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The Triple C Method: Gain clarity, boost confidence & build courage, so you can live life lit!
Ryan Spence
The three C’s of life coach Spence’s eponymous method—clarity, confidence, and courage—represent what it takes to lift one’s life from “lethargy to lit,” according to this invitingly breezy guide to the difference between surviving and thriving. Spence recounts his journey feeling stagnant in the employ of “BigLaw,” where people are “viewed as a resource whose worth is judged by how many hours you billed that week,” working up the courage to step out of this “soul-sucking” environment and live a life that fits his own values, on his own terms. Spence has crafted The Triple C Method as a tool kit to help others gain, build, and boost the clarity, confidence, and courage it takes to achieve the same.

In the conversational, encouraging voice of a coach, and drawing on stories from his and his colleagues’ and clients’ experiences, Spence lays out a clear framework for readers looking to make a change. Starting with “clarity,” his Cs emphasize gaining self-knowledge, asking at-times uncomfortable questions about who you are and what you want, urging readers “Don’t allow ideas of what is and is not realistic hold you back from going all out in creating and visualizing your dream life.” Establishing and end goal and finding a “Why,” he argues, are crucial work before attempting the next steps: Facing the “limiting beliefs” that diminish confidence, and then finding the courage that will power one’s efforts to arrive at the life they’ve envisioned.

Spence, an upbeat storyteller who occasionally flouts decorum with a heartfelt curse or jolting insight, proves adept at acknowledging and addressing the reasons many people fear to take action toward making a significant change. His guidance is sweeping, focused on the big picture of identifying what one desires and finding the confidence and courage to go for it. As a call to action, The Triple C Method is appealing and effective.

Takeaway: A call to action about the clarity, confidence, and courage it takes to live the life you may want.

Great for fans of: Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’s Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, Dale C. Bronner’s Change Your Trajectory.

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

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"HOUSE BOY"
Lorenzo DeStefano
DeStefano’s novel about human trafficking and atrocities is a horrifying tale of cruelty in the name of caste, ranging from Southern India to suburban London. Vijay Pallan, a Dalit–or “untouchable”–boy from Tamil Nadu, a rural state in southern India, goes to Chennai searching for a job to earn money for his sisters’ dowry. In Chennai, he falls into the clutches of Santhana Gopalan who works for a dubious agency that “supplies” household staff to rich Indian families in Britain. Vijay is elated at the prospect of more prosperous times for him and his family but on reaching the household of Binda Tagorstani, he finds the conditions are inhumane and atrocious.

DeStefano exposes, with empathy and striking prose, the slavery, assault, and general horror visited upon the poor not just in India but persisting in western cities just out of sight. Still, readers familiar with Indian life and culture may find some details distracting, especially in the Tamil Nadu sequences. The title character is called Vijay Pallan, though it’s unlikely someone from the Dalit community would add their caste to their name for the simple reason that they don’t want to be discriminated against, and the portrayal of Vijay’s family and their poverty lacks dimension. Vijay’s desperation and fear, though, are persuasive, and the manner in which he’s seduced (“we feel an obligation to offer certain exceptional individuals like yourself the option of working abroad”) into leaving his country is chilling.

But once the narrative shifts to Britain, the novel stands on firmer–and more convincing– ground. DeStefano’s depiction of Vijay’s long hours of work, near-starvation, and humiliation at the hands of Binda and her son Ravi—as well as Vijay’s crime—starkly highlight the power dynamics between the oppressor and oppressed. In tense courtroom scenes the reader is treated to some scintillating dialogue.

Takeaway: Ranging from India to London, this saga of international human enslavement is an intense, revealing read.

Great for fans of: Brenda Barrett’s The Pull of Freedom, Ailish Sinclair’s Fireflies and Chocolate.

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

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Aeturnum: Evolving Elizah Book 2
C.J. Hall
Pairing science-fiction thrills with apocalyptic, character-driven suspense, Hall’s sequel (after Evolving Elizah: Initiatum) takes flight in media res, in 2059, on the Green Grow 3, a farm ship originally created to feed the survivors of disasters on Earth but now, after the New Generation terrorist attacks in the first book, is “catapulting into deep space,” billions of miles from home. Its current destination: a “turnaround point” that will offer the Green Grow—and its inhabitants, including children—opportunity to return to their ash-choked terrestrial home. Shaken by loss, divided by secrets, and queasy from the G forces of interstellar travel, the survivors must make hard choices about who to trust, especially once Liz, the hero who saved the day in the first book, begins hearing in her mind a mysterious presence that makes declarations like “I am divinely created from the great black womb of nothing!”

