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DNA, or The Book of Brad: A comic novel about finding family.
Monica Bauer
This quick and funny novel from playwright Bauer explores family dynamics, sapphic relationships, and finding where you truly belong. Rose Pettigrew is a young Black lawyer who has never known her biological parents or where she truly came from. Growing up, Rose promised her adoptive mother that she would never seek out her birth parents until after her adoptive mother was dead and gone, but once her adoptive mother develops early onset Alzheimer's, Rose goes back on her word and takes a DNA test. It turns out that Rose's biological father is a semi-famous rabbi, the author of multiple self-help books–and, unfortunately, now passed, having met his untimely death right before the test results came back.

Bauer deftly tells a fast-moving story with crisp comic dialogue, but its heart is in its three- dimensional, highly likable characters. Rose is in a serious relationship with Paula, a heart surgeon. As Rose gets acquainted with her grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel Cohen, and her biological brother, Jacob, she’s helped by Paula, who is Jewish, in navigating the challenges of integrating into this newfound family. Rabbi Brad, too, plays a prominent role, and readers discover him through excerpts of his many self-help books featured at the beginning of each chapter, and through the eyes of the family that he left behind. “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a masochist and 1 being Oprah, what did your Dad, Rabbi Brad, teach you about guilt?” Paula asks Jacob. His answer is complex and surprising.

This novel will please fans of comic family dramas as, for all its sharply observed cultural specifics, it finds universals within its themes of family ties and self-discovery. Mixing comedy with heart, Bauer’s story will resonate with those who, even in their adult life, feel themselves still searching for a place among family, a feeling of belonging and being home.

Takeaway: A sharp, funny story of DNA surprises and finding your place in a new family and culture.

Great for fans of: Jessica Strawser’s A Million Reasons Why, Marra B. Gad’s The Color of Love.

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

Click here for more about DNA, or The Book of Brad
Project Management in the Hybrid Workplace
Phil Simon
In this inviting, clear-eyed business management guide, tech authority and business podcaster Simon (Reimagining Collaboration) urges readers to reevaluate the way project-based work and product launches are executed in remote and hybrid work environments. Written for product developers, service providers, students, and seasoned project managers, Simon provides “essential guidance for managing projects … in remote and hybrid work-places,” which are becoming increasingly popular thanks to a galvanized workforce that is reluctant to return to pre-pandemic work conditions. Simon does not expect that trend to reverse, and he lays out practical advice to of-the-moment questions facing managers like “What happens when a high-inflationary environment collides with woke employees and an unprecedented rise in remote/hybrid work?”

After a list of important figures and a brief yet insightful introduction, Simon dives into the circumstances responsible for creating an American workforce no longer interested in reverting back to a traditional office setting before delving into the unique challenges of hybrid work environments, such as collaboration overload, communication delays, varying levels of digital literacy, plus the exacerbating effects remote work has on our cognitive biases. Simon’s thorough and persuasive, offering that data (often in engaging graphics) to bacon up his straight talk. The most significant information is found in the third and final section of the guide, with each chapter dedicated to a specific prescription or guideline to ensure the success of projects managed for a remote team, including “Perform a Project Premortem” and “Institutionalize Clear Employee Writing.”

Simon lays out his guidelines for success on managing projects following the principle-based approach of Google’s management team, which emphasizes simplicity above a code of stringent, detailed rules. Using several research studies and labor statistics to back his assertions, Simon doesn’t introduce new methodologies but instructs readers on how to best alter their approach, techniques, and processes to better fit remote workplaces, while addressing the additional constraints both employers and employees face when working outside of a traditional nine-to-five setting.

Takeaway: A clear-eyed call to reevaluate project-based team projects in the days of remote work.

Great for fans of: Kory Kogon’s Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager, David Pachter’s Remote Leadership: How to Accelerate Achievement and Create a Community in a Work-from-Home World.

