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A Buzz Volume 1
Jacob Lightman
High-tech meets the Earth’s distant past in this imperial alternate-history epic, Lightman’s debut. Set in South America some 6,500 years ago, Lightman’s vivid adventure, the kickoff to a series, finds young commander Jaway Barbour of the technologically advanced continent-spanning empire known as the Land leading a military squad that, told it’s “a catalyst for peace,” faces off against the rebellious clans of what’s known as the Wild Territories. A bombing at the book’s start scrambles Jaway’s mission, though most of A Buzz focuses not on military action—or the possibility, familiar to this genre, that the seemingly utopian empire might harbor dark secrets—but instead is concerned with character, camaraderie, and team and worldbuilding, as it follows Jaway and others on a long, convivial series of bonding and training adventures in the rainforest.

A humane and empathetic writer, Lightman emphasizes the connections between his cast as they engage in what reads at times like the greatest ever wilderness spa adventure package: between cardio sessions, they down natural elixirs that purge body and mind, take candlelit river swims, wage contests and games at waterfalls and pyramids, and even feast on the delicacy of a giant spider that attacks a companion. “In The Land, it was common to share and express feelings openly in safe spaces,” Lightman writes. A Buzz is as attentive to flora and fauna as it is to characters’ emotions, and Lightman describes the Land’s technologies (among them: kleck, zornpas, wongers, fydons, organic gliders that expel compost) with clarity and verve.

All that detail and companionable low-stakes training, though, comes at the cost of narrative momentum, as the mysteries of the conflict between the Wild Territories and The Land wait to be explored in later volumes. The final pages suggest that conflict is more complex than Jaway and co. understand, and a lengthy flashback revealing the secret parentage of an imperial tyrant several centuries earlier all point to richer drama to come.

Takeaway: Fans of team- and world-building will enjoy accompanying this ancient Earth SF epic’s inviting cast through the rainforest.

Great for fans of: Alan Dean Foster’s Midworld, Thoraiya Dyer’s Crossroads of Canopy.

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

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The Full Extent: An Inquiry into Reality and Destiny
Richard Botelho
“We must expand our perspectives in order to break through societal stagnation,” Botelho writes in this call to visionary action. Drawing from his study of quantum mechanics and the demonstrated fact that the human mind, through observation, “compels electrons to become real things, controlling their characteristics and behavior,” Botelho urges scientists and thought leaders to acknowledge that “experiment after experiment proves that reality is a product of Mind.” Botelho calls this the “primacy of Consciousness” (and, by extension, Spirit) and posits that better understanding it will lead to better understanding our existence and universe—and help usher in a future “full of purpose and creativity.” Botelho argues not just that quantum research demonstrates that consciousness preceded the Big Bang itself, but that to refuse to face this is tantamount to insisting that the world is flat.

With crisp, clear prose and the patience to build and guide readers through an argument, Botelho decries how scientific materialism has mostly limited scientific inquiry to the physical realm, rather than what he calls the “endless opportunity” of the immaterial realm—the realm of mind and spirit. This is heady material, invitingly written, with Botelho taking care to introduce the experiments and discoveries he discusses in a manner that quantum novices can follow. He’s attentive to what context is crucial for comprehension, and as he presented consciousness as the “organizer of existence” he’s generous in presenting the mind-blowing implications, reconciling physics, metaphysics, and varied religious possibilities as his arguments build, naturally, to consider the mind of a Creator.

Botelho views dedicated research into the role of consciousness in shaping existence as something like the dawning of a new enlightenment, but recognizes the reasons such research is rare. “Society rewards those who practice reality instead of exploring it,” he notes, and even readers not ready to join in celebrating the mind of God as an “immeasurable infinity” will likely be persuaded that the tantalizing role of consciousness in creation deserves further investigation.

Takeaway: This searching treatise, steeped in quantum mechanics, calls upon scientists to examine the role that mind and spirit play in creating reality

Great for fans of: Paul Levy’s Quantum Revelation, Nancy Patterson’s Quantum Physics and the Power of the Mind.