Hall proves adept at action, tension, and suggestion, offering enticing alien mysteries that suggest there may something more terrifying in the cosmos than human betrayal and terrorism. Still, much of this follow-up’s power comes from the interpersonal, as Liz must choose whether to trust her brother, the apparently power-mad Jackson, New Generation leader who insists that he knows how to save them all—but only if the Green Grow’s council accepts his curious orders.

The story’s significant suspense comes from the terror of uncertainty, especially who (or what) to trust when the stakes could not be higher. The Green Grow proves a pressure cooker as Hall’s people scheme and spy. Liz proves a memorable hero, but wily, unpredictable Jackson continually steals the show, getting under his (apparent) adversaries’ skin, charming children and the mother of Liz’s lover, urging the ship toward the distant planet Omega for reasons only he knows—and toiling on a mysterious machine. The suspense (and the answers) prove so engaging that that may appeal even to readers outside the science fiction fold.

Takeaway: This tense S.F. thriller will appeal to readers who relish character-driven suspense and intergalactic mysteries.

Great for fans of: Elizabeth Bear’s Dust, Emma Newman.

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

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Maya the Clothes Maker and Ramon the Button Maker
Gigi Carunungan
In the town of Whatever, where people think they don’t understand math so they avoid it altogether, Maya is a clothes maker, and her friend Ramon is a button maker. Maya uses Ramon’s buttons to create her colorful and unique clothes, but they run into an issue when a shirt Maya has made doesn’t have enough buttons. Luckily, Bikoy, a visitor from the city and lover of math equations, enters the shop just in time to show Maya and Ramon how math can help solve their problem. Maya the Clothes Maker and Ramon the Button Maker features accessible writing, colorful and expressive illustrations, and a plot that drives the math concepts being taught.

Carunungan and illustrator Jessica Liou imagine an eye-pleasing, bustling town and tale with six algebraic concepts (“Sets are groups of the same types of objects”) woven through–and a host of cheerful, diverse Whatever residents, kids and adults both, to apply them to clearly described situations. Readers (called “MathXplorers”) are invited to work out the puzzles with the townies, of course, and given space on the pages to do so. At times the layout, which often includes multiple concepts on one page or one concept repeated multiple ways, can get cluttered, and it isn’t always as intuitive and clear as the written explanations. Several clever activities are included, like a game involving buttons and dice to help design shirts; these can run multiple pages, interrupting the flow of the narrative. Repeat readings will likely make the book and its think-along math challenges more inviting.

Still, having a child-centered and interactive book that explains math concepts is something that could help even the most math-averse kids. Carunungan offers an engaging, colorful, and interactive resource for teaching younger kids math concepts through character examples.

Takeaway: The town of Whatever’s diverse characters and colorful illustrations help engage young readers in basic math concepts.

Great for fans of: Eve Merriam’s 12 Ways to Get to 11, Dayle Ann Dodds’s Minnie’s Diner.

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

Presumed Guilty: A Novel
Alexandra Shapiro
Shapiro draws on her experience as a criminal defense attorney in this gripping debut. New York hedge fund manager Emma Simpson commutes to her Manhattan office daily by train from her home in the Hudson Valley, leaving behind her husband and two children. When her firm schedules an outage in order to transition to a new server, Emma sends out a precautionary email reminding employees of the company’s document retention policy–but a reference in it to discarding investment idea notes lands her in the crosshairs of a tenacious federal prosecutor when the company’s Boston office is investigated for possible insider trading.

At first the prosecutors seem not to discover anything sinister, but her relief is short-lived when FBI agents storm her home and arrest her. She is forced to defend herself and her seemingly innocuous email against a lack of concrete evidence, with a lengthy, drawn-out trial that illuminates the stark realities of such an investigation. Shapiro’s expertise, notably her success in defending clients of criminal insider trading cases, shines through, providing great verisimilitude, convincing and fascinating detail, and a welcome sense of realism throughout, all without overburdening readers with technical jargon.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is Shapiro’s emphasis on Emma as the victim, especially when media focus during insider trading cases often hints at–or outright presumes–the guilt of the accused in such cases. Shapiro has skilfully created a portrait of a woman who, though working in a high-powered position, is similar to many women trying to juggle career with family while facing the challenges of parenthood–and her attention to the issues Emma faces after her arrest, including family and financial stress, is emotionally resonant and makes the consequences of the investigation all the more disturbing. Backstories for the prosecutors’ motivations are compelling, delivering a well-rounded, intense legal thriller that will electrify readers.