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

Best Friends Forever: A Puppy's Tale
Portia Y. Clare
A young girl learns the depths of love—and loss—in Clare’s heartwarming debut. Scoopie has just turned four when she learns her parents are getting her the gift she’s always wanted–her very first puppy. Packing their car full of new dog goodies, the family heads out to pick up Scoopie’s present, a dachshund she names Sandy. (Scoopie also promptly declares that Sandy looks “like a hot dog.”) Scoopie and Sandy are immediately best friends and spend their time playing, fetching, and sharing food–until one day the family takes Sandy on an airplane flight and her ride in the luggage compartment triggers a seizure.

Unlike many feel-good pet tales, this one comes with a painful life lesson: Despite medical treatment and the family’s deep love, Sandy eventually dies from complications of epilepsy. However, Scoopie is able to soak up many fun experiences with her puppy before she passes away, and Clare is attentive to the difficulties of explaining pet illness to younger readers. Readers will learn what a seizure is and why it’s important to be sensitive to animals (or people) who are experiencing them, and although Sandy’s outcome is heartbreaking, it’s handled with grace. Scoopie takes time to grieve the loss of her puppy, and when she feels ready, she asks for another dog–this time a miniature schnauzer named Omar.

The most important part of this story is its gentle treatment of grief. Scoopie circles back to her memories of Sandy while learning to love again, recognizing the similarities and differences between the two dogs as she introduces Omar to Sandy at her gravesite, a meeting that Clare aptly describes as “a family reunion.” Alderson’s muted illustrations provide a fittingly hushed atmosphere, and although it covers delicate territory, this emotional story will strike a chord for any reader who has endured the loss of a beloved pet.

Takeaway:A young girl experiences the loss of her first pet in this emotional story.

Great for fans of: Patrice Karst’s The Invisible Leash, Adrian Raeside’s The Rainbow Bridge.

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

Click here for more about Best Friends Forever: A Puppy's Tale
Cemetery Reflections
Jane Hopkins
Striking and elegiac, Hopkins’s exploration of American cemeteries contemplates, through arresting photographs taken at over 200 cemeteries in the Eastern United States and Canada, North American traditions of memorialization, grief, and solace. Her shots of headstones, sculptures, stained glass, mausoleums, and other markers to the dead, often freshened up by flowers brought by the living, invite the same kind of quietly awed, contemplative response that a reader might feel strolling a cemetery in real life: this is an encounter with time itself, with the force of elements and the perseverance of stone and memory, with the question of what of us will endure.

Hopkins demonstrates a keen eye for crumbling stone, the interplay of memorial markers and the abundant life of the surrounding trees and foliage, and the impulse to impose order on the messiness of life and death through graveyard symmetry. (She also deftly arranges the images so that their corresponding qualities enrich each other on the page.) The individual carvings and headstones remain fascinating throughout, especially the oldest, with their skulls and death’s heads suggesting how much closer death felt in ages past, the markers’ messages still clear even when their faces are faded by centuries. Occasional surprises offer jolts of recognition of our own era: a freshly dug grave, not yet filled, or a pair of stone rabbit garden figurines, their cutesy tackiness suddenly endowed with greater significance.

Supplementing the photos are short, well-chosen excerpts from a poetry anthology from the 1890s, plus selections from authors like Louisa May Alcott and Leo Tolstoy—who, while always edifying to read, isn’t exactly an authority on American ways of dying. But he speaks to the larger truth that powers Hopkins’s work, and any healthy fascination with places of remembrance: each of these markers represents a life and all that entails. There’s beauty, wisdom, and peace in this collection.

Takeaway: This striking collection of cemetery photography sheds light on the American way of memorialization.

Great for fans of: Yolanda Zappaterra’s Cities of the Dead, Lorraine Evans’s Burying the Dead.