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

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Portrait of a Woman Madly in Love
Boman Desai
Betrayed by her husband, Farida Cooper of Bombay, the heir to a massive and quite publicly known fortune, endeavors to live a life of her own, not knowing that doing so may prove more painful than she expects. Having had everything she has ever needed but longing for success on her own terms, Farida sets her sights on academia, moves to the U.S., and falls in love—all of which come with inevitable heartache and trouble. Committed to being independent, Farida’s hopes of becoming a writer–she lands a story in The Atlantic–and later artist are thwarted when she is sidetracked by other plans, namely love. When she falls for a young man who’s “trim with the effortlessness only a teenager could manage,” she must face the tensions stirred up by such an affair, specifically family and society.

Set against the changing times of the middle of the 20th century, Desai's intimate novel digs into pressing themes of love, marriage divorce, education, and feminism as it weaves the threads of its determined protagonist’s quest for independence. Through the lens of a Parsi woman, Desai explores cultural and familial expectations. Desai's third-person narrative style is largely based on detailing intimate thoughts and letting readers overhear much character dialogue. The novel is long, but Desai invests such telling detail and engaging context into the telling, that readers of novels about women in the world will remain immersed, caught up in descriptions that are simple and beautiful.

Protagonist Farida is fully developed, and her psyche is absorbing. Due to the complexity of Farida’s life, readers may at times even want more of her on the page, and Desai doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to setting up secondary characters. Readers of romance will find the plot familiar, though the love story takes a backseat to Farida’s ups and downs, which will ring true to anyone familiar with what it takes to break from family culture or face heartache.

Takeaway: A Bombay heiress spirals into academia, the U.S., and a surprising romance in this culture-crossing novel.

Great for fans of: Bharati Mukherjee, Rishi Reddi.

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

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Pagasa: This is the Future of War
FX Holden
Holden is back with another dynamic novel in his accomplished Future War series. This high-flying political thriller paints a grim future where, as China and the U.S. teeter on the brink of war in the 2030s, China discovers that the US plans to send resources and weapons to the small island of Pagasa—to fortify it against the threat of a Chinese takeover. Provoked, China quickly moves to attack Pagasa, in hopes that a victory will solidify its control of the South China Sea as well as the Pagasa territory and its fishing industry. Enter the U.S. military and a merchant marine vessel racing to Pagasa’s aid. Who will come out on top—and at what cost?

Densely packed with the innovative tech and high-stakes cliffhangers the genre demands,Pagasa approaches its international conflict from every possible side, with a large ensemble ranging from U.S. Navy officers and Chinese military to two young children who must quickly adapt when their island becomes a military flashpoint. That interest in the humanity of all parties sets Holdens work apart. Pilot Karen “Bunny” O’Hare’s no-nonsense attitude and ability to react quickly under pressure make her a standout in the sea of characters, and while many of the main players find themselves thrust onto the front lines of this battle, a handful of politicians navigate the war safely behind closed doors, leaving readers with a chilling realization of who is really pulling the strings.

To achieve that, Holden’s narrative must dart rapidly between viewpoints, mimicking the chaos of war and the quick wit needed to survive it. To help orient readers, Holden supplies a comprehensive cast list as well as a detailed map of the island area for reference. Although Pagasa is part of a larger series, it can be read as an inviting standalone. Readers looking to sink into a war saga rich with differing perspective–and gape at the possibilities of next-gen tech–will enjoy this thriller.

Takeaway: This accomplished high-tech, near-future military thriller admirably examines all sides of its vivid international conflict.

Great for fans of: Richard Herman’s The China Sea, Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis’s 2034: A Novel of the Next World War.

