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From Auschwitz with Love : The Inspiring Memoir of Two Sisters' Survival, Devotion and Triumph
Daniel Seymour
In this riveting memoir, author and professor Seymour (Momentum) presents the remarkable experiences of two brave sisters during and after the Holocaust. Manci and Ruthie Grunberger lived with their family in a bustling village in the former Czechoslovakia, where daily life revolved around school, friends, and Orthodox Jewish traditions—until German forces took over in 1944. After the Grunbergers were transported to Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the 18- and 16-year-old sisters were separated from their family. Together, they endured the unendurable: internment at Auschwitz and a grueling death march afterwards. Once the sisters were at last liberated, their aunt brought them to the United States, where they created remarkable lives for themselves.

While Ruthie had shared her story, Manci’s silence about it, even with family, inspired Seymour, her son-in-law, to record her memories. At the start of each chapter, he establishes the political and cultural context before transcribing the sisters’ testimonies as witnesses, survivors, and Americans. The emphasis on the women’s post-Holocaust lives, and their interpretations of the past, distinguish this memoir. For example, Manci distances herself from her memories, whereas Ruthie chooses to educate the next generation through writings and speeches. Details about leisure time in retirement support the overall message of finding joy in life.

Seymour’s research shows in his skillful contextualization of the sisters’ stories, and their dialogue flows smoothly without the interviewer getting in the way. They provide accounts that are often absent from school textbooks—sharing stories, for example, of how Auschwitz captives were drugged to ensure submission, or the brave unit of workers who smuggled in gunpowder and blew up a crematorium. This urgent memoir offers new light on one of history’s darkest moments and stands firmly against deniers’ rejections of documented history. Seymour gives voice to Manci’s and Ruthie’s courage and survival as well as their incredible bond that testifies to the strength of the human spirit.

Takeaway: A riveting firsthand account of two sisters’ survival of the Holocaust and Auschwitz.

Great for fans of: Judy Batalion’s The Light of Days, Viktor Frankl.

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

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Malkah Job Part One: Red Dragon
Vasilissa Wladowsky
​​Wladowsky’s sprawling spy epic, the first in a series, centers on semi-retired Leda, an Israeli ballerina who spent two decades as a spy for the Russians and Mossad, earning the nickname “Ice.” Now 32, with two children, Leda finds herself plying her craft again on an international hunt for the husband, Caleb, who has been missing for six years—and whom Leda has just learned, via a tip from a former handler, is very much alive. The quest to find Caleb and then spring him from his imprisonment will send Leda not just back into her old life but across the globe and into many challenging and tricky relationships, including romantic ones, as Leda navigates conflicting loyalties and the competing agendas of the spies, princes, majors, and other power players she encounters.

Complicating matters—or perhaps, ultimately, simplifying them radically—is this determinedly realistic espionage novel’s surprising spiritual component, hinted at by the title, which finds Leda experiencing a possible vision in the desert. That element, though, will likely power the later books, as outside of some portents Red Dragon mostly concerns the earthly, depicting the world of international spycraft with an attentive eye towards process, planning, schemes-within-schemes, and all the duplicity it takes to achieve a long-term goal while balancing many different interests. The novel’s hefty length and tendency to summarize events rather than dramatize full scenes, though, diminishes its narrative momentum, despite a compelling central arc and captivating hard-edged protagonist.

Still, there’s much that’s engaging here. That sense of convincing complexity, paired with Leda’s practicality about sex and violence as weapons, lends the material a toughminded fascination. “The only thing that corresponds to the movies’ idea of an agent is that they were able to turn into a completely different person in two hours,” Wladowsky writes, persuasively, taking pains to show readers the work.

Takeaway: This epic novel of international spycraft (with a hint of the mystic) engagingly digs into the practicalities of espionage.

Great for fans of: Mishka Ben-David, Jonathan de Shalit.

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

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Real Insights: The No-Nonsense Guide to Success as a Real Estate Agent
John Graff
Graff debuts with a straightforward, accessible guide for readers who want to pursue a career in real estate. He teaches the complexities of the industry, in particular the constantly changing market conditions, unrealistic expectations, and common obstacles that real estate professionals may face, candidly stating that “87 percent of real estate agents will move on to new career opportunities within their first five years on the job.” Graff offers a wide range of relevant topics—brokerage firms, commissions, open house coordination, retirement planning, and more—to give aspiring agents a sound basis for developing sustainable careers.