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

Click here for more about Cemetery Reflections
Alice and Jack Hike the Grand Canyon
Amy Graves and Pam Schweitzer
Hiking the Grand Canyon is a family tradition for daughter and mother co-writers Graves and Schweitzer, and their first picture book captures both the disciplined preparation the journey demands and the wonder of the experience. When her parents announce that they’ve obtained a permit to camp in Grand Canyon National Park during spring break, Alice begins to read about this amazing natural wonder and joins younger brother Jack on practice hikes. It’s like training for the Olympics, Alice declares, as her family spends four months prepping for the trip, which involves hiking down paths carved into the canyon–and an even more strenuous, uphill climb out.

Told from Alice’s perspective, this family trip is a grand adventure that unfolds as a series of important tasks. She approaches each one with relish, from choosing the best waterproof hiking boots to leading her family into Phantom Ranch, their canyon floor base camp. Her enthusiasm is tempered only by a fear of heights, and illustrator McKenzie Robinson skillfully captures Alice’s trepidation taking a practice walk across a narrow rope bridge over a ravine. When she faces the daunting Silver Suspension Bridge with the roaring Colorado River below, the girl’s determined posture projects her resolve.

Robinson is a childhood friend of Graves, and their collaboration illuminates a young girl discovering how much she can learn and achieve. Characters are drawn with more detail than the natural world, which is rendered in bold, expressive strokes of soft color, making the canyon walls more inviting than imposing and reinforcing Graves and Schweitzer’s encouraging tone. Only one percent of visitors travel down into the Grand Canyon, and Alice’s family serves as a model for parents and kids eager to experience this astounding environment –and for those who aren’t afraid of the hard work. Through Alice’s immersive Grand Canyon journey, readers will learn how satisfying a challenge can be.

Takeaway: An inspiring account of a Grand Canyon adventure, emphasizing practical prep and sheer wonder.

Great for fans of: Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon, Alison Farrell’s The Hike, and Jennifer K. Mann’s The Camping Trip.

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

Click here for more about Alice and Jack Hike the Grand Canyon
Madre: The Nun Who Was Mother to the Orphans of Honduras
Kathy Martin O’Neil
In this vivid debut biography, O’Neil celebrates Honduras’s legendary nun, Sister María Rosa Leggol, who revolutionized care for the nation’s most vulnerable population. With sparky aphorisms and insatiable perseverance, the religious maverick founded the Society of the Friends of Children (SAN), an organization that shelters children in innovative style: her insight and shrewd networking enabled the construction of villages where children could grow up in simulated homes rather than dismal orphanages. O’Neil recounts Sister María’s formative years, successes, setbacks, and potential for sainthood, interspersed with over a dozen profiles of individuals who contributed to Sister María’s causes for more than five decades.

Throughout numerous mission trips volunteering for SAN, O’Neil grew personally familiar with Sister María, enabling her heartfelt and clear-eyed observations. The biography’s opening anecdote reveals Sister María’s salient characteristic of audacity: in 1966, the nun ran onto an airport tarmac, halted a plane from taking off, and obtained a wealthy board member’s signature on a vital document. Similarly amusing and inspiring tales paint Sister María’s stubborn and affectionate personality, and photographs complement the narrative, bringing the woman’s poise, humor, and feistiness to life. That spirit is evidenced by Sister María’s own words: “I am not the saint you think; I am a rebellious old lady!”

O’Neil’s settings transport readers to the heart of Honduras, both in its beauty and devastating poverty. The biography alludes to violence and assassinations, and O’Neil explains hardship forthrightly, yet the story as told here is heartening, appropriate for young adult readers and older alike. Throughout the narrative, the emphasis is on Sister María’s solutions and her determination—a force that neither natural disasters nor an expanding organization’s red tape were able to dim. This thoughtful, well-researched recounting of Sister María’s life and work invokes her passion while providing a compelling blueprint for those who yearn to better our world.

Takeaway: The inspiring story of a Honduran nun who fought for change for the most vulnerable.

Great for fans of: Kathryn Spink’s Mother Teresa, Elvia Alvarado’s Don't Be Afraid, Gringo.