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

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Wheet, Wheet, and Repeat!
Marianne Paidas
On her birthday one winter, eight year-old Sarina spots a bright red cardinal out in the snow in her backyard. To truly savor the moment she must pay close attention, and with the help of her mom, Sarina becomes not only a keen observer of the wildlife in her backyard but also learns lessons about cooperation from the cardinal’s behavior, especially as she learns about how the birds care for each other. Accompanied by vivid, almost impressionistic digital illustrations, Wheet, Wheet, and Repeat! is an ode not only to the beauty and splendor of cardinals, but also to the rewards of simply paying attention to the world around you and to the rhythm of the seasons.

Ed Tuttle’s illustrations are gorgeous, varied, and full of life, stirring a sense of motion and discovery as the reader turns the pages, though it’s tempting to linger over spreads like the one depicting a bevy of birds feasting at a feeder, complete with an inset depiction of a budding tree leaf, which anticipates the story’s next development and ties directly into the text. The art is matched by prose that’s rich with lively, inviting description: a cardinal’s feathers are “the color of Nonni’s tomato sauce” and his eyes “are pin dots, black as the tar of her driveway.”

Young naturalists and fans of evocative language will appreciate the beauty and lessons in this heartfelt and informational book. Paidas’s writing style and penchant for complex and descriptive words (“captivated,” “inquisitive,”) could put off or confuse younger readers, but for older kids provides ample opportunity for discussion about the new words. Perfect for reading aloud, with its rhythmic and almost poetic cadence and writing style, Wheet, Wheet, and Repeat! is a fantastic addition to any bookshelf, especially when looking for seasonal books, books about nature, and books with realistic details.

Takeaway: This vivid story of bird-watching invites young readers to relish nature and learn from the world around them.

Great for fans of: David Opie’s All the Birds in the World, Megan Wagner Lloyd’s Finding Wild.

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

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Scattered Legacy: Murder in Southern Italy
Marlene M. Bell
In the engaging third mystery in Bell’s Annalisse Series, antiques expert Annalisse Drury flies with her swoon-worthy millionaire boyfriend Alec Zavos to Bari, Italy, for a working vacation. But a mafia-connected woman’s murder puts Josh Jennings—a shady coworker of Alec’s deceased father—in the police spotlight, threatening Alec’s sale of his family’s lucrative business. One murder leads to another, all while Annalisse searches for clues about an ancient rosary’s ownership, the nexus of multiple mysteries. A crime-scene calico cat named Stella, a nun who speaks in riddles, and a dash of romance keep the pace rapid in this solid whodunnit.

Bell’s plethora of characters charm but can also overwhelm, challenging the reader to guess which ones play essential roles in this sleight-of-hand suspense. Readers already familiar with the earlier Annalisse sleuth mysteries will have a leg up when it comes to following Scattered Legacy’s narrative. Several portraits are recognizable types, such as a mafia godfather known as “The Birdman,” and others are strikingly original, but all add welcome, vivid liveliness. Throughout, Bell delivers memorable scenery, complete with orecchiette pasta dishes and tarantella music, tempting readers to book a one-way flight to southern Italy.

Best of all, Annalisse’s wry interpretations of events offer laugh-out-loud moments—she is a unique detective, endowed by Bell with a distinctive snappy voice in narration and dialogue both. Her expertise and nearly supernatural ability to detect an object’s significance by touching it combine to fascinating effect, such as when the centuries-old rosary medallion hurts her hand, and ominous artifacts like a blackbird broach planted in her purse add to the juicy intrigue. Although her relationship with Alec takes a back seat to solving the crimes, their love culminates in a climactic shocker the reader won’t forget. Both travel junkies and mystery lovers will savor Bell’s polished and witty mystery.

Takeaway: Mystery fans will relish this sly whodunnit, in which an antiques expert sleuth is on the case in romantic Italy.

Great for fans of: David P. Wagner’s Cold Tuscan Stone, Adriana Licio.