Readers will appreciate Graff’s honesty, as he warns about the unstable nature of the industry and other outside factors, like mortgage rates, monetary policy, and the labor market, that often affect a new agent’s success. He opens the guide with an overview of the general prerequisites to become a licensed real estate agent and follows up with explanations of the top challenges inexperienced agents face, as well as the shared traits of those who have succeeded in the industry. Graff stays up to date in his instruction, preparing readers on the legally required broker-agent relationship, alongside helpful commerce tools—such as the importance of digital marketing for generating credible leads and mastering Zillow or other home-buying apps. Some of his most useful guidance relates to working with different types of buyers and sellers, including his in-depth exploration of how to find the “perfect home” for buyers

Graff encourages readers to learn from the mistakes others have made, combined with his extensive knowledge base, to smoothly launch their real estate careers: “By learning from others who have stood in your shoes, you can develop valuable insight about client selection.” His information is presented in an easy-to-read and reassuring manner, and readers looking to enter the real estate field will appreciate his transparency and solid, practical advice when describing their unique challenges.

Takeaway: Readers interested in real estate careers will appreciate the thorough, honest advice in this comprehensive guide.

Great for fans of: Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, and Jay Papasan’s The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, Shelley Zavitz’s Your First 365 Days in Real Estate.

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

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Leading Lightly: : Lower Your Stress, Think with Clarity, and Lead with Ease
Jody Michael
Michael debuts with an exhortation for readers to learn how to lead lightly, a “conscious” approach that she characterizes as “a state of being that naturally arises when you have learned to let go of your internal noise and emotional clutter.” Michael offers straightforward steps to shift ineffective mindsets and implement daily practices, demonstrating techniques to break free from routine thought patterns and default choices by emphasizing the importance of “mental fitness” in order to “create high performance no matter what may be going on.” She delivers this guidance within an easy-to-understand framework built on recognizing emotional triggers and preventing their interference in leadership performance.

In a direct, empathetic tone, Michael pushes readers to make purposeful decisions on a daily basis. Her overarching theme is the need for savvy business leaders to “consciously and intentionally” create a new path. To facilitate this, she urges readers to understand their “underlying operating system”s and its habitual responses. She lays out five “muscles” of mental fitness to develop, including “Choose Personal Accountability,” “Choose Helpful Beliefs over Impeding Beliefs,” and “Accurately Self-Assess Your Internal State.” Michael advocates for setting and meeting leadership goals without the stress and anxiety that typically accompanies them.

Though the target audience is leaders and career-minded individuals, Leading Lightly’s clear-eyed and practical advice will be useful for anyone looking to change their mindset and live a more stress free, positive life. Michael shares noteworthy characteristics of “mentally fit” leaders, such as empathy and commitment to growth, to inspire readers–and she encourages them to bear in mind the truth that they are responsible for their own thoughts, moods, behaviors, and outcomes. Particularly helpful is her acronym of SOS—“Stop. Oxygenate. Seek new information”—for leaders who struggle with reactions to stress triggers. This succinct guide delivers a wealth of leadership wisdom.

Takeaway: An empowering, motivating guide that lays out a path for leaders looking for a lighter, less stressful life.

Great for fans of: Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

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

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The Change Agents: Whispers in the Wind
Sarah Lewis Belcher
In Lewis’s imaginative debut, legal reporter Eliza has become somewhat resigned in her journalistic crusade against climate change. A collective of animals, spiders, and insects called NoHoSap makes contact with her, speaking English, and once she’s over that astonishment she’s surprised to find that her pet dog, Bepop, is one of their members–the same pet she was told “didn’t make it” after a recent emergency veterinary visit. At a meeting, NoHoSap (short for “No Homo Sapiens”) members Rumple, Tumple, The Captain, and more explain to Eliza that the group’s mission is to protect “all living beings except humans.” They’ve established a non-human sanctuary, they charge her with helping them convince humanity to take action at last to halt the climate crisis. Eliza is keen to assist the animals in getting the word out, but she struggles at times with adapting to their worldview.

The idea of animals leading the fight against climate change as humans continually fail to do so is an interesting premise, and Lewis’s vivid scenes of animals taking on activist projects, like tying live coral to bleached out reefs, are moving. At times, the narrative tension is diminished by the character’s choices—for example, when Eliza hears that Bebop needs her help for something “extremely important,” the next paragraph describes how “they ran and played.”