Takeaway: An innocent woman attorney becomes the focus of a crusading prosecutor in this riveting, realistic legal thriller.

Great for fans of: Scott Turow, Stacey Abrams’s While Justice Sleeps.

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

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Capuche
Hotse Langeraar
A richly detailed historical epic, Langeraar’s Capuche follows the life of Welsh noble Morvran ab Moel Llywarch as he battles religious tyranny in thirteenth century England. Morvran leaves his life in Wales to pursue scholastic ambitions, and during his travels across Europe he discovers the teachings of the Cathars–a religious sect deemed as heretics by the Catholic church for their beliefs, which opposed established religious teachings of the time. Morvran quickly emerges as a leader and protector of the Cathars, nurturing secret communes across England, and during his journey he falls in love with a Catholic nun. A forbidden romance simmers, but Morvran and his lover are destined for a tragic end.

Langeraar’s novel offers all the trappings of a great historical romance, with lush descriptive prose and larger than life characters based on real historical figures, albeit reimagined as fictionalized versions. As a Cathar leader, Morvran acquires the nom de guerre “capuche,” the French word for “hood,” and the references to Robin Hood escalate from there: Morvran frequently raids ecclesiastical institutions and redistributes their wealth to the masses, and his lover, Sister Maria, appears to be the namesake of folk heroine Lady Marian.

Although this tale is artfully pieced together with elements borrowed from medieval legends, Langeraar creates a distinct historical world by engaging with the forgotten history of the Cathars and imagining Morvran as a scholar and archivist, allowing him to illustrate the art of bookmaking as well. Langeraar dedicates the novel’s first part to establishing the socio-political context, and despite a constant shifting between the gripping inner lives of his main players, Capuche soon finds its rhythm and seamlessly weaves that context into the characters’ lives, while offering visceral imagery that will transport readers directly into a mesmerizing time and place. Historical fiction fans will be swept into the trials of Morvran and his tribe.

Takeaway: This accomplished historical epic weaves romance, medieval English folklore, and religious tyranny.

Great for fans of: Sharon Penman’s The Land Beyond the Sea, Megan Campisi’s The Sin Eater.

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

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The Devil's Calling
Michael Kelley
Kelley’s ambitious follow up to 2021’s science-meets-spirituality thriller The Lost Theory stands as another literate cosmological epic, this time finding its professor heroes—Sean McQueen, literature, and Emily Edens, quantum physics—facing the fallout in 2027, both good and terrifying, of their adventure nine years before, which involved the discovery and sharing of a murdered poet colleague’s world-changing “theory of everything.” The good: Raising kids, relishing Emily’s Nobel nomination, running a new college for women, and adjusting to a world that they’ve fundamentally changed. Their first brush with the bad comes from telepathic messages (“They come like coded packets of information that then bloom into a knowing within my mind”) received by Ting, the sister of their missing spirit guide, Juno. Has Juno ascended to a higher plane—or perhaps been abducted by beings we have no better term for than “aliens”?

From there, Kelley offers a sprawling, thoughtful epic involving intelligence agencies that the heroes bested in the previous book, a terrifying secret society, a “brain-mapping quantum computer” capable of controlling the human mind, and the tantalizing truth, teased early on, that “Our science fiction was the government’s secret truth.” Thriller readers should be aware that, among the many surprises on offer, Kelley favors thinking through the spiritual and philosophical implications of his ideas over fisticuffs and chases, though bursts of action (such as a set piece involving a wildfire or a showdown involving a branding) are handled with crisp clarity.

The second in a projected trilogy, The Devil’s Calling again centers the romance between its leads, and their embrace of spiritual practice—they meditate more often than they throw punches. That emphasis (and a luminous ending) will please readers who share that inclination, though the near-future technology is not developed to the standards of tech-thrillers. Refreshingly, narrator McQueen actually thinks like a lit prof, offering “a prayer that Dickens, not Kafka, would be the author of my ending.”