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

Click here for more about Scattered Legacy
The Journeyman Life: The Not-So-Perfect Path to a Life Well Lived
Tony C. Daloisio, PhD
Psychologist Daloisio has astutely blended his professional knowledge as a practicing psychologist and his personal life experiences to create this self-help guide for men looking to make the first steps toward change, such as better connecting with a significant other, being a better friend, becoming more open and less guarded, and more. With a warm, open, and can-do demeanor, The Journeyman Life balances the practical and the thought-provoking, arguing that it’s possible to defuse anger, frustration, and other negative emotions, and always writing with an attentive eye to the ever-shifting cultural assumptions and standards that men face. Daloisio knows the impact of change, saying, “Our quest for the evolution of our own life is at stake, but in truth, the stakes are much higher than that.” For readers committed to bettering themselves, Daloisio’s stand-out guide offers a simple, inviting place to start.

Writing with a professional’s authority but the welcoming voice of a patient coach, Daloisio offers research, understanding, and personal stories to help motivate readers, always keeping the material accessible. Similarly, he demonstrates aptitude for targeting different types of learners—he provides functional outlines, tells personal stories, and practical guidelines as he demonstrates the power of engaging in “true dialogue” or how to reveal the inner self.

“There are three thousand words in the English language related to feelings, and they are perhaps some of the least understood of all words for men,” Daloisio writes. That’s overstating the case a bit, of course, but The Journeyman Life acknowledges that personal reflection, self-care, and change can be challenging, particularly for men, who are often not encouraged toward this kind of growth. Daloisio’s clear-eyed program lays out the stages of change, how change works in the brain, and how the behavior of change looks practically. His stages of change and his posture while guiding readers through change are universal.

Takeaway: This inviting guide coaches men in facing emotions, connecting with people, and making changes.

Great for fans of: Garrett Munce’s Self-Care for Men, Robert Garfield’s Breaking the Male Code.

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

Click here for more about The Journeyman Life
Chemical Engineering Made Simple: Process to Progress
Diana Tran
Tran makes chemistry engaging and comprehensible for young adult readers in this compact guide. She steers her audience through the basic steps of chemical engineering—raw materials, process, product, and progression—in a simplified way that uses familiar objects to create teaching moments, while breaking down complex ideas into graspable steps. In order to generalize what can be a complicated topic, Tran stresses that chemical engineering is “in the food we eat, the beverages we drink, the clothes we wear, the electricity we use…it is everywhere!” Whether explaining what makes a potato chip crispy or demonstrating why perfume pleases the nose, Tran approaches science with an inviting, structured style that will win over her readers.

Like all the best teachers, Tran never loses sight of the basics but illustrates concepts in a way that makes them memorable, providing clear-cut definitions that will be a relief to readers who struggle with understanding challenging scientific information. For every process she analyzes, Tran includes the important terminology, alongside an abridged explanation and helpful connections to our daily lives, to ensure readers absorb the lesson: for example, when learning how sunscreen is made, readers will also discover how stabilisers “help bind the product together” and the different ways that mixing time can affect its consistency.

Educators will welcome the inspired examples Tran uses to demonstrate the chemical processes behind “some of the common things in everyday life,” like her analysis of making a light bulb—“timing is key!” when it comes to melting the glass, in order to achieve a perfectly shaped bulb. The illustrators, an Australian graphic design and illustration company, include entertaining graphics to depict Tran’s chemical processes, offering cartoonish representations of soap being made or showing how milk is transformed into a powder. Readers will appreciate the pleasures of the visuals, as well as Tran’s straightforward approach, which combine to make this instructive tool a fun way to master scientific concepts.

Takeaway: An entertaining and inviting explanation of chemical engineering processes behind everyday products.

Great for fans of: DK’s The Science Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained, Ainissa Ramirez’s The Alchemy of Us.

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

The Kindred
J.M. Wright
Wright’s gritty mental-ward thriller centers on a young woman, Rose, who takes a job at Alabman’s Kendrick State Sanitarium in 1962, where she meets—and forms a surprising bond with—a notorious killer. The six-time murderer is Jody, a young Black woman whose brutal backstory of abuse and rape thunders through the opening chapters in counterpoint with the perspectives of the novel’s other mysterious figures: a low-ranking mob tough who gets tasked by the don with a personal favor, and Annette, a supervisor at Kendrick State, covers up the secrets of Warden Cravens, who demands trial “subject”s for reasons Wright teases out slowly.

