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Cape Wrath
Ted Olson
Olson’s accomplished, time-crossed debut weaves together elements of mystery, romance, and the supernatural against the backdrop of desolate Cape Wrath in the Scottish Highlands. The time-crossed story centers on the lives of Andrea Sinclair, a theater actress, and Thomas MacAllister, a Royal Navy officer turned lighthouse keeper in the years after World War II. Andrea believes “If he loves me, he will leave” the Highlands, but soon their love is overshadowed by secrets and tragedy. Olson skilfully constructs a dual timeline narrative that follows the intertwined fates of characters across generations, with the novel’s first half focusing on Andrea and Thomas’s love affair, the mysterious lighthouse, and Andrea’s acting career, the narrative gradually unveiling layers of hidden truths. In the second half, Mary, an investigative reporter, and Evan, Thomas's nephew, join forces to unravel the mysteries surrounding Thomas's untimely demise and a possible supernatural presence haunting the abandoned lighthouse.

Despite the lack of a singular protagonist, Olson’s ensemble and his intricately crafted milieu propels the narrative forward. Andrea emerges as the connecting thread between the two narrative epochs, as she embarks with Mary and Evan on a quest for answers. The atmospheric setting of Cape Wrath serves as a character in itself, with Olson's vivid descriptions (one light is “small but brilliant, and it hovered above the dark mass of the ridge, on a horizon separating land and sea”) evoking the harsh beauty and isolation of Scotland's northern coast.

In the end, the lighthouse fittingly emerges as the center point of everyone’s quest for answers, providing much-needed closure for Andrea. Olson's indulgent storytelling and rich character development will transport readers of richly emotional literary romances into a place caught between land and sea, past and present, and reality and the supernatural. Olson captures the essence of this place and these characters across decades, crafting a timeless romance rich with poignant reflections on the human experience and the complexities of grief.

Takeaway: Decades-spanning story of romance, mystery, and a remote Scottish lighthouse.

Comparable Titles: M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans, Hazel Gaynor’s The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter.

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

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Cold Fury
Toni Anderson
Anderson plunges readers into a gripping romantic thriller that unfolds with the escape of Julius Leech, a convicted serial killer. Leech’s escape is a nightmare for Hope Harper, the assistant district attorney who has a dark history with him: seven years ago, Hope orchestrated Leech’s acquittal for a different crime on a technicality, despite her misgivings that he was, in fact, guilty. Shortly after her courtroom win, Hope discovered her husband and daughter brutally murdered, a crime she immediately pinned on Leech—though he maintained his innocence from the start. Now, with him on the loose, Hope’s once again in danger.

Under around-the-clock protection from the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, led by Aaron Nash, Hope finds herself bunking down with Nash and his operatives inside her home, while Leech goes on an escalating spree of murders—and seeks vengeance against those responsible for his conviction. As Hope continues her pursuit of justice in the courtroom while being surrounded by armed men, Agent Frazer is assigned to the hunt, and Leech’s personal assistant, Blake Delaware, and old friend Eloisa are drawn into the fray. Meanwhile, Aaron grapples with Hope’s controlling nature—and wrestles with mistrust towards her brother-in-law Brendan—until the two collide in the throes of a forbidden romance, complicating an already volatile situation.

Anderson masterfully weaves a tale of danger and desire, expertly balancing suspense with romantic tension in this fourth installment of her Cold Justice – Most Wanted series (after Cold Snap). The narrative threads converge in a gripping climax, leading to her capture by Leech. Amidst the chaos, a shocking revelation about Hope’s family changes everything. Anderson delves into the complexities of a relentless woman confronting the fallout of her ambition, while highlighting the consequences of misdeeds in an unjust and corrupt world.

Takeaway: Romantic thriller fueled by gripping tension and an explosive ending.

Comparable Titles: Willow Rose’s Don’t Lie to Me, Jo Nesbo’s Police.

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

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Uncharted: A widow's journey back to life and love cruising the Intracoastal Waterway
Barbara A Busenbark
Busenbark’s debut is a heady mix of genres, from tragedy to travel, that kicks off with the death of her husband, Rick, after 32 years of marriage. Suddenly, Busenbark is transformed into a widow, left to fend for herself, though she’s surrounded by family: “I feared I couldn’t control the sorrow consuming me. I needed to keep my hell private” she writes. In time, Busenbark meets Tim, who introduces her to sailing, sweeping her into a coastal escape where she finds inspiration for her paintings in the New England seascapes. What follows is a widow’s attempt to rediscover herself through self-sufficiency, art, and love.