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

Click here for more about Madre
Homeland
Robert H Keprta
Robert Keprta (Superlative Selling) tells an engaging historical tale of freedom, danger, and the complexities of birthright and citizenship in this compact, compelling narrative. Frank, who emigrated from the Austria-Hungary Empire at the age of ten, decides to visit his birthplace as an adult in the early twentieth century. Upon his return, he is captured and forcibly enlisted in the army. Drawing strength from his steady faith in God, he is eventually able to escape and undertakes a long, perilous journey back to the United States–this time as a stowaway with no passport. Without papers, he is imprisoned at Ellis Island until his wife, Bosinia, can come and verify his identity, finally allowing him back to rebuild his life in the U.S.

This story, drawn from actual incidents, is fast paced and exciting, although at times the text is bogged down by minor errors and long chapters without breaks. Frank’s faith is a clear support to him throughout his dangerous experience, and Keprta skillfully illustrates that the homeland of the novel’s title is not Frank’s new life in Texas, or the old country in Europe–rather, it is eternity in heaven. Some readers may wish for a map to detail Frank’s travels, or personal photographs to make the story more intimate, as this mixture of memoir and fiction straddles more than one genre.

Despite the story being a quick read, it never lacks for excitement. The sections dealing with the experience of Frank’s wife are gripping, and the narration of Frank’s time in Europe is well-detailed and visceral. Readers will sympathize with Frank’s desire to see his birth home, even as they recognize the inevitable danger awaiting him. Once he is forcibly conscripted, readers will cheer for him to escape and be relieved when Frank and Bosinia are safely reunited at last.

Takeaway: An exciting historical story of danger, triumph, and migration, based in the Christian faith.

Great for fans of: Airey Neave’s They Have Their Exits, Jonathan F. Vance’s The True Story of the Great Escape.

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

Click here for more about Homeland
Seasons Under the Juniper Tree: A Daily Devotional
Tricia Kirchmeyer
Keyed to hard times–“the brokenness, the injustice, the gut-wrenching events, the insecurities” that everyone faces— Kirchmeyer’s inviting Christian devotional has been crafted to remind believers that God “accepts us, never leaves us, shelters us, and saves us,” even in moments of crisis. Under the Juniper Tree draws inspiration from the biblical tale of the prophet Elijah, resting in the shade of the titular tree, beseeching God to take his life but instead being urged to rise and eat by an angel. Kirchmeyer thinks of the tree as a shelter, a “scrappy, durable evergreen “that can protect us through every season of life.”

In warm, encouraging prose, the daily devotionals dig into the tale of Elijah and other figures from scripture, giving a week’s worth of devotional essays each to Micah, Esther, Paul, Daniel, and many more, exploring the ancient mysteries and lessons and applying them to contemporary hardships. “Now sit for a moment in Job’s boil-covered, heartbroken place,” she writes, before reminding readers “The only thing that keeps our hearts and minds sane and functioning when the bottom drops out of our world is experiencing God personally.” Holiday weeks are devoted to contemplation of the meaning and message of holy days, but still address everyday concerns. In Easter week, for example, Kirchmeyer addresses common insecurities about our “looks, brains, and purpose” before declaring “Believing we’re worthless is calling God a liar.”

That emphasis on the very human tendency to feel low and defeated, to doubt yourself, and to worry about what others might be thinking sets this nurturing guide apart from the devotional pack. In an introduction, Kirchmeyer notes that she originally wrote the project for an audience of kids in the foster system before realizing that the feelings, fears, and pains she was addressing were shared by many others. The result is an empathetic and welcoming work crafted to heal and inspire believers all year long.

Takeaway: An empathetic daily devotional for Christians facing feelings of loneliness and insecurity.

Great for fans of: 365 Devotions for Depression & Anxiety, Ryan Casey Waller’s Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don't Want to Talk About.