Meanwhile, unsettled Rose is shocked by what she finds making her rounds at the sanitarium, especially once she catches another Kendrick State worker (apparently) forcing himself upon Jody. Both women are Black and recognize that their lives and choices have been shaped by the same oppressive forces. Rose admires the way that Jody refuses to let sanitarium employees cut her hair, and she sees in Jody’s “long, beautiful” mane “a sign of her freedom, her independence, and a sign of rebellion against those who sought to keep her down.” Like Rose, readers will empathize with Jody, feeling for the horror she has endured, though we’re aware of the ways Jody manipulates Rose’s perceptions.

Wright weaves complex relationships between these characters, allowing them each opportunities to upend our expectations—even Annette, a figure who in other tellings might emerge as one-dimensional. The themes, too, are rich and at times challenging, as Wright explores mental health, systemic corruption, and the intense racial and gender dynamics of the mid-century American south, at a time when women like Rose are stirred by the speeches of Martin Luther King yet still see little evidence that freedom is anything but a dream. The assaults, violence, and eventual conflagration are harrowing, but the novel’s heart is in the promise of connection and freedom for young women “versed in the language of pain.”

Takeaway: This harrowing mental-ward thriller faces issues of racism and abuse in the mid-century American South.

Great for fans of: Megan Giddings’s Lakewood, Erin Kelly’s Stone Mothers.

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

Click here for more about The Kindred
A FInal Call
Eliot Parker
Cleveland police lieutenant Stacy Tavitt confronts multiple crimes, family problems and her own inner demons in this fast-moving thriller. She leads a team to capture a dangerous criminal with links to police corruption. Meanwhile, an old friend asks Tavitt to find her missing adult son, Colton—a search that soon leads to murder. She's also desperate to find her brother, Chance, who's involved in something shady, and that means dealing with her difficult mother. Additionally, she's navigating a tentative romance. These complex threads lead to a series of difficult decisions Tavitt has to make about her personal and professional lives.

Parker (Code for Murder) has a nice feel for the Cleveland setting, and the city acts as a continuous background character. In this urban environment he also does a terrific job of setting up action scenes—a SWAT team raid is suffused in claustrophobic tension. Indeed, a gritty atmosphere permeates the book: Parker shows, with Tavitt's brutal questioning of a suspect, that women can be as at home in a noir as any man. Although at times the plots get complex—referring to earlier books in the series—and it can be hard keeping track of the large cast, the fast-moving scenes and the engaging leads carry the reader through to the end.

Chief among those leads is the troubled Tavitt, a multidimensional character far more rich than the usual "tough cop" trope. Her lungs were damaged in the line of duty, and the wound at times proves as psychological as it is physical, as she fears that the injury will end her career starts to define her. Her deep relationship with her partner Austin Cerrera runs the gamut from caring to rage, and the complexities of their deeply entwined bond ring true. This is also the case with Tavitt's troubled history with her mother and brother. Tavitt's all-to-human struggles will leave readers deeply invested in her personal and professional triumph.

Takeaway: Fans of police procedurals will revel in this action-packed story with its winning team of detectives.

Great for fans of: Joseph Wambaugh, Ed McBain.

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

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ANX: life of a recog
Howard Jones
“The closest a recog gets to happiness is in learning not to struggle,” Jones writes early in this head-spinning near-future science-fiction dazzler, set in the “Untied States” of America and centered on “recog” Penn Hebert. Hebert’s a felon fitted with an AmygdalNeuraleXtinguisher, or ANX, a brain implant designed to instill docility—and, not incidentally, create a source of cheap labor. In Nola, the final surviving strip of drowned New Orleans, in the regional trade “iepelago” of Winfrey, Hebert faces the indignities of life with ANX, which is wired to instill spasms of nausea to “punish any hint of anger or looming violence.”