The journey is incremental and unhurried, as Busenbark lingers on descriptions of her surroundings and extracts philosophical lessons from her experiences. It’s also punctuated by tragedy—not long after her husband’s death, Busenbark’s son, Richard, died of an overdose—but not in a way that is depressing; rather, it’s a slow, aching pain that gradually transcends into a deep appreciation for the small treasures in life. Busenbark’s artistic side manifests in the stunning visual imagery of her writing, as when she describes the changes she undergoes as “layers of emotion stacked up like a pile of old books, each with a story and hundreds of pages.”

The memoir’s second half is devoted to Busenbark’s sailing excursion with Tim from Maine to Florida, a meandering but vivid flow of historical landmarks, sailing jargon, and shocking weather. Family members often pop in for guest appearances, and Busenbark is candid about the fears that accompany such an immense undertaking. Her memories of Rick beat a steady rhythm throughout, as she wisely declares “there are some things you can’t fix and some thoughts that remain buried within our souls.” This is a poignant narrative about love, loss, and life that exposes the heartrending side of grief alongside the beauty that comes with healing.

Takeaway: A widow rediscovers herself through art, sailing, and new love.

Comparable Titles: Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye.

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

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How Your Guitar Works: An Introduction to Music Instrument Science
Bill Foley
Shredders, pickers, gear heads, and anyone fascinated by what’s actually happening inside their guitars will appreciate this illuminating (but advanced) introduction to the science and secrets of the instrument from Foley (author of Build Your Own Electric Guitar). This study blends history, science, and an encyclopedic knowledge of headstock and pickup designs and more. The in-depth examinations of the fundamentals of waveforms and electromagnetism are steps toward mastering what matters most: sound. That means a somewhat heady discussion of magnetic circuits lays the groundwork for an explanation of the impact of an instrument’s magnetic field conditions on guitar strings, including each’s “harmonic tonal response.” Foley’s fully illustrated history of pickups, from early “humbuckers” to classic models and beyond, likewise digs deep into how each new development altered the way currents, waves, and more thrum through a guitar.

Not that the electronics, to Foley, are the most important thing. He persuasively describes them as “symbiotic and sophisticated hitchhikers” that “contribute little to nothing positive to the mechanical voice of the instrument” but are “key to a panorama of voicings.” Foley’s brisk, millennia-spanning tour of the history of guitar development, from hunting bow to harpsichord to lute, and his in-depth breakdown of the individual components of guitars and their functions, all blend research, experimentation, and first-hand expertise in how guitar components affect tone production. Rather than settle for just explaining the function and evolution of the nut slot, he demonstrates how to calculate the gravitational force on a string in the slot to better understand tuning problems.

Foley’s commitment to showing the work, including the equations, will thrill math-minded guitarists interested in the finer points of capacitive currents, though readers looking for a more introductory approach will at times be left behind. They’ll still discover much that demystifies the workings of guitars, from the cut and structure of necks to the fact that “in guitar circuitry, it’s not where the wire goes, but what goes through the wire.”

Takeaway: Illuminating guide to the science, sound, and evolution of guitars.

Comparable Titles: Paul Atkinson’s Amplified, Rhianne Conway’s How a Guitar Works.

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

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Teddy's Bear Take a Tumble
Jane Smith
Good dads are of vital importance, and their positive influence can have a far-reaching impact on a child’s well-being and ability to empathize with others. In Smith’s touching picture book, a young bear named Teddy learns how to be a gentle, loving caretaker through the kind-hearted attention of his father, who cooks for Teddy, changes his diapers, and helps him get dressed. Teddy passes this affection on to Bear, his favorite stuffy, who Teddy cares for like a son. “I know how to be a good dad to Bear, because Daddy is a good dad to me,” Teddy proudly proclaims.

One afternoon on a father-son bike ride, Teddy goes a little too fast and ends up falling and scraping his arm on the sidewalk. Bear is also hurt, with his stuffing spilling out at the seams. After Daddy patches up Teddy, Teddy mends Bear with band-aids—but it proves to be only a temporary fix. On the way home from the park, they stop and see Teddy’s grandfather, who carefully mends Bear with a needle and thread. These tender scenes offer an opportunity for kids and adults to discuss the power of passing kindness down through generations and illustrate the concept that our actions matter deeply to other people.