This light tone distracts from the gravitas of larger themes, like climate change and species-ending environmental destruction. Some readers will find sections unconvincing—such as the animals “taking things into their own hands” largely by using blogs and social media—and not much action happens until the end. Still, the descriptions of natural world disasters, such as a flood that threatens several animals in the woods, will stir empathy for wildlife in even the most stoic readers, and the repeated message of “focusing on the positive” may inspire young readers especially to take action.

Takeaway: A woman teams up with animals to fight climate change in this imaginative story.

Great for fans of: Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in That Country, Richard Adams’s The Plague Dogs.

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

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In Black Skin: Poetic Journey from Black Enslavement in America to Black Lives Matter
Tanya D Ward Jordan
The term “Sankofa,” from the Twi language of Ghana, teaches the power of gathering from the past the best of what it has to teach us and carrying it into the present to help create a better future. DeVonne (Dancing in the Lyrics) exemplifies that spirit in her latest collection, which with clear eyes and aching heart digs deeply into centuries of the Black American experience, cataloging a history of enslavement, injustice, and discrimination in spare lines of rare clarity and power. “Your mind’s sweet peace / might erupt to recount vile acts of indecency,” she writes in an early poem, about the pain of facing a past (and present) in which, as another poem puts it, “black bodies burned / black bodies yoked / black bodies wrenched at the end of a rope.” Her mission, though, is clear: “I’ll broadcast the wrongs / to lift my race,” she writes in “I’ll Ride Like Rosa,” a five-stanza reminder of the courage it takes to claim one’s power and create change.

Throughout this potent, often searing volume—which offers occasional short prose pieces in addition to its crisp verse—DeVonne faces the horrors that have been visited upon Black bodies and lives, from the slave trade to mass incarceration, the poisoned water of Flint, Michigan, the names of Black men and women killed by police, to the white fear that enables police brutality. One powerful piece lays bare the subtext of many “911 Calls”: “His skin is too black. / His nose is too wide. / His frame is too large. / His stance emits pride.”

The approach is political, cultural, and personal, as DeVonne balances her historical reckoning with the everyday trials of “working while black in an office / where pay, praises, and promotions rain / on men and women with snowy skin.” Still, a rousing spirit ultimately lifts the collection, as DeVonne celebrates heroes, breakthroughs, and reminds America itself “When I rise / you rise.”

Takeaway: A searing and ultimately rousing collection of poems about the Black American experience.

Great for fans of: Asiya Wadud, ‘Gbenga Adeoba.

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

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Dragonsown: Surface
Erika Leigh Agnew
Agnew dazzles with whimsy and adventure in this debut coming-of-age fantasy about deception, trust, and the danger of holding family secrets. Fourteen-year-old fraternal twins Kael and Keaton spend their days avoiding their cold, abusive father, Lord Graydon, a duke in the kingdom of Ryk. Graydon’s anger derives from losing his wife in childbirth and the aftermath of the War of Black Ash, a devastating battle with dragons who burnt the land. Kael is afraid to tell his father about his worsening health—strange pains, sleepwalking, waking naked in surprising places. One day Kael awakens in the woods to see his uncle Arius– who had been presumed dead–and a small dragon. Arius tells him that the beast is Seraii, Kael’s wyvern guardian, and that his pains are because a dragon’s soul is possessing him and transforming his body. “We refer to ourselves as the Dragonsown. We live everywhere but belong nowhere,” says Arius.

Agnew creates a rich mythology of the power of dragons and of the truth about the War of the Black Ash. As Arius teaches Kael how to fly and breathe fire as a dragon, Kael learns that Severn and Siah, the partnered dragon leaders, actually wanted peace with the humans. Kael is dismayed by humans’ lust for war, ulterior motives, power, and greed. He has a decision to make in his new life: Where does he fit with the Dragonsown? He is torn between his two ancestral families—his father’s grandfather Kelton hated and killed dragons, while his mother’s grandfather Darragh befriended the majestic beasts.

This expansive fantasy world provides fervent readers with an undersea city, invisible dragons, merfolk, and battles with fire breathing dragons. Kael and Keaton are likable brothers who work together to right wrongs. There’s also heart, acceptance, and overcoming animosity to understand others. The text at times can be dense, but it’s vivid and exciting—and builds to a twist. Fantasy readers will eagerly look forward to more adventures in the Dragonsown series.