Jones’s plotting and worldbuilding tends toward the density of hard SF and cyberpunk, the story powered by daring, sometimes upsetting ideas and grim conclusions about the trajectory of society and humanity. Learning not to struggle means Hebert passes the time as a virtual reality voyeur. His not-quite-a-life is upended when he’s enlisted to help Nikki Brite, a “clinical sponder”—someone who networks into the dreams of troubled people to help heal and unravel what’s confused—handle Randall Privy, the rapacious stalker who disrupts her dreams and client sessions.

Nikki believes Hebert didn’t commit the crime he’s being punished for, and together the duo face an assortment of the powers that be in a fallen America: corrupt politicians, underground madams, religious figures associated with white nationalists, and the tech geniuses pushing humanity toward something other. The rich, vivid storytelling can be a challenge to keep up with, especially in the early chapters, as Jones introduces complex tech and its surprising uses, on top of daring visions of the future; language touched by poetry, coding, and advanced mathematics; and a zeal for planting mysteries, surprises, and prankish revelations. Seasoned genre readers will feast on this irreducible, resistant-to-summary novel, alive with “dreemshares” and mysterious A.I. data agents, while casual fans who stick with it will be thrilled by Jones’ bold imagination, moral outrage, and devilish sense of play.

Takeaway: This SF vision of a fallen U.S., brain-implanted felons, and “dreemshare” therapy is bold, challenging, and at its best thrilling.

Great for fans of: Samuel R. Delaney, Neal Stephenson.

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

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The Aquamarine Surfboard
Kellye Abernathy
Abernathy debuts with a tender, richly imagined middle grade novel about a resort town’s tragic past and uncertain future. Eighth grader Condi Bloom lives with her grandmother, Grand Ella, in the gentrifying Pacific beach town of Dipitious Beach following her parents’ drowning death. Condi longs to surf like all the popular kids and frets about how the new, rich residents are calling for the expulsion of the women known as Beachlings who live in caves on the coast. When she thinks Trustin, a recently arrived cute boy, has gone under while surfing, she recklessly plunges after to save him, where he leads her to Koan, the Master of the Sea. Koan charges Condi with saving the town from selfishness and then wipes her memory of her experience. Back on land, Condi, unaware of her mission, copes with fraught peer relationships, helps Grand Ella defend the Beachlings, and grows closer to Trustin and his twin sister Marissa. When nasty weather threatens the town, all the residents are put to the test.

Abernathy proves adept at crafting characters, capturing the peculiar blend of self-doubt and conviction of her middle school protagonist. The issue of gentrification appears in age-appropriate ways, with the rich newcomers not being overly vilified. The message of treating outsiders with kindness feels genuine, while moments that humanize the Beachlings, like one’s inspired creation of seashell mosaics, offer arresting context and gravity to the battle over their belonging in town.

The supernatural elements don’t overwhelm the plot, though Condi’s brief stint under the sea feels a touch disorienting, with its full cast and complex mythology. As satisfying as the final revelations are, the combination of ghost story and magical undersea realm can feel like a bit too much. Still, thanks to Condi’s forgetting, the bulk of the story should appeal to readers who prefer realistic fiction. This polished, lightly supernatural tale, its tenacious heroine, and well-handled real-world concerns will connect with teens making the transition from middle grade to young adult.

Takeaway: This small-town maritime novel offers a gripping blend of paranormal happenings, mystery, and realistic efforts to belong.

Great for fans of: Karen Strong’s Just South of Home, Melanie Conklin’s Every Missing Piece.