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

Once in a Lifetime
Suzanne Mattaboni
Mattaboni’s debut is the story of one epic summer in 1984, when Philadelphia artist, server, and punk-rock striver Jess bunks up with her closest friends Trina, Audrey, and Kimmer in New Hope, where just about anything goes. The girls are wholly committed to the punk life and each other while facing the obstacles of young adults living on their own–a less than respectable apartment, summer jobs, love triangles, and personal crises. Even though the friends face some heady issues, Mattaboni opts for keeping the subject matter mostly lighthearted, circling around the ups and downs of relationships amid subtle themes of self-discovery, all tied to an era-specific punk, new wave, and post-punk soundtrack.

Mattaboni masters the complications and daily nuances of female friendship while emphasizing the women’s dreams and opportunities in a vibrant cultural moment, especially Jess’s desire to go to London and create art. Music and art rule Jess’s life. As narrator, she relishes “deep plucks of Tina Weymouth’s bass line” and how the “screen-printed lines” of a Joy Division T-shirt seem to “undulate like a mountain range” across a man’s chest. She takes a waitressing job at Capresi’s Continental Restaurant, and Kimmer joins her there for a string of adventures, while roommates Trina and Audrey work in the more upscale eatery La Chambre Rose, where a jealous co-worker and a love triangle threaten their friendship–and Jess gets caught in a love triangle of her own when she falls for an appealing guitarist while on break from longtime boyfriend.

Jess’s love for art spills forth onto her apartment walls and colors the background of her everyday experiences. Readers fascinated by the era and its culture will enjoy the throwback elements, but the quirky humor, the emphasis on art and women’s relationships, and the story’s burning questions –will these friendships survive the summer?–offer much more than that.

Takeaway: A woman’s coming-of-age summer in the post-punk 1980’s, with close friends and hard decisions.

Great for fans of: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising, Suzanne Kamata’s Screaming Divas.

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

Click here for more about Once in a Lifetime
From the Flood
Suzanne Jones
Trauma recovery specialist Jones (There Is Nothing To Fix) shines in this first-rate memoir chronicling a life defined by a hurricane. Pre-flood, Jones was a typical 1970s teen — fighting with her older sister Pam and her younger brother Paul, squabbling over toys, and playing childhood games. But after Hurricane Agnes roars through Wilkes-Barre, PA, on June 23, 1972, Jones’s entire life changes. When her family’s house is destroyed by the nearly 41-foot surge from the flood, they first stay with a host of relatives, then take up residence in a government-provided trailer and start rebuilding their lives.

With sparkling prose and a fine eye for detail, Jones easily pulls readers into her engaging narrative. “Hurricane Agnes and the flood of 1972 changed communities, people, and families in ways that they could never have imagined. This is the story of one such family,” she writes, noting that her family lived in their HUD trailer for two years before moving to a hillside home in nearby Kingston. In the aftermath of the disaster, Jones comes to realize how resilient she is, making the best of her new situation: the family soon welcomes a baby sister as a bright spot among the disaster, finds joy with new friends and a loving and feisty babysitter, and eventually moves into a family home that will never flood again.

Jones recounts her new circumstances with a child’s frankness, eschewing pity for herself or her siblings, and her descriptions alternate between laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreakingly sad. She chooses to see much of her ordeal through a lens of childhood wonder and naiveté that will resonate with readers, and her writing beautifully defines a family making the best of lemonades out of tragic, sour lemons. Readers who love coming-of-age stories will devour Jones’s moving and well-paced memoir.

Takeaway: A touching memoir that chronicles a childhood upended by a natural disaster.

Great for fans of: Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, Gary Rivlin’s Katrina: After the Flood.