Takeaway: A fast-paced fantasy with the magic of dragons that tugs at the heart and provides a message of understanding.

Great for fans of: Garth Nix, Leigh Bardugo.

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

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My Gay Church Days: Memoir of a closeted Evangelical pastor who eventually had enough
George Azar
A memoir, an act of healing, and a likely source of inspiration, Azar’s pained memoir recounts a life of fighting against his own nature—and his own heart—as a closeted Evangelical, a young man of faith whose secret, he believed, condemned him to Hell. Written “seven years removed from my faith,” My Gay Church Days recounts the years in which Azar bore the conviction that he was “a horrible sinner” and “never worthy of true love.” Azar’s experiences with Christian conversion therapy, which is rooted in the insistence that homosexuality comes from environmental forces and can be “healed,” and years of desperate attempts to “pray the gay away” inevitably proved fruitless, as Azar faced go-nowhere relationships, deep shame and fear, and addiction to opioids. Something had to give, especially as young Azar increasingly was preaching the gospel himself.

Uncommonly thoughtful and empathetic, My Gay Church Days demonstrates clear-eyed understanding of evangelical life and beliefs as Azar tells the story of zealously working to save the souls of loved ones—essentially impressing them into a tradition of belief that damns his true self. “As I grew deeper in the faith,” Azar writes, “I became more paranoid by the thought of others finding out that I was a fraud.”

Azar adeptly dramatizes the wrenching choice he faced: risk being the person he was born as, or give up the community he depended upon for fellowship and meaning. “I truly believed my oppression was my calling,” he writes. But shame, a sense of isolation, and a lack of freedom—the monitoring of his search history; complaints about his taste for secular pop music—eventually builds to his making a break with Bayside Church. There’s no moment of high drama, just a pained parting, the loss of a support network, and the fear and promise of living on one’s own terms, told with inviting directness and sincerity.

Takeaway: A warm, engaging memoir of a gay evangelical pastor leaving the church and embracing his truth.

Great for fans of: Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian, Gregory Coles’s Single, Gay, Christian.

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

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High-Value Writing: Real Strategies for Real-World Writing
Erin Lebacqz
In this straightforward guide, Lebacqz offers readers a myriad of new techniques to write with confidence and concision in the workplace, alongside explanations of unhelpful habits and how to break them. Drawing on decades of teaching writing, Lebacqz directly addresses practical business and professional writing skills, emphasizing what works and what’s clear. “This book starts by looking at the smallest ingredients of writing—words—and expands from there to talk about building sentences, paragraphs, and documents,” Lebacqz states, and as she presents her holistic approach to learning more efficient ways of written communication, she provides incisive answers to common everyday problems readers might be facing.

For business professionals seeking a fine-tuning of their writing abilities—or an entire overhaul— Lebacqz’s inviting debut uses concrete examples and simple graphics to help readers grasp how, often, previous education and “fluff”—“extra, often meaningless small words that show up in their writing as they try harder and harder to explain their point”—can impede our ability to write clearly and effectively. Without ever being fussy, she breaks down the basics of language and structure to demonstrate how an audience will understand a message: Lebacqz details three “levels of reader analysis” to interpret the distinctive circumstances to consider for each potential reader, such as their culture or daily work life.

Lebacqz cautions against composing formal or boring emails, urging professionals not to stick to the prescribed and formulaic. The directness and clarity of High-Value Writing, and its inviting tone and step-by-step instruction, exemplifies her approach. She takes care to focus on her audience’s needs, giving topic-oriented recommendations laid out for easy implementation, as she moves from the power of a single word to understanding the impact of a paragraph. Readers eager to feel “more independent and confident” in their writing will appreciate this polished, no-nonsense guide.

Takeaway: Designed for business professionals, this inviting writing guide offers helpful techniques for more direct and meaningful communication.

Great for fans of: William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, Mike Markel and Stuart A. Selber’s Technical Communication.

