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Lassa the Viking and the Dragon's Inferno
Dean Yurke
Yurke’s fast-paced adventure captures the swashbuckling atmosphere of Northern Europe in the 11th century CE, though at times it struggles with a lack of historical accuracy. At age 13, Lassa Erikson knows he only wants to be a healer, but he’s conned by his twin brother, Sven, into joining the Viking army. When Lassa accidentally kills the Saxon military commander Modred, he is hailed as a hero. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Saxon princess Ann is determined to pick up a sword and fight alongside the men, but she ends up as Lassa’s prisoner, and he claims her as his wife to save her from his rough fellow Vikings. When Viking king Magnus is kidnapped, Ann and Lassa are thrust into a desperate battle while a mysterious dragon cult tries to eradicate all of Norse and Saxon culture. Lassa must prove himself as a confident warrior to win Ann’s heart and save the Vikings from the Dragon King.

A plethora of anachronisms pull readers out of the time period and interrupt the story’s flow. There are a number of glaring factual errors: Lassa describes a Viking tune as resembling the Christian hymn “Good King Wenceslas,” a 19th-century song with a 13th-century melody; Lassa’s mentor, Chinese alchemist Choy Yang, predates the documented arrival of Chinese immigrants to England and Norway by hundreds of years. Likewise, language choices for the characters, such as Lassa repeatedly saying things are “cool,” make it difficult to fully immerse oneself in the time period, though the creative liberties may appeal to an uncritical younger audience.

Lassa’s struggle to fit in with the older, tougher Vikings is peppered with boyish humour and palpable nervous tension. Both Lassa and Ann have engaging, distinctive voices, and as they both try to break free from the gender restrictions of their time, they make a very sympathetic couple. Young readers who care more about fun adventure than historical accuracy will enjoy Yurke’s rip-roaring storytelling.

Takeaway: Sweeping atmosphere and a zippy pace will draw adventure-minded middle grade readers to this tale of Viking and Saxon warfare and romance.

Great for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants, Terry Jones’s The Saga of Erik the Viking.

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

A LONG WAY HOME
Myra Hargrave McIlvain
In McIlvain’s lively but uneven novel, corporate executive Meredith Haggerty escapes her brutal husband, Harvey, by hiding in the chaos following the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. She flees her office with only her ever-present satchel as the building collapses, faking her death. She’s suffused with guilt over driving drunk and getting in a crash that left Harvey partially paralyzed, but she feels she’s paid her dues by enduring his abuse in the decade since. As she rides a bus to Mexico, fellow passenger Father Jacques “Rich” Richelieu, a priest and medical doctor, recognizes a woman in need of help. Rich invites her to stay at his community center in Brownsville, Tex. Once she’s settled, her stash of cash is stolen and she must rely on meager earnings and the kindness of her new community, all while living in fear of exposure.

McIlvain (Stein House) vividly depicts Meredith’s escape against the backdrop of the traumatic events of 9/11, and the scenes of Rich and other knowledgeable people recognizing the clear signs of domestic abuse are well-written and sensitively approached. As Meredith navigates a new life in a place filled with poverty, violence, and sorrow, McIlvain keeps the book’s tone from descending too far into the dark, adding a touch of romance as well as some melodrama in a subplot involving a young Mexican boy.

The writing falters in the last quarter as the author winds up to the denouement, tying up loose ends in brisk fashion. Life-altering decisions for Father Rich and Meredith seem too convenient and neat. Even with these missteps, this novel is powerful and compelling. The mutual misery of Meredith and Harvey’s marriage is capably portrayed, and Meredith is a complicated and appealing heroine. Readers will breathlessly turn pages to the end.

Takeaway: Readers intrigued by heroines on the run and possibly in need of redemption will love this vivid novel of a woman using the events of 9/11 to escape her abusive husband.

Great for fans of Don Winslow’s The Border, Barbara O’Neal.

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

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Third-Person Possessed
Mike Klaassen
Klaassen’s manual for novice fiction writers suggests that the key to a successful novel depends on its style. Klaassen focuses on creating a sense of intimacy in writing that keeps readers engaged. He calls this style “third-person possessed,” a technique for “writing third person in a way that allows the reader to consistently experience the story as if he is inside the character’s mind and body,” and in this eminently readable work, he explains his strategy for maintaining it throughout a novel.