Takeaway: An ambitious thriller, blending science, spiritualism, advanced AI, and possible alien abduction.

Great for fans of: Marcel Theroux’s Strange Bodies, Ramez Naam’s Nexus Trilogy.

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

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Mystified
Julia Ash
Ash’s intriguing mystery is set against the backdrop of the cutthroat junior beauty pageant world. Fifteen-year-old Juliette (Jules) Annabella Parker is the darling of the pageant circuit, under strict watch by her overbearing mother, Constance. Imprisoned in a gilded cage, the only thing keeping Jules going is her friendship with her new neighbor, Truitt Windsor, who has a few secrets of his own. When Jules mysteriously drowns in her pool, she comes back as a ghost desperate to identify her killer.

Ash (author of the ELI Chronicles bioterrorism series) exhibits a keen eye for detail when it comes to characterization. Jules is an immediately likable, if precocious, teen heroine, whose headstrong demeanor will resonate with young readers. Constance, Jules’s mother, is delightfully over-the-top: Readers may be reminded of Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. (Decrying an autopsy for her daughter, Constance declares “Mourners will expect an open casket. My God, Finn! Juliette was a beauty queen.”) Although the novel opens with Jules’s death, Ash relies heavily on flashbacks to set up the tale, not revisiting Jules’s death until a third of the way through the book, diminishing the narrative momentum.

There are moments when Jules’s new life as a ghost is funny and inventive—Jules acting as an unseen force disrupting her own autopsy and arguing with her mother from beyond the grave are two such moments—but since the next world proves so similar to our own, complete with intelligible conversations between the dead, the story loses some tension and mystery. Jules has no trouble communicating with those in the realm of the living, and her materiality as a ghost tests a seasoned reader’s suspension of disbelief. Still, Mystified is an engaging read that will pull fans of dark fiction, fantasy, and mystery into a compelling character’s life and death.

Takeaway: This ghostly mystery offers a glimpse of the afterlife and the ugliness of the junior pageant world.

Great for fans of: Jessica Hamilton’s What You Never Knew, Colette McBeth’s The Life I Left Behind.

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

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Abby the Crabby Tabby: Discovers Gratitude
Andrea Lane
In her relatable, rhyming picture book for young children, Lane introduces Abby the crabby tabby, a persnickety longhaired kitty with a yellow bow on her head whose litany of complaints is endless and all encompassing. Abby starts each day by moaning about her breakfast of salmon and cheese, then moves on to whining about her “boring” toys, and finally her “small and lumpy” bed. Her lighthearted sister, Olivia Kathy, doesn’t understand why Abby is so miserable until one day she has a revelation: “‘Happiness,’ she thought, ‘why it’s all in your head!’”

When Olivia Kathy rushes to share this truth, telling Abby that “happiness isn’t a place that you find,” but rather “a thing you create with your mind,” the curmudgeonly cat is on her way out the door to find a place where she can “get what [she wants] right away.” But soon Abby finds her journey abruptly cut short and begrudgingly realizes Olivia Kathy is right, electing to stay home and choose gratitude. Kids will find Abby’s issues both humorous and relevant, as they’ve likely felt bored with their own toys and food or argued with a sibling at some point as well. Learning to look inward to find joy and peace and appreciate what one already has is a valuable lesson at any age, especially in an era of instant gratification and excess, and Abby the Crabby Tabby communicates it with engaging clarity.

Heather Bousquet’s detailed, expressive illustrations bring Abby’s journey from cantankerous to thankful delightfully to life. Abby is frequently shown scowling and rolling her big blue eyes while Olivia Kathy smiles, helping kids visualize the difference between choosing to see the water bowl as half full versus half empty. Ultimately a grinning and content-looking Abby is shown enjoying the same food and bed she used to deride, making a clear and important case for the power of gratitude.

Takeaway: The power of gratitude shines through this engaging story of a spoiled tabby.

Great for fans of: Karma Wilson’s Bear Says Thanks, Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop on Market Street.

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

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Honey Trap
Tony Brenna
Graphic violence and passionate couplings highlight this lively actioner that jumps from corporate boardrooms to the lairs of drug kingpins. Reporter Mike Delano is captured while covering the war in Iraq, and after a daring escape writes a bestselling book that leads to fame. Meanwhile, media czar Lord Rothenberg considers Delano as editor for a tabloid. Delano takes the job, but soon starts an affair with Rothenberg's unhappily married daughter, Rachel. Their relationship lands them in the middle of multiple conspiracies involving murderous gangsters, an out of control movie star, and Middle Eastern terrorists. The resulting maelstrom threatens to destroy the lovers, and everyone in their orbit.