Smith’s action-packed illustrations show Teddy and his dad as they start their day, prepare lunch on the grill, race cars, and head out on their adventure. Wearing a bright yellow helmet with green spikes on top, Teddy tears down the sidewalk on his tricycle with button-eyed Bear in his handlebar basket, a cloud of dust behind him. Most powerful is the consistently understanding expression on Daddy’s face, creating a warm and safe place for Teddy to land when he inevitably falls. Ultimately this wholesome story showcases a good-natured version of masculinity that feels both refreshing and vital.

Takeaway: A young bear learns from his father to be a gentle, loving caretaker..

Comparable Titles: Terry Border’s Big Brother Peanut Butter, Anna McQuinn’s Lola Reads to Leo,

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

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My Father's Story: The Murder of the Best Man I've Ever Known
Eric Johnson
Johnson’s debut examines a heartbreaking crime and the legal and emotional aftermath. On March 17, 2021, William Johnson and two dogs were killed by his ex-girlfriend, Angelee Ross, whom William met in 2014 at the mechanic shop where he was employed. William’s son, Eric, enjoyed a close and loving relationship with his father (whom he called “Pops”) throughout his life and was of course shattered by this. In My Father’s Story Eric recounts fishing trips, learning about cars, and visiting his father frequently until his dad bought a “dream home” in the Manistee National Forest in Michigan 2017. By that time, William and Angelee had broken up amicably and then reconciled, a pattern that would continue, on less friendly terms. From the outset of the investigation, Angelee never denied murdering William. She would plead eventually guilty by reason of insanity on six different felony counts, including first degree murder.

Combining personal narrative and partially redacted transcripts of evidentiary hearings and other court proceedings, author Eric relays the story of his relationship with the man he called “Pops,” a loving father who, as Eric writes, “not only fulfilled his role as a dad but also became one of my closest confidants.” These passages are touching, as are Eric’s accounts of the aftermath, finding support from unexpected quarters (including relatives of Angelee's), and learning through hearings exactly what transpired in his father’s last moments.

The bulk of the book shares testimony from those hearings. In the end, Angelee was found not guilty by reason of insanity and remanded to a mental health facility, likely for the remainder of her life. The narrative would benefit from more first-person storytelling; in narrative passages, Eric’s style is offhand but effective, especially when capturing what it feels like, in the moment, to face such momentous hearings. The court transcripts are enlightening but also repetitive and technical, and more summaries and some explanations of state statutes and forensic terms would provide greater clarity.

Takeaway: A son faces his father’s murder and the transcribed hearings that followed.

Comparable Titles: Rachel Howard’s The Lost Night, Sarah Perry’s After the Eclipse.

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

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New Teacher Confidential: What They Didn't Tell You About Being a Teacher
Shannon Hazel
Drawing on years of experience as an educator, Hazel debuts with a fresh approach for teachers new to the field, offering hands-on tools and down-to-earth advice on coping with the “realities of being a teacher in our current education systems.” She acknowledges the challenges that accompany teaching, covering topics from classroom management to effective communication with parents, and emphasizes, above all, the urgent truth that can make a career in education so rewarding: “There are kids out there that need YOU, specifically, to be their teacher. On those challenging days, think of those kids. You are meant to be here.”

Teachers—both beginners and those more seasoned—will appreciate Hazel’s sensible, action-oriented advice. Whether it’s creative ways to collaborate with colleagues and the community (including a fun aside about International Dot Day that offers readers inventive ways to “celebrat[e] the unique talents and gifts” of students) or ideas on how to effectively utilize wall space, Hazel covers all the bases, providing crisp, logical methods to “mak[e] a lasting impression on the lives of children,” while easing the stress that inevitably accompanies a career as challenging as education. In a nod to that stress, Hazel takes time to highlight why self-care is so important, encouraging teachers to set personal and professional boundaries and continually assess their priorities to become “a happier, more productive, more effective teacher.”

Particularly helpful are Hazel’s real-life examples and concrete guidelines, including potential tasks teachers can share with a grade partner, incisive considerations about the role of a public sector employee, and the signs that a class is well-organized and efficient (among them: students won’t need constant direction and a sense of calm will prevail, among others). She details preferred ways to respond to problems that arise as well, including sticky conversations with parents, and her advice that teaching is “a huge responsibility and an incredible gift” resonates.