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

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Twilight: Awaking the Stars - Poems of the Night's Light
Gary W. Burns
The latest volume of inviting inspirational verse from Burns, Twilight Awakening the Stars follows up titles like Bridges: To There with another crop of crisp, direct poems crafted to calm, please, and inspire meditative reveries. True to its title, this selection takes light in the darkness as both its subject and organizing principle, organizing its offerings into sections (“Twilight,” “Lamplight,” “Starlit”) that over the book chart the course of a night. “Relax,” the poem “Goodnight” advises, “Ease / Into the darkness / No spell binding / Words / Nothing too complex.” In form, content, and spirit those lines exemplify Burns’s approach, while serving as both a pitch and a rationale. Getting the most out of this night with Burns demands embracing the sincere simplicity—even humility—of his language.

Harkening back to a bygone era’s tradition of popular poetry in general-interest magazines, while also reflective of contemporary understandings of concepts like wholeness and self-care, Twilight Awakening the Stars presents the poet as a guide, easing readers into the night in lines that prioritize clarity above all else. In fact, “Into the Night” itself blends direct address, an unambiguous invitation, and an encouraging call for repose: “When your noisy day / Gives way // To/ Quietude // Be with me / Peacefully,” it reads.

Burns’s poems aren’t the kind to be pored over and unlocked. As he urges readers to “Gaze heavenly / And be / Completely // One / With the light / Of the night,” the lines edge toward the devotional or meditation, especially in gently urgent poems like “Let Love Come” and “Faith,” whose titles accurately forecast their messages. Occasionally, a mystery sneaks through, as in “Matrix”’s mildly erotic likening of the world to a body, or within the uncertain depths of “The Wading Pool,” but, overall, Burns’s verse maintains its tone and promise throughout: These insistent, impassioned poems nudge us to pause and relish light in the dark.

Takeaway: A direct, inviting collection urges readers to gaze heavenly and embrace the night.

Great for fans of: Tyler Knott Gregson’s Illumination, SK WIlliams’s Love By Night.

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

Hope Disappearing: A Population Left Behind
Sherman Haggerty
Haggerty’s sobering, eye-opening survey takes account of changes in federal approach and policy to aiding the unhoused population of the U.S., with an emphasis on a shift away from programs created to provide transitional housing and “the tools to help this population find a road to self-sufficiency and the status of equality in the community.” A long-time volunteer and advocate, and the director for six years of Northern California’s Mather Community Campus employment to housing program, Haggerty has witnessed firsthand the challenges and successes of a transitional housing model that increasingly is being sidelined for the “Housing First” approach, which Haggerty argues does too little to address issues like addiction, moving people off the streets but in some ways working against the broader goal of eliminating homelessness.

While he makes his case with the persuasive deployment of research, at the heart of Haggerty’s book is the Mather Community Campus. The success stories he recounts are heartening, as are his portraits of the dedicated staff and volunteers who guided “clients” through classes, community service, meetings, and, if necessary, support groups for addiction. The story of the end of this program that helped many exit homelessness, in 2019, is heartbreaking. (The facility currently serves as a shelter offering scant services.)

More a problem-solver than a polemicist, Haggerty acknowledges that Housing First programs have a place in a robust, community-driven effort to eliminate homelessness. But in clear-eyed prose drawing on firsthand experience he lays bare how that approach is not enough, failing to provide the tools it takes to help people with mental, physical, and addiction issues achieve self-sufficiency. He’s realistic about the funding realities at the federal level that have ushered in this change but adamant that the best approach is not necessarily the one that he and Mather found success with—it’s whatever one a community finds that best meets the needs of its particular population.

Takeaway: A persuasive account calling for local control and greater services for programs to assist the unhoused.

Great for fans of: How Ten Global Cities Take On Homelessnes, Josephine Ensign’s Skid Row.

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

Interstate!
Marvin Mason
In this novella combining mystery and social issues, Mason (The Curse of Black Hawk’s Treasure) draws readers into a suspense-filled journey with childhood friends Christian Buckman and Joshua Easton, as they embark on a short road trip that results in deadly chaos. Home from college on summer break, Christian is ecstatic when he’s invited by Joshua to tag along on a trip to Iowa, where the boys plan to visit Joshua’s cousin Tina—who just happens to be Christian’s ex-girlfriend. As the two set out on their travels, they unknowingly become entwined in a mysterious killer’s web and also tangled up in the off-the-books investigation of narcotics detective Patricia Rice.