Brenna's background in tabloid journalism, covering Hollywood, stands him in good stead in describing both the glamorous and seamy side of those businesses. And he does so with great vigor—the sex and violence are frequent and graphic: "his blade slashing at the guard’s skinny throat. Blood pulsed over him; the deluge pleased his soul." Even the sex is forceful: "Mistress Giana Gallina…. was an expert with whips for lashing and paddles for spanking." The plot gets a little convoluted with a lot of motives and double-crosses, but the action never lets up for a minute, with a continual string of cliffhangers.

Passion is the one constant that ties together all the characters, whether it's for money and power, as with Lord Rothenberg, or a political ideal with Muslim terrorists. The focus is mainly on Delano, who does show some growth as his passions change. At the start, he's a devoted journalist, but later becomes consumed by revenge before finding an intense, if troubled, relationship with Rachel. She has her own issues, with an extreme love-hate relationship with her family despite her father's mistreatment of her. All these emotions eventually boil over into several final revenge scenarios. Readers open to outsize passions themselves will likely be breathless.

Takeaway: Fans of hard-edge action will revel in characters who never hesitate to act on every thought of hate and lust.

Great for fans of: Harold Robbins, Alistair MacLean.

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

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Secrets in the Palazzo
Kathleen Reid
For the art-obsessed expats populating Reid’s satisfying escape-to-Italy sequel to Sunrise in Florence, solving a centuries-old mystery seems less difficult than resolving romantic complications. The supportive friendship of American painter Rose Maning and Swiss-born conservator Beatrice von der Layman was built on their shared love of Renaissance masters Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. After Rose finds several Renaissance era drawings hidden in the wall of her apartment, Beatrice digs in to discover their origin–and reveals one is linked to Michelangelo and the other could be related to da Vinci’s mural of the Battle of Anghiari, a lost work covered up by another artist in 1555.

Rose’s past move to Florence to paint full-time and immerse herself in the glorious remnants of the Renaissance—and her whirlwind love affair with Italian real estate agent, Lyon—were the focus of her first adventure with Beatrice. Now, with a gallery show under her belt, she’s focused on her future, but pre-wedding jitters lead to a revelation and shattered engagement. In Rome, Beatrice remains a devoted guardian of art history, even when her attraction to nomadic muralist Mike (whose intensity and talent recall Michelangelo) inspires the realization that she’s funneled all her passion into her work. Beatrice is determined to uncover a lost Leonardo, and Reid deftly balances an enticing art history mystery with heady romance.

Rose and Beatrice’s Italy is a living museum complete with street artists as besotted with the Renaissance as the leads. Sleek charmer Vince continually re-populates da Vinci’s Last Supper table, and the vigorous, unpolished Mike reconfigures classical and mythological iconography. While these rivals challenge societal norms with their confrontational murals, their world–as well as Rose and Beatrice’s–feels removed from contemporary life, a Cinquecento fantasy of art for art’s sake. But readers looking for a romantic escape to an Italy as full of glorious art is as revitalizing as brilliant sunlight and abundant pasta will relish this tale.

Takeaway: Lovers of Renaissance art and lost-masterwork mysteries will appreciate this escape-to-Italy romance.

Great for fans of: Iain Pears’s The Raphael Affair, Paul Christopher’s Michelangelo’s Notebook, and Charlotte and Aaron Elkins’s A Dangerous Talent.

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

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My Name on a Grain of Rice
Richard Voigt
Intriguing characters and soul-searching journeys distinguish this debut offering from Voigt. Harry Travers, son of wealthy parents who buy fake chateaus for investment purposes, longs to break free from his family’s opulent country club lifestyle, to “feel the rush that comes from making something out of nothing.” When Travers decides to quit his steady job at a software startup and sign on to become an apprentice piledriver for a construction company, trouble starts to knock on his door. What follows is a transformation of self-discovery, replete with physical dangers, emotional uncertainty, and one man’s desperate search for meaning.