Klaassen argues that most current bestselling authors made their mark toward the end of the 20th century, and though their prose was cutting-edge for its time, new writers won’t be able to achieve similar heights by imitating that older style. He advocates for “third-person possessed” as the path forward in the 21st century. However, when discussing “some of the greatest stories ever told,” Klaassen lists Moby-Dick, The Great Gatsby, and Gone with the Wind. Often uncritical of earlier authors’ prose, Klaassen’s attempt to connect their style to his own technique often undercuts the book’s claim that 21st-century literature needs a new stylistic approach. Works by women and people of color receive fewer mentions. Klaassen recommends against physically describing characters, as a reader who doesn’t share their traits might be jarred out of identifying with them; authors of work that hinges on gender, race, ability, or size may prefer his advice to “give the reader credit for being intelligent.”

Over 13 short chapters, Klaassen discusses how to cultivate a compelling narrative, fleshed-out characters, consistent prose, and a fully revised book manuscript. Many tips are sourced from Wikipedia or older writing manuals. Though purportedly aimed at novelists of all levels, the book is primarily for novice authors who lack access to a professional editor. This overview of intimate prose style techniques is most useful as a crash course in grammatical and literary devices that create an intimate reading experience.

Takeaway: Klaassen’s persuasive guide to writing intimate third-person narratives provides useful tips to authors working on their first manuscripts.

Great for fans of Stephen King’s On Writing, Karen S. Weisner, John Truby.

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

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How to Design a Threshold
Ted Bernal Guevara
This ingenious venture from Guevara (Films) launches the main characters—Chereb Antonisz, a Jewish socialite; Zeyad Mugrabi, a Muslim stowaway; Asha Guitierrez, a Filipina schoolgirl; and Father Schoeff, a prophetic priest—into a collision with mystical implications in 1950s New York. At Schoeff’s first sermon at St. Jude’s Cathedral, he predicts the years the Yankees will win the pennant, to the displeasure of Msgr. Randolph, St. Jude’s senior priest. Schoeff’s awkward behavior garners media attention. During a radio interview, he explains that he makes predictions because “Free will can be enhanced, and that is [his] primary duty.”

The reader’s enthusiasm for the plot twists may begin to ebb when a character explicitly discloses why Zeyad, Chereb, Asha, and Schoeff were brought together, undermining the pleasure of discovering the plot as the story unfolds. But their interest will be recaptured by Guevara’s tight, poetic wording, which deftly depicts and evokes emotion: “Chereb... fell like a soft stone. Her otherwise street-brass heart at twenty couldn’t be more curious.” Mundane characters drop philosophical nuggets into Schoeff’s lap, and he encounters the divine in the guise of a stranger. Guevara paints a clear picture of these minor characters with vivid phrases and details: “His face had a scar that mowed a line down to his bearded chin... his trousers leaking at the hems.”

Even though death—often gruesome—laces through the story, comedy is there in greater measure. Chereb’s sublime humor bordering on mischief and Msgr. Randolph’s dry sarcasm balance Schoeff’s almost slapstick take: “When Uncle Dam passed away, Schoeff saw the humor of life slip away on ice. It was up to him to maintain balance and not fall.” Snippets of dialogue incorporate the racism of the 1950s, adding a layer of reality and context. Readers of magical realism will enjoy deciphering what is real and what is imagined in this sly, clever novel.

Takeaway: This poignant novel set in 1950s New York engages readers of magical realism with rich language, humor, and deep emotion.

Great for fans of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Darcie Little Badger’s “Skinwalker, Fast-Talker.”

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

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The City That Barks And Roars
JT Bird
This wild adventure is packed with talking animals, hilarious antics, and a thrilling mystery. After the great flood, Noah opened the ramp of his ark, and the animals stepped out first, solidifying their dominant role in this alternate history. Fast forward through the evolutionary process to 1952, when the city Noah’s Kingdom is home to millions of anthropomorphic animals. Grumpy detective Frank Penguin and his clean-cut partner, Chico Monkey, are assigned to track down a missing detective and three beavers, a mission that brings them snout-to-snout with the city’s most corrupt gangsters. Danger lurks around every corner as they race to solve the case before innocent lives are lost.

