimized for the ease of browsing. Chapters are numbered in the text, but not in the table of contents, and a pivot to relationship management advice near the end is a jarring shift. The accompanying art is evocative of the right moods—with an ephemeral sense of light in the landscapes and a mystical impression from human figures—but the sense of the canvas gets lost in the reproduction, and large stretches of white space diminish the illustrations’ impact.

Nevertheless, Lykins does an excellent job connecting her ideas to a wide range of thinkers in the Western tradition, pulling quotes from creative, scientific, business, and religious luminaries and using them to exemplify the idea of trusting the self to experience life from a strong internal grounding, undeterred by difficulties in the outside world. Lykins offers readers new to the idea of “inside-out” thinking a clear introduction, and those with some experience in cultivating a mind-centered perspective a good collection of jumping-off spots for reflection.

Takeaway: Awash in calming insight, these reflections on lasting happiness will appeal to readers looking fto dip into universal wisdom.

Great for fans of: Sydney Banks’s The Enlightened Gardener; Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now.

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

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The Able Queen: Memoirs of an Indiana Hump Pilot Lost in the Himalayas
Rainy Horvath
Rainy Horvath's stirring first-person celebration of her father—Robert “Bob” Binzer—follows his wartime experiences as a pilot in the Army Air Corps Unit (the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force) during World War II. As a youngster, Binzer was enthralled by the sight of airplanes soaring above Chicago and did everything he could to pass training so he could enlist, including memorizing the eye chart with the help of his ophthalmologist father. Describing him as “a boy from Indiana who always dreamed of flying and one day got his wish,” Horvath presents in Binzer’s own words his time spent performing military missions over the Himalayas.

Binzer was thrilled to be assigned to China, despite it being one of the most dangerous areas to fly, on an aerial route known as “The Hump,” a passageway running through the Himalayas where topography, weather, and the occupying Japanese forces all posed constant threats. From his memory of trying to land at Chungking in difficult terrain to losing a rudder when flying through wires strung up to deter Japanese planes, Binzer’s straight-talking storytelling transports the readers d into the cockpit of his “Able Queen.” Expect to cringe at the vulnerability of Binzer and his crew as they traverse along the Aluminum Trail (the route between China and India strewn with crashed planes) and be mesmerized by their final flight—ending in parachuting from the plane after running out of fuel—that catapulted Binzer into his most dangerous adventure.

This unpretentious memoir also surveys Binzer’s memories of growing up during the hard times before the war. His admiration and gratitude for the Chinese peasants who aided Americans in the fight is inspirational, and essays by historians Carl W. Weidenburner and Dr. David T. Fletcher add welcome perspective. This well-researched memoir of a quiet hero is a gem for fans of World War II history.

Takeaway: This memoir of a World War II pilot offers a portrait of extraordinary courage.

Great for fans of: James M. Scott’s Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor, John R. Bruning’s Race of Aces: WWII’s Elite Airmen and the Epic Battle to Become the Master of the Sky.

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

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Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets (Book 1 in the Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries)
Sherrill Joseph
Renowned Egyptologist Dr. Thornsley dies following a string of mysterious phone calls and other incidents, leaving behind a legacy tarnished by the theft of an ancient urn. With nowhere else to turn, his widow enlists the aid of the local kids of the Botanic Hill Detectives Agency to recover the urn and clear Thornsley’s name. Thirteen-year-old budding Egyptologist Lexi Wyatt and her know-it-all twin brother Lanny join their friends, Moki Kalani and Rani Kumar, all determined to crack their first official case. As their investigation takes them all around their Southern California hometown, they encounter mysterious stalkers, nocturnal sabotage, and more adventure than they expected.

Joseph crafts a fast-paced mystery with this lively series opener, woking in some welcome educational elements even as the story entertains. Besides the focus on Egyptian myth and history, she incorporates naturalistic topics such as herpetology and landscaping. Though expositional at times, this information is primarily offered organically thanks to her quartet of resourceful, intelligent, and inquisitive protagonists. The mystery gets revealed gradually, allowing readers the opportunity to guess at the answers. Moments of danger are never too intense or prolonged, making this safe for an audience not quite ready for high stakes.