Voigt intricately details his characters around Travers’s point of view, one momentary impression at a time–and those characters are truly memorable, with beguiling oddities that will resonate with readers. Throughout the story, Travers attempts to defy others’ expectations of him, first and foremost his parents, who want him to live a life similar—if not the same—to their own. When Travers, in his father’s eyes, throws away a guaranteed future to chase after deeper meaning, he “might as well put [his] name on a grain of rice.” Despite his detractors’ disappointment in the seeming insignificance of Travers’s pursuits, he remains dogged in his quest for purpose.

Some of Voigt’s prose edges toward the self-conscious, though Travers is impressively aware of his own flaws as he analyzes his unconventional choices: in trying to walk the line between his wealthy upbringing and his search for meaning, Travers can go overboard to prove his normalcy. Suspense arises from accounts of construction work on a mismanaged project, described with persuasive clarity (at times at length) and drawing upon Voigt’s work as an attorney focused on workplace litigation–this is fiction that’s not afraid to get its hands dirty. Lovers of personal growth stories will enjoy this novel, which is as entertaining as it is introspective.

Takeaway: The intriguing story of one man’s attempt to break out of his rich family’s mold and find his own meaning in life and work.

Great for fans of: Richard Ford, Larry Brown.

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

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He Ain't Heavy (He's My Son) Part II: The journey continues...
Dana R. Jones-Meggett
Centered on the childhood of her son who has been diagnosed with autism, Jones-Meggett’s sequel to her first memoir, published 13 years ago, offers a frank discussion of skin color, disability, and societal prejudice. She briefly covers her son’s initial diagnosis but focuses mainly on their journey together from his early adolescence to young adulthood. Written in part as a manual for caretakers of individuals with disabilities, this helpful guide is also a strong piece of literary advocacy for the voiceless, as Jones-Meggett states, “I am literally my son’s voice.” She skillfully balances emotion and facts to delve into her life as someone who has devoted her entire self to caring for another person with a disability in a society where, as she puts it, people have long been “identified and even taunted because of their condition.”

Readers will be inspired by Jones-Meggett’s tenacity, as she strives for the best for her son, and also comforted by her vulnerability as she faces loss. She writes, “unlike a death, there is no closure with ambiguous loss, just a feeling of revisiting or being stuck in profound grief.” This follow-up touches on sociocultural issues that impact persons with disabilities as well, and Jones-Meggett’s focus on inclusion and respect is evident throughout. The narrative is split into easy-to-follow sections that will resonate with readers, and the backmatter includes helpful resources for families who may be facing similar challenges.

Jones-Meggett has crafted a clear-eyed, sometimes inspiring account of navigating a bigoted world, writing effectively and without malice, maintaining her focus on progress and advocacy. Readers will gain insight into caring for those living with disabilities, and a deeper understanding and heightened empathy. Readers will walk away from this book deeply affected by the unfairness in the world and with a changed outlook regarding what is ability, what’s valuable in society, and who decides the answers to these questions.

Takeaway: A poignant guide and memoir that addresses autism, race, and caring for a loved one with disabilities.

Great for fans of: Jennifer Cook O’Toole’s Autism in Heels, John Elder Robison’s Look Me In the Eye.

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

Click here for more about He Ain't Heavy (He's My Son) Part II
Singing at High Altitude
Jennifer Markell
This soulful collection from Markell (Samsara) touches on complex opposing themes, often eliciting both despair and joy simultaneously. The selections consider experiences like living in poverty, pummeled by a broken society, and overwhelmed by emotions and loss, while always appreciating the inherent beauty within simple moments, such as in one of the earlier pieces, “Rent Control.” Markell proves adept at weaving tapestries of figurative language to form a tangible scene, dropping the reader into a somber hospital room filled with flowers in “Leaf Litter,” a sunny “July” in the sand dunes with someone special, or the silent gathering of out-of-work men praying for opportunity in “The Men,” a striking portrait of active helplessness: “Cigarettes idle. They twirl rosaries / and radio dials, chew a cud of worry.”

With exacting clarity, Markell often intermingles painful themes, such as childhood violence at the hands of a physically abusive parent, with the lilting splendor of nature: “startles an osprey from its perch, / distracting the girl’s mother, / hand raised, ready to hit.” Domesticity and maternal strife are featured as well, as a discordant mixture between comfort and fear, as in the wrenching “Superpower,” in which she writes, “My mother slapped my face / while she stood over the kitchen sink / doing dishes.”