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

Click here for more about From the Flood
Ivy Lodge: A Memoir of Translation and Discovery
Linda Murphy Marshall
A tour of a home, a family, and a life, Marshall’s accomplished, incisive memoir takes as its organizing principle a trip through the eponymous Ivy Lodge, the somewhat regal but “funeral” Tudor that her family purchased in 1960. Linking the purchase to the white flight that reshaped greater St. Louis and other American cities, Marshall, a translator, conducts a moving survey of the home, her familial relationships, and her own understanding of who she is—and, in the process, at last “stop viewing my life through the arbitrary lexicon my parents devised.”

Marshall has made a life, as a translator, finding and explicating the truest of meanings; here, she applies those exacting skills—and her considerable acumen as a prose stylist—to what Miranda Lambert calls “the house that made me,” as well as the people in it and the “cracks in our foundation that no one could fix.” As her story moves through the tumult of the 1960s and the years beyond, with Marshall often feeling herself to be ostracized onto the fringes of the family, Ivy Lodge finds her moving through this memory-haunted home, room by room, centering chapters on the rathskeller basement, the bedrooms (“fancy, impersonal, like showrooms of a model house before it’s occupied”), and the attic that reached from the “curving wrought iron stairs ascending from the foyer.”

Her portraits of family and accounts of conflicts (occasionally explosive, often quietly simmering) prove as striking as her descriptions of her beloved dolls, her father’s toy soldiers, and Ivy Lodge’s lofty gables. Even with such highly personal material, she proves a persuasive, perceptive analyst of the “Murphy dynamic.” Despite the pain of often being made to feel, even as an adult, as if she were unwanted—her mother regards her like she’s a "rare form of beetle under a microscope”—Marshall arrives at touching moments of empathy for the family as she sorts through it all.

Takeaway: A touching reckoning with a family, a home, and one’s place in both, in elegant prose.

Great for fans of: J. Nicole Jones’s Low Country, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House.

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

When Life Gives You Risk, Make Risk Theatre: Three Tragedies and Six Essays
Edwin Wong
In The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy Wong argued that it’s risk rather than hamartia, catharsis, or other ancient formulations that power theatrical tragedy—and that make tragic drama resonate for us today. Aiming “to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant,” as he puts it in this ambitious new volume, he set out to “reset” tragedy in theory and practice. Here he leads by example, as Wong, founder of the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, collects three strong new tragedies that “simulate, explore, and understand risk” and pens six essays that dig deeper into his theory of risk theater and address critics head on.

To that end, Wong takes on Aristotle and the concept of a hero’s tragic flaw, which suggests that tragedy can be avoided. Risk Theatre, by contrast, posits that the tragic hero is brought down by chance, not error, an argument he backs up with evidence from classic tragedies (Shakespeare, Euripides, Aeschylus, Arthur Miller, even Thomas Hardy) and with contemporary life, including Covid-19 and the crash of 2008. “By simulating risk and uncertainty, tragedy is our Muse in times of crisis,” he writes; elsewhere, he notes that “the art that dramatizes downside risk may be a source of wisdom.”

Wong writes with persuasive power, wide-ranging interests, a playful wit, and the zeal of a convert. The included plays, all finalists or winners of the Risk competition, illuminate, reinforce, and occasionally challenge his conception. Wrenching yet sensitive, Gabriel Jason Dean’s In Bloom finds an American documentarian in Afghanistan, where he becomes obsessed with a bacha bi reesh, a “beardless boy” who, like many others, performs sensual dances for local warlords. Nicholas Dunn’s provocative, often comic The Value finds art thieves holed up after a score, confronting their worth, while Emily McClain’s Children of Combs and Watch Chains offers a bracingly dark and inspired update of “The Gift of the Magi.”

Takeaway: Wong backs up his stimulating theory of tragedy as risk with striking essays and plays.

Great for fans of: Robert J. Andreach’s Tragedy in the Contemporary American Theatre, Raymond Williams’s Modern Tragedy.