Mason jumpstarts this fast-paced thriller with an action-packed prologue, cleverly foreshadowing later events while hooking readers from the first page. The dynamics, and long-term friendship, between Christian and Joshua prove central to the overall plot: Christian is diabetic, reserved, and cautious, while Joshua tends to be confrontational and more of a risk taker. That said, the small, romantic subplot between Christian and Tina never really takes off, landing this novel squarely within the thriller realm. Detective Rice comes on board later in the storyline, the chapters from her point-of-view increasing the stakes and quickly ratcheting up the mystery.

Mason excels at writing a plot that weaves resonant racial and social issues—such as the Black Lives Matter movement—into the suspense. Christian and Joshua must navigate real-world racism along the life-or-death stakes of thrillers, and while diehard mystery aficionados may see the ending coming, there is ample tension to hold readers’ attention right up to the climax. Mason’s realistic, in-depth characters steal the spotlight when he deftly uses their differences to highlight the strength in their bonds. Readers will quickly become engrossed in this tale of a road trip gone to hell.

Takeaway: Childhood friends on a road trip find themselves caught up in fast-paced suspense in this thriller laced with resonant social issues.

Great for fans of: Victor LaValle’s The Devil in Silver, Ian K. Smith’s Wolf Point.

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

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Clifford's War: The Bluegrass Battleground
James Reed
Looks are deceiving in this fast-paced, hard-edged thriller in which everyone has a past, a skillset, and a connection that should only be overlooked at great peril. Reed’s novel centers around the titular Clifford Dee, a private investigator whose skillset as an army veteran (and former POW) makes him invaluable to the local crime boss Bandoni, who at the novel’s brutal start has hired Dee to take out the Tye Brothers, this stretch of Kentucky River country’s most notorious killers. That effort lands Dee in the hospital and in increasingly hot water, as he must deal with killers, gangsters, cops, and cat-and-mouse games.

Powered by thrills, Reed’s story surges from one development to the next. In the span of roughly 50 pages one can find cover-up assassinations, an investigation regarding an unfaithful spouse, and corruption within the district attorney’s office and the police department. The swiftness of the storytelling may occasionally leave readers needing to reread a paragraph or two, but the details are all simple to master, with the plotting not as complex as some mysteries rely upon. What you see is what you get with Clifford’s War, even as Reed weaves together multiple story threads–a coup-d'etat on a local crime family, or Dee discovering his newest friend has a cousin involved in the business–into a compelling whole.

Everything comes together with clear purpose after the numerous dust-ups, a varied set of brawls, chases, and slayings that escalate in inventiveness as the book builds to its climax. “Once you have a liability, it will always be a liability no matter what,” Bandoni explains after a classic crime-boss speech about foxes and a chicken coop. As Clifford’s War follows those liabilities and their brutal consequences, Reed reminds readers who love rough-and-tumble crime novels that sometimes simplicity is the highest form of eloquence.

Takeaway: Crime thriller fans who favor gritty anti-heroes and quick action over slow deliberation will find this a winning choice.

Great for fans of: Glenn Dyer, Lee Child.

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

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When Silence Screams
Mark Edward Langley
Langley (Death Waits In The Dark) lures readers into the continuing adventures of indigenous private detective Arthur Nakai in the third of his Arthur Nakai Mysteries series, again combining mystery storytelling with resonant social issues. Ex-Marine Nakai, who is slowly trying to repair his relationship with his wife Sharon, is caught up in a missing persons case involving a teenage girl named April Manygoats. At the behest of her mother, Nakai travels to Santa Fe to search for her, but what he finds is a sordid trail involving a sleazy pornographer, a cold-hearted sex trafficker, and a sociopathic serial killer obsessed with torture and humiliation. Along the way, he also discovers compassionate shelter organizers and a loyal ex-military friend who is there for him when things get hairy.

Langley delves thoughtfully into the tragic issue of how missing indigenous women are often ignored by authorities as well as the ways in which indigenous people in America face survival in a culture attempting to erase them. The scenes of April in captivity with her torturer border will be too graphic for many readers, but Langley endows her with a lot of agency, especially as she endeavors to escape. A subplot involving another missing indigenous woman underscores the variety of circumstances that can lead to these crimes, yet, plotwise is somewhat tangential.