Bird’s playful noir weaves whimsy and hilarity into the backdrop of an exhilarating whodunit. Witty puns and amusing wordplay sprinkle the pages: there are references to the literary classic Jane Bear and the popular movie A Street Cat Named Desire. Bird brings anthropomorphic characters to life through creative, authentic characterizations. For example, the beaver doesn’t drink coffee from a human-size mug; instead, Bird’s imagination conjures up a more appropriate vessel, the dainty thimble. This attention to detail shines throughout, including Chico’s aftershave (Eau De La Nana by Franco Chimpo) and Frank’s 1950s detective attire, complete with mac jacket.

Plot isn’t neglected in this fast-paced, delightful escape from reality. The tension is high throughout, with many misdirections (which is not to say red herrings) and surprising twists leading to a dramatic happy ending. The noir atmosphere drips from the pages and creates a dynamic setting reminiscent of Dick Tracy comics, if Tracy happened to be a monkey in a city of animals. Any mystery fan looking for a hearty laugh will adore this anthropomorphic frolic.

Takeaway: This hilarious noir-inspired comedy wins readers’ hearts with anthropomorphic animals and a clever mystery full of genuine twists.

Great for fans of Thomas Perry’s Metzger’s Dog, Douglas Adams, Joyce Porter, Donald Westlake.

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

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The Amazing Adventures of Jimmy Crikey
Wallace Briggs
Jimmy McGellan, nicknamed “Crikey” by cruel classmates for his shocking red hair, large feet, and pointed ears, is a strange boy who overcomes a variety of tricky situations in this exciting middle grade adventure novel. When he decides to run away from his kind guardian, Aunt Ethel, Jimmy stumbles into a subterranean world known as Roombelow, where he has wild adventures and becomes fast friends with the inhabitants. During his explorations, he solves problems, including the theft of glowing stones; thwarts attacks; and reunites diminutive well-dweller Gemma with her family. On a trip back to the surface, Aunt Ethel divulges that Jimmy is actually an alien from Attalia. Longing for somewhere he will fit in, Jimmy boards his deceased parents’ spaceship and returns to Attalia, where he must combat a serious threat from hostile aliens.

The episodic arcs have all the charm and whimsy of impromptu bedtime stories. The overlapping imaginative worlds delightfully blend water sprites, superpowers, and sentient computers; this mingling of science fiction and fantasy might not seem coherent at first glance, but it sparks imagination and helps to build independent tales. There is a retro feel to the plotting and writing, harkening back to mid-20th-century juvenile adventure books with daring escapes, clever plans, and quickly forgotten escapades. A handful of pen-and-ink illustrations give a tantalizing glimpse into Jimmy’s world.

There are obvious moral lessons in swift consequences for actions and Jimmy’s growing confidence as he finds acceptance, delivered with a light touch that’s appropriate for young readers. His keen insights predictably outshine the plans of adults, sometimes to a degree that adults will find outrageous but children will delight in. Briggs’s avuncular style lends itself well to reading aloud, and the self-contained stories make for perfectly bite-sized tales. Jimmy’s exploits are a charming, action-packed lark.

Takeaway: This lively collection of capers for younger children will find fans as a read-aloud with a nostalgic, improvisational feel.

Great for fans of Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price.

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

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Caging Curiosity: A song of cages and liberties
Tayo Olajide
Olajide’s complex and sometimes muddled debut tangles the reader in an epic historical tale of war, plague, and the quest for power. As a pandemic ravages the 16th-century West African village of Idumagbo, Adeolu, a studious and scientific medicine man who’s secretly the son of murdered King Oyeade, tries to find both the disease’s cause and its cure. Adherents to various religions argue over which gods should be appeased, and palace intrigue heats up. As King Abiodun bestows favors on his unworthy cronies, his mother, medicine woman Keniola, plots with rebels to depose him, while a movement toward electing kings begins to take shape.