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

Daisy's Adventures in Love
Nikki Sitch
Sitch’s follow-up to Love, Lust & WTF?!! explores one woman’s quest for the perfect man. Canadian Daisy Flanigan’s search for love after her husband died in a car accident five years before has been unsuccessful, until she starts dating Brad MacDonald, who seems to meet all of her requirements in a man. The sex is great, and her teenaged twin daughters Jessica and Angela quickly warm to him. Though Daisy and Brad’s son Kris bond quickly, it takes a little longer for his daughter Kari to welcome Daisy. But soon Daisy’s daughters and Kari become friends, and Kari comes out to Jessica as a pansexual transboy, leading Jessica to tell the family about Kari, now Carson’s, sexuality–news that both changes and unites them at the same time.

Focusing on the need for adults to support adolescents at the crossroads to adulthood, Sitch’s of-the-moment plotline will resonate with readers who have faced similar challenges of identity as parents or as children. Brad’s initial disappointment that Daisy talked to a friend whose ex is a counselor working with LGBTQ+ youth before Carson came out to him changes when he realizes that Daisy’s take-charge attitude is one of her endearing qualities. As their relationship becomes more serious, blending their families, Daisy and Brad help Carson navigate the challenging waters of his newly-revealed sexuality. Stich again takes a matter-of-fact approach to sexuality, writing frank discussions that may shock some readers, though many will appreciate Daisy’s candor and her friends’ equally responsive advice.

Although Sitch takes on some serious discussions about the journey teens embracing their sexuality undergo, she offers a consistent undercurrent of humor: Daisy’s comical voice and the ups and downs of everyday life add welcome levity. Sitch’s focus on the difficulties of mixing families, especially when an ex like Brad’s wife is continually unaccepting of her son’s sexuality, further imbues this compelling read with urgent authenticity.

Takeaway: A frank, engaging novel of a blended family learning the value of support for a trans teen.

Great for fans of: J.N. Marton’s My Ticket Out, and Sabrina Symington’s First Year Out: A Transition Story.

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

Click here for more about Daisy's Adventures in Love
TM: A Mind-Expanding Mystery Adventure
H.D. Rogers
This tech-thriller epic, Rogers’ debut, blends firefight action, a grabber of a mystery, international political intrigue, and an AI-driven U.S. missile defense program called the Guardian Orbital Defense System—read it as an acronym for a hint as to why it strikes so many as ominous. As GODS becomes operational, and other nations’ hackers target the system, the scientist who designed its controversial AI goes missing, as does a supreme court justice. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and it’s up to ex Delta Force soldier Mac Slade and his fiancée, FBI Special Agent Christine Lasco, to rescue Dr. Stanley Jacobson and make sense of an irresistible clue: the mysterious “TM”s in the missing scientist’s calendar. Saving the abducted luminaries might not be enough, as threats both domestic and foreign target the Guardian system—and possibly the United States itself.

From those “TM”s to the uneasy possibilities of AI, Rogers offers several strong hooks early in the novel, mysteries that tickle the imagination and stir dread at the potential answers, which tend to point towards global crises. Fortunately, then, his hero proves himself in the opening pages, offering a polite warning and then fragging invaders of a laboratory to “a bloody mist.” A sentence like “To Mac Slade, the best defense was usually a well-planned counteroffensive” exemplifies the novel that follows—if that gets your juices flowing, you’ll find much here to cheer.

It's not all machine-gunnings, though. Rogers digs into the legwork an investigation demands, and he relishes teasing out the political implications of GODS. His narrative features a sprawling (and chatty) international cast, flirty dinners between the sharply sketched heroes, the literal fireworks of missile defense tests, and conspiracy theorizing in the top echelons of D.C. power. The action is inventive, if slowed down by a surfeit of adverbs, and the mysteries, when revealed, will satisfy fans of the genre. Others may find the novel’s length daunting.

Takeaway: Missile defense, AI, and international intrigue and action power this epic tech thriller.

Great for fans of: Ben Coes, Christine Feehan.