Takeaway: Hands-on, functional guidance and advice for educators.

Comparable Titles: Andi McNair’s A Meaningful Mess, Jeff C. Marshall’s The Highly Effective Teacher.

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

Vincent's Women: The Untold Story of the Loves of Vincent van Gogh
Donna Russo
Russo (Gilded Summers) chronicles the life and times of celebrated painter Vincent van Gogh from a fresh perspective, challenging the popular lore that often surrounds him. This arresting narrative reconstructs his transformation through stories of the women he loved, amplifying their profound impact on his life and art, from the primary perspective of Johanna Bonger van Gogh, Vincent’s sister-in-law. Russo skillfully paints a vivid portrait of van Gogh, beginning from his childhood, and carefully marries historical facts with fiction to fill in the gaps, lending the women in his life a central role by allowing van Gogh’s story to flow through them.

Each of Russo’s celebrated feminine influences on van Gogh’s life boasts a distinct identity and unique conflicts that add depth to the narrative. The women appear chronologically, allowing readers an organic glimpse of their development alongside van Gogh’s deterioration—and its subsequent effects on his artform. Johanna powers the narrative with evocative recollections of van Gogh’s mother, Anna, who struggled with “melancholia”; van Gogh’s first love, Eugenie Loyer; Marguerite Gachet, the daughter of van Gogh’s doctor; and more. The women each offer extraordinary viewpoints on the many facets of van Gogh’s life, gifting readers a well-rounded, engrossing study of his character.

Russo takes on van Gogh’s struggle with mental health as well, masterfully steering through the weight of his crumbling life and delivering a nuanced portrayal of his complexities as both a man and an artist, as when Anna van Gogh reflects that “[Vincent] came into the world under a cloud. He chose to live under it.” The narrative is built from a wealth of primary sources, including letters exchanged between van Gogh and his brother, Theo, and Russo closes the book with brief summaries of the central females’ lives after van Gogh’s death. The result is a provocative and compelling look at one of history’s most enigmatic artists.

Takeaway: Fresh take on van Gogh through the women central to his life.

Comparable Titles: Marta Molnar’s The Secret Life of Sunflowers, Debby Beece’s The Van Gogh Woman.

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

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Fatal Harvest: A Hunter and Tate Mystery
Brenda Chapman
Chapman’s gripping, emotionally resonant third Hunter and Tate mystery quickly grabs readers’ attention as detective Liam Hunter and true crime podcaster Ella Tate must race against time to catch a killer and save a boy’s life—unless, of course, the boy is the killer. Matt Clark is spending an unusually rainy summer on a farm with friends of his mother in a small village in Ottawa. His parents are working through a rough patch in their marriage. He's made a friend there in Jimmy, an awkward boy with a difficult home life of his own and a history of being bullied. One day, Matt finds that the couple he's been staying with has been murdered—and he flees when he hears someone coming back into the house. Cut to Hunter and Tate, dispatched to find a killer, the missing boy, and to face the possibility that Matt himself is a suspect.

This strong series entry stands alone despite a healthy number of references to earlier books. But the present is urgent enough that new readers will be swept along, as the investigation introduces neighbors, friends, enemies, and observers in the small village and beyond, while also exploring the inner workings of the lives of the police working the case, as well as Ella—who one character notes is “like an antisocial turtle”—and her circle. Relationships are tested, toxic work conditions are exposed, and slowly, piece by piece, lies and betrayals get revealed.

While the leads remain engaging, the touching dynamic between Matt and Jimmy stands as the most captivating part of the story, as these boys find friendship, trust, and acceptance in each other. Writing from the perspective of Jimmy, Chapman offers vital, humane insight into struggles at home, at school, and with other people's expectations of who and how he should be. In Matt, Jimmy finds security and worth—and he’ll risk everything to keep Matt safe. The richness of characterization, though, never comes at the expense of the assured pacing.

Takeaway: Standout procedural of a cop and podcaster chasing a killer and a missing boy.

Comparable Titles: Tami Hoag’s The Boy, John McMahon’s P.T. Marsh series.