Even though this is their first official case as detectives, Joseph’s heroes are presented as world-famous, well-traveled, and having been good friends for a number of years, which leads to incongruous moments where, for the benefit of readers, they explain core aspects of their lives to one another as if for the first time, such as Lanny reminding Lexi of their parents’ occupations. Still, the relative freedom of the heroes to pursue the case, chaperoned by their tutor/bodyguard Bruce, evokes juvenile adventures of an earlier era. With its inherent exuberance and sense of innocence, plus its diverse cast, this tale will appeal to readers looking for an old-fashioned middle grade mystery with modern sensibilities.

Takeaway: Perfect for younger mystery-loving readers looking for an intelligent blend of adventure and danger.

Great for fans of: Laura Lee Hope’s Bobbsey Twins series, Sheila Turnage’s Mo & Dale Mysteries series, Shauna Holyoak’s The Kazu Jones series.

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

A Long Dark Rainbow
Sheila Tappenden
Tappenden (Pegasus to Paradise: Trauma, Survival & the Power of Love in Post-War Britain) charms in this decidedly offbeat second-chance romance, pairing an eccentric, elderly artist and the woman who got away years earlier. Nearly 70, Alexander “Alex” James is a passionate artist in the twilight of his life. On a shopping trip, he runs into divorcée Samantha Reagan, whom he last saw 40 years earlier at a gallery party, and the two soon rekindle their acquaintance. Both are somewhat wary — they’ve both been independent for ages and have their secrets (including the children Alex’s ex put up for adoption without his consent, a theme woven throughout.)

The tale starts off a bit slow, but accelerates quickly, and Tappenden, a former graphic designer and principal lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts, proves adept at genuinely surprising plot twists, particularly at the book’s conclusion. Rich prose (“He had gawped at the huge open studios bathed in northern light, reeking of turpentine and the fat richness of oil paint”) invites the reader into a sensual, colorful world, and Tappenden’s expertise on art and design lend gravitas to his Alex’s musings on artists and his passion for the medium.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the novel is Tappenden’s realistic take on geriatric dating, with the inevitable and completely believable worries about body image and performance anxieties. Readers of a certain age will certainly empathize with frank descriptions of sags, bags, and wrinkles. And while second chances in both life and love are a well-worn trope, Tappenden navigates them with relative ease, especially when sharing Alex’s inner dialogue (“Am I supposed to feel like this? A geriatric James Bond?”) and Samantha’s mourning of her younger body. Readers who enjoy their romances on the quirky side — and who want to believe in love at all stages of life — will find much to relish in this insightful tale.

Takeaway: This decidedly British second-chance romance will charm fans of love in later life.

Great for fans of: Elizabeth Berg’s Never Change, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

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

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Learning Monkey and Crocodile
Nick Wood
In this uplifting and personal sci-fi collection, set in the author’s native South Africa and on fictional planetary colonies, Wood (Azanian Bridges) examines some of modern society’s most pressing issues through the lens of speculative fiction. Themes of empathy, personal growth, and environmental conservation unite the stories, which frequently center on non-white, female, and disabled characters. In one, a group of colonists escape a barren earth, only to experience growing pains when adjusting to their new planet. In another, a psychologist attempts to connect with a young black patient in a reality in which Apartheid never ended. But even as he takes on weighty subject matter, Wood remains a profound optimist. His writing provides a welcome respite from more dystopian works in the genre.

Many of the stories hinge on similar themes, which makes for a satisfying, cohesive collection. But the similarities occasionally move beyond the thematic into the repetitive: names, settings, and professions recur without . The dialogue surrounding identity can be heavy-handed, and, although Wood takes inclusion seriously (he includes an addendum, which carefully outlines his approach to tackling identities other than his own), in practice his characters often announce their race and gender in clunky exposition.