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

Click here for more about The Aquamarine Surfboard
Eagle Ascending
Dan Whitfield
Whitfield’s assured debut finds a New York City cop confronting anti-Semitic terrorism—and, in gut-churning twist, his own family’s involvement and secret past. Eagle Ascending finds NYPD Detective Joe Krueger caught in a bomb blast in Midtown Manhattan. Terrorists have targeted a Jewish museum and cultural center, and while Krueger’s not officially on the case—he works the narcotics beat—his world is rocked a second time when he sees a photo of the chief suspect: Kreuger’s grandfather, presumed dead since the 1950s, a former general of the Third Reich. While the feds track down all leads, including this impossible “zombie” Nazi, Krueger must face some dark family secrets—and an intimation of the supernatural.

Both a propulsive thriller and drama of an American cop reckoning with a family history of Nazism that runs deeper than he thinks, Eagle Ascending grabs readers hard from its opening pages as Whitfield blends gritty procedural realism with the possibility of occult horror. The suspense is threefold, as law enforcement tries to stop whatever the terrorists are planning, Krueger strives to uncover buried secrets, and readers parse the clues about what genre of thriller this ultimately will prove to be. The pulpy backstory involves Hitler’s mad quest for “the True Cross,” reputed to offer power over life and death, a fantastical element that, thanks to Whitfield’s careful framing of the tale, does not diminish the horror of actual real-world anti-Semitic terrorism, whose perpetrators do not need supernatural tchotchkes as justification for violence.

Grounding the story is Krueger, an engaging and relatable figure still shaken by his experience serving in Iraq—and freshly jolted by the truths he gets his mother to reveal. He’s a resourceful and effective hero, both in putting together the pieces of a conspiracy that ties together contemporary companies, Neo-Nazi militias, and ancient religious texts, and in escaping dangerous situations, in New York and on a globe-crossing hunt for truth. The hero’s haunted, but the action’s crisp.

Takeaway: An engaging thriller pitting a New York cop against Nazi terrorists, his own grandfather, and possible occult powers.

Great for fans of: James Herbert’s The Spear, Daniel Easterman’s The Seventh Sanctuary.

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

Click here for more about Eagle Ascending
Ancient History: A Secular Exploration of the World
Stephanie Hanson
The mission of this lavishly illustrated tour of the ancient world is to inspire a love of learning about history by presenting the lives of Phoenicians, Sumerians, Olmecs and more as a series of vivid stories rather than dry dates and names. Eschewing Eurocentrism, Hanson and Hauris explore ancient civilizations from around the world, digging into Egypt, Rome, and Greece as you might expect but also devoting equal attention to Ghana, the Americas, and ancient Aboriginal cultures as well. To suggest the flavor of each culture, the authors highlight objects, crafts, beliefs, and technological breakthroughs, while retelling the myths or stories that have survived, like the Sumerians’ 4,000 year old "Descent Of Inanna" or the tale of Anansi the Spider from the Ghana Empire.

The key to this inviting, highly browsable book's success is getting the reader to relate to ancient civilizations. By discussing technology like soap and cuneiform, pyramid building in Kush and Egypt, and the Olmec discovery of rubber, readers can gain a better understanding of what daily life was like instead of simply reading history as a series of battles. The authors take pains, as they focus on one civilization at a time, to offer context as to what else was happening in the world, so a discussion about the rise of ancient Greek society notes the decline of the Olmec empire as well as happenings in China, Japan, and Persia.

Written with an engaging and enthusiastic voice, Ancient History also takes the welcome step of delving into the methodology of historians, examining crucial questions like why historians don't know more about ancient Africa. The authors answer bluntly, discussing archeological issues, privileging written history over oral, but also racial biases. This kind of frankness goes a long way to instilling not just curiosity about history but also critical thinking regarding how and why we study history.

Takeaway: This inviting, spectacularly illustrated history text explores ancient civilizations, including those frequently ignored by most history texts.

Great for fans of: Allison Lassieur’s Ancient Mesopatamia, Honest History Magazine.