Despite a plot that could rival any epic, this tale of an unlikely prince’s ascent is unfortunately let down by a myriad of missteps. Unclear transitions, awkward exposition (“No one really knew why the animosity between the king and his brother came about,” the narrative states before explaining exactly why), inconsistencies, and dropped side plots present the reader with many challenges. The plot could easily sustain a trilogy; squeezed into only 400 pages, it has little room to breathe, and quick progress through exciting turns of events comes at the expense of setups, payoffs, and detail. The dramatic death of a central character in a battle against an invading army passes almost without notice.

Readers who employ their own imaginations to fill in the gaps will find much to appreciate in the bones of the story, and especially the characters: Keniola becoming a crowd favorite as she reclaims her throne after tragedy, Adeolu demonstrating his single-mindedness and vast intelligence, Abiodun rivaling the great villains of history with his savagery and nepotism. This treacherous and twisty royal family, the appealing setting, and the bold ending hint at Olajide’s potential.

Takeaway: Readers who enjoy royal intrigue where power plays and succession debates outweigh action will most appreciate this 16th-century West African palace drama.

Great for fans of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, Marlon James’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf.

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

When Caregiving Calls
Aaron Blight
With a warm, empathetic tone, home care consultant Blight guides readers down the often-rocky path of caring for a disabled, aging, or dying relative or friend—a road he walked personally after his mother-in-law was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Blight and his wife, Jessica, cared for Jessica’s ailing mother until her death, and then Blight founded his own home care business. In 18 concise chapters, Blight describes how caregiving can gradually take over someone’s life, and he pulls no punches about the increasing emotional turmoil of each increase in responsibility. He views this process as having two possible, equally legitimate outcomes: turning over care to professional caregivers, or “internally resolv[ing] the role identity conflict” that occurs when caregiving occupies the central place in one’s life that used to go to being a spouse, parent, or professional.

Blight wisely takes into account a wide range of family dynamics, including caring for an estranged parent. He also discusses the safety of long-term care facilities in the Covid-19 era. Blight discusses how to balance work, siblings, spouses, and more, and he doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable issues. In fact, he facilitates such discussions by ending each chapter with open-ended questions. Throughout the book, he counsels readers to explore options and make their own decision.

Blight knows from experience that caregiving often feels overwhelming, and he’s careful to support, encourage, and empower fellow travelers. His repeated reassurance that it’s absolutely fine to hire caregivers or place a loved one in a care facility will soothe those who have been criticized for considering those options. He also points out that being supportively present at the end of another person’s life can bring profound gifts of learning and enlightenment. This outstanding guide will be a lifesaver for anyone saddled with these immense responsibilities and seeking peace of mind.

Takeaway: Members of the “sandwich generation” and others serving as caregivers for loved ones will benefit greatly from this empathetic and informative guide.

Great for fans of Jane Gross’s A Bittersweet Season, Alexis Abramson’s The Caregiver's Survival Handbook, Linda Abbit’s The Conscious Caregiver.

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

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Bishop's Law
Rafael Amadeus Hines
This heart-pounding sequel to Bishop’s War is a wild ride from start to finish. Jamaican-Panamanian American war hero John Bishop, newly retired from the military, is wrestling with the loss of his Uncle Sesa, the betrayal of his Uncle Nestor, and the efforts of his Uncle Gonzalo to turn the Valdez crime family completely legitimate. Bishop finds his retirement short-lived after the president asks him to assemble a team to stop ISIS from attacking New York City. Pivoting between New York’s Lower East Side and the ever-changing location of an ISIS terrorist cell, the novel forces its protagonist to choose among family, love, and duty.

Thrill-seekers will love Hines’s quick-paced dialogue and action scenes, though readers more interested in the relationships and motivations that keep the plot moving may be disappointed. The primary motivation for killing in this book is revenge, and though Hines contextualizes well for readers who missed Bishop’s War, the countless revenge killings in this installment may bewilder new and returning readers alike. Similarly, a major decision made by John’s wife, Maria, doesn’t make sense given what readers know of her character, leading to confusion that undermines the shock of the twist. With six different plot lines, it’s frustrating to have much of the story left to be resolved in a future book.

Where Bishop’s second outing succeeds is in being informative as well as entertaining. Hines breaks down military lingo for the uninitiated and shines a light on bigotry and corruption in both the U.S. Armed Forces and the government. His hero operates under a strict code of honor and sees the potential in all people to help save the day, whether they’re reformed assassins, hardened ex-cons, or simply the newest members of his team. Bishop is a war hero for the 21st century, and thriller fans will enjoy his bloody quest to save the day.