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

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Talmadge Farm
Leo Daughtry
Daughtry debuts with an expansive panorama of the 1950s and ‘60s American South, when tobacco ruled the land and desegregation was in its infancy. Gordon Talmadge, wealthy inheritor of his family’s Talmadge Farm, makes his money off the backs of others—including the two sharecroppers on his land, Will Craddock and Louis Sanders. But tobacco’s star is waning, and Gordon, reluctant to diversify in any way, is entrenched in the past, putting his fortune—and family-owned bank—at risk. When his intoxicated son, Junior, tries to rape Louis’s 15-year-old daughter Ella, it sends shockwaves that change their lives and Talmadge Farm forever.

Daughtry expertly contrasts the experiences of Gordon’s privileged family with that of his sharecroppers, particularly the grim realities that the Sanders endured as a Black family in the midcentury South. Both Will and Louis are up against impossible odds as they try to provide for their families, and when Louis’s son, Jake, is blamed for harming Junior when defending his sister, he’s forced to flee their small town for Philadelphia, desperate to make ends meet so he can study medicine. Meanwhile, Gordon’s tobacco crops can’t keep pace with his spending habits, and he rashly decides to bring on a crew of migrant workers from another state—a choice that results in disaster.

Gordon—and society’s—treatment of the sharecroppers is painful to read, but Daughtry capably evokes harsh historical truths of the era, particularly the generational abuse that wealthy landowners inflicted on the descendents of enslaved peoples. The reverberations of that shake through the Sanders’s family as the story builds to some dark consequences, though some of the most reliable women, Ella and Mary Grace, overcome obstacles as they strive toward happiness. Gordon eventually faces some justice, though he never truly makes amends for his harmful behaviors. Change, of course, comes in the end, but the cost for all involved is steep.

Takeaway: Expansive portrait of mid century landowners and sharecroppers in the American South.

Comparable Titles: Nathan Harris’s The Sweetness of Water, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s The Revisioners.

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

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Tallstone and the City: A New Heaven and Earth, Second Edition
Dennis Wammack
“Something new is happening,” a tribal leader declares deep into the epic first novel of Wammack’s six-book vision of the dawn of history. For Wammack’s characters, that new thing doesn’t yet have a name, but it’s hinted at in the title: a city, Urfa, where clans can trade, pool their resources, develop trades, and where “For the first time, we can live without hunting.” Earthy and deeply, pointedly human, the Mythologies Told True series imagines the origins of civilization, drawing on ancient texts, both secular and religious, to imagine the lived experience of the distant past—and to strip away millennia of myth to examine breakthroughs achieved by flesh-and-blood characters not so different from us today.

This first volume centers on hunter-gatherers as they settle into a new way of life, as camps become cities like Urfa, monuments get erected at camps like Tallstone, and bold figures like Valki dare to take up a new path, “one that a woman has never traveled before.” At the story’s heart are Valki—a gatherer who pioneers the cultivation of crops, exulting “There is so much to learn about growing things”—and stonecutter/skywatcher Pumi, who at first is judged a disappointment by the chief, especially in comparison to Pumi’s brother Vanam. But thoughtful Pumi, who relishes knowledge like how to measure hunting seasons by stones and stars, will also help bring newness into the world—including sex for the sake of pleasure.

Writing in direct, inviting prose distinguished by a touch of the sensual and a fascination with ancient beliefs and mysteries, Wammack dramatizes the fates of the brothers, which involve classic themes of fraternal conflict. But the storytelling here is concerned with the development of ideas and ways of living, rather than traditional narrative suspense. The surprising, often touching result will appeal to anyone fascinated by what makes us human—and the earliest moment when one of us could say, “Let us speak of the joy of life.”

Takeaway: Deeply human historical fiction of the dawn of civilization.

Comparable Titles: Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’s The Old Way, Andrew Collins’s Gobekli Tepe.

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

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Head Fake
Scott Gordon
Scott Gordon’s debut novel finds humor in heartache. The same tenacious clinical depression that landed Mikey Cannon in Friedman Psychiatric Hospital several times as a teenager ultimately left him unemployed and living on the streets as a 25-year-old. Out of options, Mikey asks his estranged father for help. His father grudgingly allows Mikey to move back in his childhood room and uses his connections to get Mikey a job interview at a school for juvenile offenders with mental illnesses. To his surprise, Mikey is hired as a bus driver and soon tasked with coaching the school’s struggling basketball team.