The standout stories feel most complete and uniquely their own. The opening “Of Hearts and Monkeys,” following a clairvoyant older woman who finds a family in the midst of a viral pandemic, shines, as does “God in the Box,” the story of a psychologist reconnecting with her son after an encounter with “God.” The quick and devastating “Five Hundred Photons,” one of the bleakest pieces in an otherwise hopeful selection, offers a welcome change of pace. Some of the less grounded sci-fi pieces (“The Paragon of Knowledge” or “Thirstlands”) tackle too much for their length; as a result their worlds feel under-explored. But overall, Wood deftly combines African lore, futuristic technology, and societal critique in a poignant and moving collection.

Takeaway: Examining South Africa and society at large, these speculative short stories is perfect for fans of inclusive sci-fi with emotional urgency.

Great for fans of: Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City, Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death.

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

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Hidden Travel: The Way to More
STEVE BROCK
Brock, a writer and photographer who has published in National Geographic, encourages experienced and potential globetrotters to focus on the journey rather than the destination. This guide delights with its stunning chronicles of Brock’s visits to extraordinary sites, delicious samples of his travel photography, and his invaluable tips and tricks for turning a vacation into a search for “more.” More means more excitement, more adventure, and more meaning. Brock tutors travel aficionados on balancing scheduling and spontaneity, the mental and literal practices of packing light, and narrowing a trip’s focus for the most fulfilling experience. What makes this guide and travelogue a true gem, though, is its usefulness not just for transcontinental vacations but also to daily living.

This guide packs a punch when it comes to applying its advice to areas outside of travel: “Few things are more hidden and less helpful on a trip (or in life) than expectations. Leave yours behind to discover more.” Brock urges his audience to take life moment-by-moment, elongate their perception of time, and experience day-to-day sights, sounds, and smells with an enhanced sense of gratitude. Some of Brock’s advice (for example, returning to the same place night after night, or deciding to extend certain legs of a trip) will be difficult to follow for travelers who don’t enjoy the luxury of being able to choose like-minded companions for their trips. At times he overlooks the more mundane and practical challenges of touring-- specifically, that family and friends may vary in their bucket-list travel interests.

Between the specific trip guidance (such as speaking to locals about their favorite spots) and the dazzling photography, Hidden Travel will inspire wanderlust not just for grand excursions but also the everyday. Brock offers an exercise in appreciation, preserving the moment, and articulating what it is that you want, making this an inviting read for explorers, adventurers, or those just seeking a more purposeful way of living.

Takeaway: This travel book offers meaningful advice and stunning photographs for those planning a trip or just looking for more from life.

Great for fans of: Great for fans of Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, Rolf Potts’s Vagabonding.

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

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Membranes of Hope: A Guide to Attending to the Spiritual Boundaries that Keep Lifesystems Healthy from the Personal to the Cosmic
Theresa C. Dintino
Dintino (The Strega And The Dreamer) provides a spiritual guide for the preservation and healing of “membranes,” the protective layers of existence that she describes as manifesting themselves at physical and spiritual levels. Born out of her shamanic journeys to connect with her great-grandmother, Dintino’s visions of the Earth's membranes have hinted at a need for healing. From this beginning, she has developed a systematic plan to nurture these membranes and help them to “flourish rather than self-destruct.”

Dintino accessibly explains membranes, both at a cellular and spiritual level, as filters protecting access to some type of core. Membranes of Hope examines biological membranes on Earth as well as “energetic” or “spiritual” membranes; Dintino’s strategy for healing includes building shrines to externalize “certain ineffable concepts” and performing rituals to transform intentional “time out of ordinary time.” Rituals are fundamental for Dintino, and she advocates initiating them with an invocation stating intent, such as the healing of individuals, families, the global village, or the soul of the Earth itself, as well as incorporating into them special oils and symbolic representation of natural elements.

This healing guide draws inspiration from Dintino’s great-grandmother, who practiced magic in the Italian Strega tradition, and repeatedly returns to the image of Dintino encountering her great-grandmother’s essence in a cave. It’s not always inviting -- readers are immediately dunked into baffling spiritual jargon in the extended prologue -- and Dintino takes few pains to win over skeptics. But she starts with basic principles in her first chapter, carefully explaining her terminology and clearly relating it to her visions, recommended practices, and grand purpose. She stresses that global change will be based on collective action and names this as her primary purpose for this work. Though the end result will mostly appeal to readers already open to these spiritual beliefs, the straightforward clarity of the manual is unmistakable.