Takeaway: This exhilarating and violent thriller will please readers looking for non-stop action and a tough, honorable protagonist of color.

Great for fans of Walter Mosley, Danny Gardner, Lee Child.

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

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The Man on the Rails
Rovshan Abdullaoglu
Bringing together history, theology, philosophy, and psychology, Abdullaoglu contemplates the stories of two men attempting suicide on the same train track. Ted, who grew up in New Brunswick, is the product of a less than loving childhood. His life was once idyllic but turned sour with the death of his mother and the remarriage of his father, and another tragedy sealed his fate. Farouk, raised in Saskatchewan, is haunted by events that happened before his birth and his past suicide attempts. As the men await their final moments, they discuss fate, literature, relationships, and the history that led them both to the rails.

Readers interested in exploring religion, notable authors, and the history of the Balkans will find a wealth of information. That knowledge comes at the expense of the dialogue: Ted and Farouk’s discussions feel more like a collection of essays. The philosophy is earnest, but its analysis of free will and predestination is familiar (“No one can ever escape his fate.... We can only act as the universe’s coding instructs us—just like in a computer program”). Scenes showing the men’s individual lives and the lives of their families do more to humanize them, and moments of genuine emotion help to make clichés (the dead mother and the wicked stepmother, the character in a novel who is himself a writer) feel, at times, plausibly real.

The exploration of family dynamics is filled with sincere emotion, specifically during and after the war in Bosnia, from which Farouk’s parents, Serbian journalist Adriana and Bosnian tour guide Amin, flee to Canada. The story of Adriana and her family is truly heartbreaking. Abdullaoglu finds clever and satisfying ways to tie the beginning and the ending together. Readers who persevere through the novel’s more dense sections will find much to appreciate in the historical narrative.

Takeaway: This eclectic mix of philosophical investigation and historical fiction will draw in readers interested in the generational consequences of trauma.

Great for fans of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.

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

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Betrayal in Blue
C. R. Downing
In this tense, violent series launch set in 1984 Manzanita, Calif., PI Philip “Dancer” Mamba navigates among competing drug gangs and a station full of crooked cops. A pharmaceutical executive who's a secret drug dealer hires Mamba as part of a long-term scheme. The police chief, his volatile mistress, other officers, and a colorful cast of lowlifes have their own hidden motives, and Mamba, a former officer himself, has to tease them out. As he unravels everyone's plots, the criminals attempt to cover their tracks with murder and bribery, and Mamba assembles a team he hopes he can trust to bring justice to Manzanita.

Downing excels at jumping nimbly among multiple points of view, veering between police and criminals as both sides become increasingly desperate to get their way. There are some subplots that don't advance the main plot, leading to confusion and draining some of the tension, but overall, the scenes advance quickly. Downing demonstrates an impressive ability to describe an investigation with enough fascinating detail to satisfy the most obsessive police procedural enthusiast.

The richly developed characters are all stars: sociopathic drug kingpins; a police sergeant with a critically ill wife, whose marriage is described in heartbreaking detail; a former boxer trying to hold on to his dignity as he reaches his emotional and physical end. Downing doesn't deal in stereotypes, and readers will remember and sympathize with both heroes and villains. Even a low-level dealer gets a believable backstory and an emotional end: "The too-short roller coaster life... was over." The swiftly moving plots and indelible characters will keep readers invested in this thriller until the last page.

Takeaway: Meticulously drawn investigations and an unforgettable cast of heroes and villains will keep thriller fans immersed in this 1980s-set crime novel.

Great for fans of Joseph Wambaugh, Ed McBain.

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

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Blockbuster
Richard H. Smith
Smith’s languorous debut is a coming-of-age tale set in a busy movie theater run by a capable but doubtful young man at a crossroads in his life. It’s 1975 in the recently desegregated Durham, N.C., and 19-year-old avid reader and movie buff Nate Burton is assistant manager of the Yorktowne Theater. Nate defuses tense situations with unruly theater patrons and employees with compassion, maturity, and efficiency. In direct contrast is theater manager Horace Bullock, a racist, homophobic, misogynistic sexual predator and gambling addict whom everyone despises. When Bullock is found murdered behind the theater, there is no shortage of suspects. Everyone is more excited about the summer’s expected blockbuster movie, Jaws, by some untested director named Steven Spielberg.