The team has a host of problems: there’s no gym, no uniforms, and each of its five players struggles with severe psychological hardships. Readers should be aware that though Gordon approaches these sensitive topics with deep empathy, scenes depicting self-harm, psychotic breaks, suicidality and other traumas are unflinching. But as Mikey struggles to connect with his players, he relies on his old “CM,” or coping mechanism: humor. Despite its heavy subject matter, the book is full of genuine laugh-out-loud moments, not just from Mikey’s frequent wisecracks but also the team’s antics as they forge unlikely bonds that help them cope with the heartbreaking challenges they face at school, at home, and within their own minds.

Gordon’s precise, detailed writing not only brings each character's inner world into sharp relief, it also captures the team’s growth on the court. Basketball fans will love the fast-paced descriptions of the games’ shots, blocks, screens and strategies. As the team starts to experience some unexpected success, Mikey’s jubilation is tempered by his ongoing struggles with his father and the ever-present psychological conditions that threaten his players’ mental health and his own. This persistently honest look at the difficult realities of mental illness avoids any sugar coating but still offers an uplifting tale full of warmth and humor.

Takeaway: Funny, honest story of teamwork in the face of mental illness.

Comparable Titles:Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, Mark Stevens’s The Fireballer.

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

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Land Grab
Kit Karson
In this intriguing small-town murder mystery, the first of her Anderson Chronicles, Karson opens with Peter Elliott's role as sheriff in Anderson, Montana, as he’s forced to settle a clash in the Sapphire Pit, a local tourist attraction, over accusations made by a frantic mother that sapphires are being stolen from her son by the local octogenarian patriarch, David Howard. Things start going haywire from there: Peter is startled awake by a phone call at dawn reporting a body’s been found at a bakery, assumed to be the baker himself, and later, David is found hanging by the spiral staircase in his mansion, a questionable suicide with curious timing.

Anderson is quaint, boasting a rich history as a ranching outpost as well as the occasional hunting ground for gold and silver—and now sapphires, as the Sapphire Pit has grown an influx of outsiders. The crime rate is low, and residents pride themselves on having a "high code of ethics," but for a place where "most disagreements could be solved with a few phone calls from the sheriff’s office," the town is suddenly thrust into a maelstrom of turmoil with murder, missing persons, poisoned pies, disturbing letters, threatening calls, and suspected land disputes. Peter muses in distress, "Every law enforcement officer has those cases. The ones that hit them in the gut, and the heart, and mess with their heads."

Karson introduces—albeit overwhelmingly in the first chapter—a broad set of characters, and narrowing down the suspects becomes harrowingly difficult as the story progresses. Though the emotional investment in Karson’s characters feels minimal, the unresolved case of Peter's murdered parents and the story’s international intrigue (following the involvement of Russian mafias and land ownerships) create high-stakes power struggles that surpass the typical concerns of a small community, enough to entice readers to stick around for the next treat in the series.

Takeaway: Intriguing whodunnit mixed with politics and mafia crimes.

Comparable Titles: Dennis Lehane's Mystic River, Tana French's In the Woods.

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

Click here for more about Land Grab
Drawn from Life
Sarah P. Blanchard
Blanchard delivers a twisty thriller and memorable cast in this spirited debut. After Emma Harnett suffers a car accident that kills three people and leaves her with a permanent brain injury, her guilt is overwhelming, despite the fact that the police ruled it all an accident. Fast forward eight years and Emma, now the bookkeeper and occasional artist’s model for Stonefall Art Center, has established a new rhythm in her life—a rhythm that falls apart when her abrasive cousin Lucy returns to town, dredging up the pair’s destructive history and throwing Emma into chaos.

Lucy, who has now reinvented herself as Lyssa Morales, is quick to pledge love for her family as the reason she’s come back, but it soon becomes obvious to Emma that Lyssa is short on money and willing to do anything to get it. The stakes increase even more when vandals attack the art center and Emma receives threatening mail, sparking a worry that the two incidents are somehow connected. As Emma races to connect the dots, Blanchard skillfully layers suspense and red herrings throughout, keeping the story humming with muscular prose and deft characterizations.

Readers will sympathize with Emma—whose brain injury often causes her to utter unintended malapropisms—and love the supportive group of people in her life, including her former physical therapist, Jonah, her father, Frank (who is dealing with the effects of long COVID), and handyman Chaz, whose devotion to Emma and relationship to her accident comes as an explosive surprise. Emma’s essential goodness shines through as she tackles her guilt, misguided as it may be, and readers will love to hate Lyssa, whose questionable moral compass powers the story, resulting in a satisfying—and jolting—dénouement. Blanchard’s prowess in storytelling and expert delivery of suspenseful set ups will delight thriller buffs.