Langley’s resolution is satisfying, if a little pat, but he succeeds in slowly, organically leading Nakai–and attentive readers–to the killer, while vividly sketching relationships, cultures, and Santa Fe and its surroundings. Readers will appreciate that the morally vacant villains get their comeuppance, given the explicitly detailed nature of their crimes, and Langley never loses sight of the humanity of his protagonists, ensuring that this sometimes brutal story’s sensationalist elements never overshadow its moments of inspiration. Crime mystery fans will enjoy piecing together the puzzle, but the tragic details of indigenous women going missing give it power.

Takeaway: Detective fans will enjoy this thriller that powerfully depicts the crisis of abducted indigenous women.

Great for fans of: Louise Erdrich’s The Round House, Dana Stabenow’s A Cold Day for Murder.

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

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God's Existence: Truth or Fiction? The Answer Revealed
Gary R. Lindberg
Crisp and to-the-point, Lindberg’s treatise takes a pragmatic approach to answering one of the greatest questions humanity has ever faced: “Is He real or is it a fictional concept that so many people believe in?” The answer, Lindberg promises in an introduction, “may be more clear than many people realize,” though arriving at it demands exploration of “botany, the human body, astronomy, mathematics, chemistry, and physics,” plus concepts like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, used here to examine humanity’s drive to believe in a god, and consideration of scripture, Darwin, and scientists’ “usual know-it-all attitude.” The book ranges widely in 100 pages, even digging into Keynesian economics, though readers will likely not be surprised by Lindberg’s conclusion: that science proves the existence of God.

Refreshingly, Lindberg endeavors to reconcile science and religion rather than insist that one invalidates the other. Some of Lindberg’s evidence is familiar, as he marvels at the irreducible complexity of the human brain or eye, the “complexity and orderliness” of laws of physics and chemistry, and draws on physicist Paul Davies’s argument that “Life is not haphazard complexity, it is organized.” Lindberg embraces Davies’s idea that “there is a universal ancestor or microbe for all human, animal, and plant life” but rejects his and Stephen Jay Gould’s contention, shared by many scientists, that life and all its systems are some kind of happy accident. Instead of “growth by chance,” Lindberg sees human development and history as a story of “undeniable, directed progress."

While Lindberg’s arguments at times overlap with Intelligent Design, whose proponents often sought to disprove prevailing scientific theories, God’s Existence ultimately approaches divisions between science and religion with humility, acknowledging all that we don’t know while pressing the case that one truth unites all that we do: “Laws cannot create themselves,” he writes. “There must be a source, a creator.” Readers looking to balance belief and the scientific method will find some engaging original reasoning here.

Takeaway: This attempt to answer the biggest question facing humanity finds welcome common ground between science and religion.

Great for fans of: Steven R. Hemler’s The Reality of God, Stephen C. Meyer’s The Return of the God Hypothesis.

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

The Happy Clam
Rosemary A. Schmidt
Schmidt synthesizes what she has learned from her fifty-plus years of life and years of others’ research in this self-help guide on happiness. Focusing her efforts on subjects such as healthy lifestyle choices, mental health, change, creativity, and love, Schmidt covers a lot of ground in this quick read, ranging from personal lives to the workplace, arguing that “injecting some playfulness, some fun, into our workday routine can also be just the thing to get us out of a rut and jump start some creativity.” In The Happy Clam’s final quarter, Schmidt’s style changes from research-based self-help to inviting personal memoir, as she shows how her own life aligns with the advice, information, and inspiration she laid out in the earlier chapters. Poems and family recipes supplement the work and keep the spirits high.

Though she favors academic research, drawing on peer-reviewed data to make her case for achieving happiness, her prose is often conversational and informal, her tone that of a assured, reflective friend or coach as she acknowledges truths like “Granted, some days it may feel like we are bailing the ocean, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying.” The research is admirably wide-ranging, and it lends welcome persuasive weight to her clear-eyed, practical advice (“Want to be more empathetic? Read fiction”) about changing a mindset, expectations, and how starting with simple, easy changes can make a big difference in one’s life.

As she blends memoir with self-help, Schmidt discusses elements of her and her loved ones’ lives–experiences from work and childhood–that have taught her about happiness. Throughout, she revealed herself as insightful and funny, charming and wise, qualities that, along with the rigor of her presentation of research, ensure The Happy Clam stands out from the pack of self-help books on happiness. She is realistic and positive in the same breath, illuminating how “elusive happiness” can seem attainable to readers.

Takeaway: A quick, thorough, inviting self-help book on ways to seek, find, and maintain happiness in adulthood.

Great for fans of: Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge.

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

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