The energetic murder mystery takes second billing as Smith emphasizes Nate’s ambitions and his relationships with friends and coworkers. Self-conscious about his Korean heritage, his reading disability, and his postponed dreams of college, Nate confides in Spence Reeves, the theater’s Black custodian, who was once a Buffalo Soldier. Landlady Mrs. Roe, with whom Nate shares a love of literature, becomes a surrogate mother. When Nate is promoted to theater manager, Smith chooses to focus on Nate’s choices for his future and his pursuit of love interest Carrie Jenkins, leaving the investigation in the background.

Though racial tensions are present, Smith indulges in a bit of glossing-over; the descriptions and dialogue are genteel and never distressing. Readers will be enveloped by the warmth of Americana, the soul of Black musicians, and the savor of down-home Southern cooking. Film buffs will relish the movie trivia and film history as the anticipation of Jaws’ release builds. This is a sepia-tinted trip down memory lane that allows a young man of color to be an ordinary American dreamer.

Takeaway: Film buffs will enjoy following a young man’s coming of age in and around a movie theater in 1975 North Carolina.

Great for fans of Delia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, John Green.

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

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In This Land of Plenty
Mary Smathers
Smathers’s richly detailed debut explores history and diversity through the family tree of a woman in California. Nicole Sinclair’s mother passed away, and Nicole takes a DNA test in hopes of discovering genetic reasons for her early death. Instead of diseases, she finds diversity: her DNA links her to ancestors originating from the Iberian Peninsula, Mexico, the Western U.S., Africa, Ireland, France, England, and Germany. This goes against the all-white history her father always claimed, forcing Nicole to wonder whether her father really knew his family background or purposefully elected to believe only the parts he desired. The answers Nicole finds on her journey for the truth change her life.

Though slightly overwritten, this is an engaging, painstakingly researched narrative. Once Nicole teams up with her great-grandmother to explore the family’s history and look for related documents, the discoveries blossom. Secrets from the past are revealed, and the settling of California is frankly appraised from the vantage points of its first inhabitants. Nicole eventually learns about her Californio ancestors, who include Diego, a Spanish soldier, and Tar, a captured Ohlone native. Each of the novel’s engrossing, and at times painful, narratives could be a standalone story.

Extensive research and the use of various languages combine to lend a sense of authenticity. The novel visits various time periods to recount chronicles of Nicole’s ancestors, whose lives are well developed. Maps are included to help readers visualize some of the characters' journeys. Different eras are woven together seamlessly, and the powerful history in the novel sets the backdrop for lively and lovable characters. This is an invitation to not just accept but cherish the value and beauty of diversity. In this ambitious work, Smathers imparts the wisdom of studying the past in order to move more fully and sincerely into the future.

Takeaway: This intriguing mix of history with a contemporary story of discovery and acceptance will powerfully move readers looking for narratives of the American melting pot.

Great for fans of James A. Michener, Scott O’Dell.

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

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Happy Father's Day
Virginia Madison
Madison’s emotional memoir eulogizes, honors, and pays homage to her beloved father, who died when she was a young adult. The storytelling is bracketed by scenes of her father’s untimely death after a struggle with lymphoma, but between those bookends of suffering, Madison builds a delicate and affecting portrait of her father, whom she calls Old Bean. The chapters are short and episodic, so readers can turn to essentially any page for a meaningful, self-contained story about a man who always kept ample amounts of tissue paper in his pocket, just in case his family members had a need for it, and made the best milk tea, which Madison eagerly anticipated on her visits from her home in the U.S. to her native Hong Kong.

Writing to her father in the second person, Madison all but erases herself from her own memoir. The reader will sometimes feel the lack of context, background, and character-building around the narrator herself. Readers seeing her only in connection to her father will wonder who she is independent of him; yet she seems almost to resolutely turn the lens away from herself and use her experiences only as a conduit through which to portray a man with whom she had a complex, deeply loving relationship.