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

Comfort in the Wings: A Novel Inspired by Love That Will Not Die
Jennifer E Collins
With striking clarity of prose and a feeling for surprising human connections, Collins, in her debut, reveals the inner life of a woman facing grief, uncertainty, and the possibility of restoring severed relationships. Larissa Whitcomb, the Atlanta-based entrepreneur behind a company selling medical devices, has seen her husband depart, her angry son vanish after renouncing the family, and then, most devastating of all, and her daughter die of causes that the medical examiner says it will take months to determine. Bereft, unable to sleep, prone to bursts of rage or tears, Larissa spends weeks in a dazed haze, until an invitation and business opportunity from her first husband draws her out on a trip to upstate New York. What follows is an unpredictable, highly detailed odyssey of healing, self-discovery, and, ultimately, an urgent reconciliation.

From the first page, Collins demonstrates rare acuity and precision in pinning down Larissa’s complex shifting emotions. One standout scene finds a therapist thoughtlessly praising Larissa as “strong,” rousing the protagonist to rage, afterwards, “It really pisses me off. Strong? What are my choices?” That anger is matched by wrenching sorrow, as when Larissa weeps during a yoga class, but also memorable warmth and empathy in the novel’s most singular stretch, the hundred pages or so between Larissa embarking on her trip and arriving in New York. The arid no-place of the airport draws something out of her, and as she faces flight delays Larissa continually makes another kind of connection, discussing grief, loss, and love with strangers.

Collins’s attention to the everyday details of flying and car and cabin rental means at times slows down a story whose most urgent developments are mostly internal. Larissa travels with an attentive eye toward birds and butterflies, which she views as messages from Emma, her late daughter. The book’s final third picks up momentum, though, as the fate of Eric, the errant son, is revealed, and Larissa and he face the truths of their pasts and future.

Takeaway: This detailed, immersive novel of a woman facing grief offers wisdom and surprise connections.

Great for fans of: September Vaudrey’s Colors of Goodbye, Rajia Hassib's In the Language of Miracles.

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

Jupiter
John Carney
Singular and surprising in its form, this novel from Carney surveys a couple late October days in the author’s hometown, Jupiter, Florida, from the perspective of a young writer whose backstory (former soldier, prospective teacher) resembles the author. Like Carney, Giovanni Alberto harbors extraordinary literary ambition, a deep love of what used to be called “The Classics”—early on Gio returns Loeb Library editions of “Homer, Horace, Ovid, Lucan, [and] Vergil” to a Jupiter library—and a reverence for art for art’s sake. Setting this slice-of-life story of friends, theater, loneliness, and lost love apart is Carney’s eye for the telling, allusive detail, respect for the Aristotelian unities, and eagerness to experiment with pre-novel forms.

Three times Jupiter’s determinedly meandering narrative stops dead as Carney quite literally puts on shows: First, a pair of plays at a Jupiter festival, a comedy and a tragedy in the Roman mode, and then, near the novel’s end, a more contemporary discursion—the teleplay of a chatty science-fiction thriller. Each interruption proves memorable, especially the plays, the first of which centers on Anthony and Cleopatra and affords Carney ample opportunity for daft puns (legions/lesions, ostracization/Ostrich Nation) and bawdy satire. (His Antonius, caught up in what Cleopatra deems “drunken idiocy,” is much to eager to geld slaves.) The tragedy concerns the fate of Atlantis, while the science-fiction interlude, set on a Jovian moon, finds students in a distant future presenting the history of humanity’s relationship with the planet Jupiter.

These excursions run from 50 to 100 pages . They’d slow the momentum of most novels, but Jupiter pointedly has little to begin with. The framing story finds Giovanni taking a float trip on a river, competing in a poetry contest, watching plays, and falling asleep in front of the TV, all while haunted by a relationship with a woman whose name neither he, his friends, nor the author can bring themselves to mention. Readers of literary fiction and classical literature will find much to wrestle with here.

Takeaway: Whether it’s a novel or a collection of plays, Jupiter stands as a memorable literary achievement.

Great for fans of: Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, Henry Green’s Party Going, The Troubadour Theater Company.

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

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