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

Click here for more about TM
DIVISIBLE MAN - THE SIXTH PAWN
Howard Seaborne
The second installment in Seaborne’s epic Divisible Man series keeps up the fast-paced action of the first book, offering a thrilling sequence of twists, turns, and high-flying action. Charter pilot Will Stewart acquired the powers of invisibility and flight–well, floating–after surviving an airplane crash. Still struggling to come to terms with his new powers, much less fully control them, Stewart teams up with his wife Andy–a police sergeant–to get to the bottom of a high-stakes criminal conspiracy.

The crime plot is set into motion when a shootout erupts at a high-profile wedding, where Stewart and Andy are also in attendance. The gunfire claims the life of the father of the bride, a senator by the name of Robert Stone. As a member of the local law enforcement and a close acquaintance of the bride, Andy is inevitably sucked into the complicated web of political and financial interests that led to what turns out to be a targeted killing. Stewart joins Andy in her investigation, using his superpowers to unveil the grisly truth behind the events that transpired at the wedding. Along the way, the husband-wife duo encounters neo-Nazi gangs, corrupt state officials and rich businessmen with malicious political intentions.

Seaborne weaves together a crisp, intricate narrative with an engaging, likable couple at the heart of the action. Elements of romance and the fantastical elevate this entry (and the series itself) over other two-fisted thrillers. Will and Andy’s easy banter and chemistry lightens the conspiracy plotline and never gets tiring, even energizing the narrative in the instances when the plot details get technical or convoluted. Also setting the Divisible Man books apart is Seaborne’s attention to Will’s evolving understanding and use of his powers, as this entry finds him experimenting with propulsion units to truly take flight. “This is freaking amazing!” Will thinks, as “the Earth falls away beneath” him, and readers onboard for tech-thriller superheroes will likely agree.

Takeaway: This high-flying thriller boasts welcome elements of the fantastical and a lovable central couple.

Great for fans of: Steven Gould’s Jumper, Myke Cole.

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

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Fallout Shelter
Steven Schindler
Schindler's (The Last Sewer Ball) period piece about three boys growing up in the Bronx blends a bittersweet tale of adolescence with elements of a crime novel. It’s full of vivid details of character and setting, but it's his willingness to delve into the loathsome depths of clergy molestation and corruption that sets it apart. The story follows lifelong friends "Chili" Manzilla, Mikey McGowan, and Angel Rodriguez through the ups and downs of their adolescence and early adulthood, touching on suckerpunches, youthful romances, crowded classrooms, and the pleasures of cracking open bottles of Boone’s Farm Apple wine in Van Cortlandt Park. Chili, the most devout of the three, starts on a path toward the priesthood, while prankster Mikey becomes a cop. Angel comes from a more privileged background, pursuing the law but always taking pains to be there for his friends.

Schindler charts their youthful pranks and dreams growing up in New York at its run-down 1970s sleaziest, finding escape from the world in the fallout shelter of the title. The era is expertly evoked: “Latin music mixed with the Irish Rovers and the Rolling Stones as they melded into a sidewalk symphony.” Perhaps inevitably, the boys face betrayals and hurt feelings as they mature, and Schindler's depiction of how friends can drift apart but find their way back to each other is especially touching and intimate. All three served as altar boys, familiar with whispered secrets of priests sexually molesting young boys in their care as teachers and pastors; the treatment of that scandal and trauma here is devastating and unsparing, edging into suspense territory, as one boy related to the central trio witnesses a priest’s crime, putting him in danger.

It all culminates in a surprising, explosive climax, handled with seriousness despite the hints of melodrama. Schindler's sensitivity in depicting trans characters, in particular, is remarkable, as is his moving, detailed evocation of these memorably flawed characters’s big dreams, tough talk, and connections to each other and their world.

Takeaway: Both a tender coming-of-age New York period piece and a harrowing exploration of corruption in the church.

Great for fans of: Arlene Alda’s Just Kids from the Bronx, John Boyne's A History of Loneliness.

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

Click here for more about Fallout Shelter

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