Takeaway: Expertly plotted thriller powered by twisty suspense and memorable characters.

Comparable Titles: Mary Higgins Clark, Ashley Farley.

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

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Psychopathic
Jason Melby
Melby (author of Music City Madness) generates an unsettling thriller centered on wealthy psychiatrist Faith Galloway, left legally blind and with traumatic partial amnesia after a tragic skydiving accident a decade earlier. Adding to her troubles, Faith is being stalked by a violent former patient, Ronald Neyman, recently escaped from a mental hospital and responsible for a murderous rampage. Neyman’s killing frenzy sets off a frantic search, with burned out FBI Agent Mark Brannigan and his inexperienced partner Paulan Nehnja leading the charge, while a parallel storyline follows Steven Jenkins, a ruthless, unethical scientist who’s obsessed with reviving coma patients through experiments with a dangerous new drug.

Faith is a vulnerable hero, constantly fighting for her independence, whether she’s attempting to purchase a gun out of fear for her life or bonding with Zeus, her ferociously protective Seeing Eye dog. Both she and Neyman portray the duality of obsession: she’s desperate to stop him, while he has his own reasons for his relentless pursuit. Mark’s desire to catch Neyman is a slow burn, and, though he initially hesitates when informing Faith of Neyman’s escape, the assignment quickly becomes his preoccupation as well. Throughout, Zeus is a shoo-in for the story’s true hero as he repeatedly rescues Faith, including from Jenkins’s sleazy partner in crime, Marvin Tibbs, while her own patronizing boyfriend, Julian, carelessly dismisses her fears.

Though brisk and suspenseful, Faith’s story is hijacked at times by Melby’s lengthy descriptions of the medical processes involved in Jenkins’s work, as he rashly moves forward with a presumptive miracle treatment that’s untested and delivering unsafe side effects, fixated on continuing its use—even with his own wife. Melby probes questions of morality on several levels, and readers should be prepared for graphic descriptions and gruesome crime scenes. The romance that blossoms between Faith and Mark adds welcome buoyancy to this sinister thrill ride.

Takeaway: Graphic thrill ride packed with obsession, corruption, and greed.

Comparable Titles: Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark, Freida McFadden’s The Inmate.

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

Click here for more about Psychopathic
Val Vega: Secret Ambassador of Earth
Ben Francisco
Francisco thrills with a coming-of-age debut set among the stars. Sixteen-year-old Val Vega from New Jersey worries about her SATs and hangs out with BFFs Kate and her nonbinary crush, Will. Her Uncle Umberto, adored by Val for being understanding and easy to talk to, has just returned from his work in Istanbul, where he negotiates for the rights of marginalized territories around the world. But when Umberto dies—reportedly of a heart attack—shortly before he’s scheduled to arbitrate an important negotiation, Val’s life is turned upside down.

At Umberto’s wake, Val discovers the true nature of his work: he was Earth’s ambassador for the interstellar council of planets, his co-workers are space aliens, and he was most likely murdered. On top of those otherworldly revelations, the Interstellar Assembly is coming up, and Val’s been named as Umberto’s successor—and she’s urgently needed to negotiate a treaty between the Etoscans and the Levinti, alien colonists who are fighting for control of the planet Hosh. As Val finds her footing in the interstellar world of politics, her confidence slowly grows, a much-needed shift given her suspicions about her uncle’s death.

Readers will relish being swept into Val’s efforts to find the traitor amongst her uncle’s alien co-workers: is it Johnny, a Synthetic who used to be a war machine; Pash-Ti, an arrogant seven-foot-tall stick insect and Levinti sympathizer; or Wasala, a Hoshan exile and telepath, who resembles a six-legged raccoon? To aid with her search, Val confides in and enlists the help of Timoteo, her older brother and Harvard poli-sci major, who happens to have the hots for Johnny. Francisco’s writing is fast-paced and heartfelt, with diverse characters and a charming blend of politics, momentous space negotiations, and murder mystery—along with a crucial message that people can work through their differences without resorting to violence.

Takeaway: Teenager steps up as Earth’s ambassador to negotiate interstellar peace.

Comparable Titles: Marissa Meyer’s Cress, Jina S. Bazzar’s Imperial Stardust.

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

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