Takeaway: Readers interested in spirituality, healing, and ritual will be drawn to Dintino's detailed guide to nurturing the interconnections of all things.

Great for fans of: Caroline Myss's Anatomy Of The Spirit, Mary-Grace Fahrun's Italian Folk Magic.

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

Click here for more about Membranes of Hope
One-Way Ticket: A Hamburg Crime Story
Peter Sarda
This gritty police procedural, set in modern-day Hamburg, Germany, portrays a team of tough homicide detectives who delve into the city's grim underbelly in all its noirish glory. Thomas Ritter, a police officer with a mysterious past, transfers to Hamburg to take charge of a detective squad. He and his crew find themselves immersed in a murder with political overtones, when local official Mertens dies during an S&M game at a brothel. The investigation reveals ties to a well-connected crime boss, a dominatrix and her ex-con girlfriend, and a ruthless Albanian smuggler, whose stories come together in an explosive finish.

Sarda, an American living in Germany, brings Hamburg's seedy side to life, with black-humored dialog and descriptions well-suited to a dark and violent story. When Ritter notes that the prison looks old-fashioned compared to the one in Frankfurt, another officer says, "We’re more traditional here. Still got bullet holes in the back wall, next to the guillotine." A suicide comes across in stark, bleak prose: "The steam took the sting out of the first cut. She didn’t even feel the second…Let it flow. Let it all out." Sarda doesn't stint on graphic descriptions of sex and violence — this is vigorous prose appropriate to the milieu but not for the easily offended.

Ritter has a wounded psyche and his attempts to come to terms with who he has become thread through the book. Also well-limned is his partner Motz Beck, fighting his own inner demons and penchant for violence. Ritter and Motz's joint interrogation brilliantly shows how these two detectives, in spite of — or perhaps because of — their damaged characters, subtly break down a suspect. A pair of sex workers share a romance that elevates the characters far beyond tired stereotypes. With a well-defined cast, an intricate plot, and plenty of action, devotees of hardboiled police procedurals will find themselves breathless by the end

Takeaway: Fans of noir fiction will revel in this twisty story of tough cops, brutal gangsters and other denizens of Hamburg's underworld.

Great for fans of: James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammett, Jakob Arjouni.

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

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Princess Sabrina and the Pot of Gold
Michael Pellico
Pellico’s illustrated middle grade thriller brings a fresh twist to the familiar myth about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. When curious pre-teens on an Irish vacation swipe a shimmering, mysterious fortune, they get whisked away to the magical land of the Leprechauns. They discover a kingdom in disarray, with a false ruler in power and the true queen, Sabrina, imprisoned in a dungeon. To help Sabrina restore health and prosperity to her land and overpower the king’s army, the kids must rely on their own innate abilities – as well as a little otherworldly assistance.

Young readers will find this book engrossing, as it has all the trappings of an epic battle between good and evil: terrifying creatures, magical powers, deceit, and even romance, as Avery, the book’s 15-year-old hero, experiences intense (and mutual) feelings of attraction for Sabrina. Malane Newman’s bright, appealing illustrations give the story meaning and depth, imbuing each character with charisma that is sometimes lacking in the text. The most charming are Sabrina and her brother, Riordan, who have glittering green hair and pointed, elf-like ears. While the characters’ traditional journey won’t feel particularly fresh to older kids steeped in adventure storytelling, Princess Sabrina has plenty of suspense to spark the imaginations of the under-13 crowd.

A medical researcher and film producer, Pellico writes like someone who has spent a lot of time telling stories to kids – particularly his niece, Sabrina, who inspired this tale. The descriptions of the characters and the scenery are straightforward enough for children of all ages to grasp, and the uncomplicated phrasing makes this novel ideal for emerging readers. Pre-teen fantasy and science fiction fans will enjoy this dive into the mythical world at the end of the rainbow and will easily relate to the characters’ experience of self-discovery.

Takeaway: This middle grade fantasy thriller will capture imaginations with its journey through the mythical world at the end of the rainbow.

Great for fans of: Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos’s The Adventurers Guild, Connie Glynn’s Undercover Princess.

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

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