Many of the snapshots of Madison’s father show a parent doing unremarkable things: caring for a sick child, arriving to the airport an hour early, helping a little too much with homework, taking a Sunday nap. But Madison writes, “Nothing you did for us was simply ordinary,” and she takes care to show the beauty, fun, and love in these quiet moments and small gestures. The stories read like a catharsis for the author, a final love letter to the man whose indelible presence shaped her upbringing and will surely continue to guide her future.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a touching, tender father-daughter story will gravitate toward this memoir of a charming, attentive, and deeply caring father gone too soon.

Great for fans of Sarah Tomlinson, Jeannette Walls.

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

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Hidden Lessons from History
Peter Security Chronis
Chronis uses rigorous research to give context to these spectacular photographs of notable locations throughout the world. He writes that the history of a famous site is as important as the image of the site itself. Exploring both natural wonders and man-made structures, Chronis provides background for buildings as familiar as the Eiffel Tower as well as more obscure edifices such as Puerto Rico’s Livingston Field.

Some descriptions in Chronis’s work are more relevant than others. Although the Memorial for Peace and Justice is a worthy subject, the text discusses civil rights in general rather than the specifics of the memorial. Similarly, the image of a boat near Costa Rica’s Playa Islita isn’t particularly enhanced by a note on the high life expectancy in that area. The photo of Thingvellir National Park conveys a sense of the majesty of the region that has little to do with Iceland boasting the longest-running legislative assembly in history. However, Chronis dives fearlessly into religious controversy, provocative and potentially contentious historical assertions, and the human cost of constructing magnificent structures. His beautiful shot of the White House is given important perspective when he observes that slave labor helped build it.

Bold photography choices contribute to the artistry of the work. The photo of Canada’s Mount Jimmy Simpson is in black and white, emphasizing the mirror image composition of the mountain on the lake, while Saint Barthélemy’s Anse Du Gouverneur is in color to highlight the brilliance of the sky coupled with the turquoise ocean in the cove. Chronis’s incisive visuals and condensed but fascinating text give readers food for thought as well as a visual feast. This is the epitome of a coffee-table book: lovely to glance at, rewarding to spend time wiith, and full of good conversation starters.

Takeaway: Readers who value both beauty and history will enjoy this polished book of landmark photographs given historical context.

Great for fans of Publication International’s World Landmarks, Parragon Books’ 100 Landmarks of the World.

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

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The People We Wanted to Forget
Michael G. Harpold
Harpold’s memoir of his time as a civilian adviser during the Vietnam War, and later working for the Border Management Agency, is sometimes meandering but deeply humane. Embedded with the South Vietnamese National Police Field Force in a militarily strategic province, he was tasked with training the NPPF to root out Viet Cong infiltrators without involving the U.S. military. He encountered atrocities and corruption, drove back the enemy, and developed deep friendships. Several years later, he led efforts to bring war refugees to the United States, beginning with a dramatic incident wherein he saved the lives of several people on a refugee boat. His quick thinking resulted in significant policy change.

Harpold’s extraordinary stories about living in the small town of Tam Ky explore the intersection of his civilian status and military training, and he uses maps and photographs to vividly enhance the narrative and help the reader follow along. His personal accounts of courage, hospitality and corruption are a highlight, but the end of his tour puts an abrupt end to these tales. Mundane stateside notes regarding dealing with bureaucracy and going on family vacations are a stark counterpoint to the memoir’s more dramatic aspects. But when Harpold travels to Thailand in an attempt to save the lives of Vietnamese refugees and begin righting the wrongs of American abandonment, the narrative crackles with tense excitement.

Often enlightening, this account also sometimes veers off into narrative dead ends and irrelevant anecdotes, such as extended meditations on meals. No matter his role, Harpold’s morality and compassion are evident; he has lived by his conscience at every point, even to the point of defying orders. Harpold’s memoir is at its best when he writes about navigating moral hurdles in a setting that defied easy choices. Anyone drawn to unconventional wartime stories will find this a satisfying work from a compassionate civilian perspective.

Takeaway: Readers interested in an American civilian’s firsthand account of the Vietnam War and a compassionate, reasoned take on immigration policy will be drawn to Harpold’s detailed memoir.

Great for fans of Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves, Truong Nhu Tang’s A Viet Cong Memoir, Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie.

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

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