On occasion, Markell’s poetry can edge toward ambiguity, which may make it a challenge for some readers to apprehend the collection’s organizational logic, though the consistent strength of her linework is a powerful throughline. Simply put, a reader can flip through the pages at random and stumble upon any number of charming (“My Mother Tells Me my Father was no Good in Bed” opens with “Who really wants to know / how they got made?”) or haunting poems, pinning down with quiet precision feelings and insights. While Markell never shies away from the difficulties of life, she reminds us that in partnership with the ugliness there is always splendor–and that “Hope rests on the roof.”

Takeaway: These strikingly original poems pin down everyday hope and despair with exacting precision and power.

Great for fans of: Gail Mazur, Sandra Storey.

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

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The Importance of Sons: Chronicles of the House of Valois
Keira Morgan
In a graceful prequel to The Importance of Pawns, Morgan delves into the animosity between two women who played pivotal roles in early Renaissance France. Defeated by the French army, Duchess Anne of Brittany has no choice but to have her first marriage annulled in order to wed King Charles, leaving her power to her new husband. Charmed at first by Charles’s chivalry, Anne hopes she can retain some independence and power, but soon a string of painful losses and her husband’s infidelity erode that hopefulness. Despite Anne’s best efforts, she is soon embroiled in royal intrigues with Countess Louise d’Angoulême and Madame la Grande, the powerful older sister of king Charles and a string of painful losses.

Morgan’s story is brimming with unforgettable characters. Anne’s similarities to Louise—including being forced into marriage by the unbending Madame la Grande—are overshadowed for the women by familial resentments, personal envy, and ambition that pit them against each other, though, with time, Anne acquires her own reasons to envy Louise. The novel boasts a compelling supporting cast as well, and devotees of historical fiction will be left wanting more time with the rest of Morgan’s people. Her love and knowledge of the era are well felt in the lavishly detailed world building, as is her attention to the conventions of the time in her characters’ thoughts and actions. There is also significant consideration paid to the period’s religious beliefs, lending the novel a decided authenticity that is sometimes rare in the genre.

The focus here isn't on love affairs or wars and politics—though they are present and affect the story’s events—but instead on the heroines’ emotional lives and reactions to the common struggles for women during the Renaissance, facing mighty obstacles regardless of their capability or high-born status. The result is a charming historical coming-of-age story, with Morgan breathing fresh life into overlooked historical figures.

Takeaway: Lovers of historical fiction will be delighted by this rich portrayal of an overlooked Renaissance queen and her courtiers.

Great for fans of: Elizabeth Chadwick, Alison Weir.

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

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YOU ARE THE LIGHT
Meera Jhogasundram
Career coach Jhogasundram continues her self-improvement series with this reflective exploration on overcoming negative emotions. Drawing on her personal experiences with each one of seven “forms of heavy energy”—grief, fear, anger, jealousy, guilt, hatred, and hurt—she offers readers coping skills and encourages them to bring about positive changes by no longer dwelling in negative energies. Jhogasundram warns that the vulnerability of these negative emotional states can lead to being manipulated–and to avoid that outcome, she offers several routes out of the darkness, including channeling grief into positive actions, asking questions to minimize fear, focusing on gratitude to counter jealousy, and avoiding triggers and gossip to defuse hatred.

Readers will appreciate Jhogasundram’s personal candor in this encouraging guide. She details a long career in a toxic work environment, reveals her challenging interactions with an abusive graduate advisor, and opens up about painful childhood experiences, such as neglecting one of her pets. Although some of her stories are light on details, readers will gain a solid sense of her struggles in younger years, and her guidance is simple enough for immediate action. Some of her more helpful advice is incorporated into the chapter on hurt, when she urges readers to reframe hurt as a symptom of emotional depth and view it as an opportunity for growth.

Audiences who balk at more holistic ideas—like the law of attraction that Jhogasundram cautions is a powerful natural truth—may find some of the teachings in this guide challenging, but overall Jhogasundram clarifies difficult subjects while adding commonsense appeal. In the interest of connecting on an emotional level with readers, she blends a personal touch into more logical concepts. Readers seeking extensive in-depth analysis will want to look elsewhere, but for those who feel limited in their current situation without understanding why, this quick unpacking of negative and positive energies will suffice.

Takeaway: A candid self-help guide that teaches how to reframe negative emotions in favor of positive change.

Great for fans of: Andrea Bonior, I.C. Robledo.

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

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