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The Limits of My World
Gregory Coles
This fiercely original SF headspinner, Coles’s assured novel debut, opens with fledgling humans Kanan and Tei, eager to be born again into their “Final” skins, making sense of a tiny universe whose edge Kanan could run to in “17 minutes.” Kanan and Tei have been together since birth, living under the eye of a mentor, yet on the day of their “Finalization” their futures—and friendship—change forever when Tei is chosen to be Finalized as an interpreter and Kanan is destined for the archives, once her "service to humanity was finished." Kanan, instead, does what she does best—she runs. (“She” is used as a matter of expediency in this review; the pronouns shift in clever ways in the novel.) Tei's new position sets him on a path of discovery and enlightenment, as does Kanan's, as they both learn more about the Natchers, an extinct alien race “plotting their return to the human universe.” The more these "agemates" discover, the more they begin to question.

WIth prose touched with poetry and charged with feeling, Coles explores the human condition in literal and philosophical senses as Kanan and Tei uncover secrets about their existence, their history, and the structure of a society whose particulars will keep even seasoned science-fiction readers guessing. As Kanan and Tei find and rely on their talents, they unearth strengths within themselves to determine their own destiny outside of the stations they have been told await them in the future.

A captivating story of truth, good and evil, and what constitutes being "human", The Limits of My World lives up to its title, revealing that what the protagonists perceive as the parameters of their existence—including creepy inventions like the “butchery curtains”—isn’t the limits of their world at all. For all the provocative ideas and revelations, Coles prioritizes character and adventure, pitting his protagonists against hard choices (“You live skinless or you do not live”) and the most urgent of questions.

Takeaway: Fresh SF page-turner of identity, dystopia, and fighting for one’s place.

Comparable Titles: Brian Everson’s The Warren; Lauren Beukes.

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

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The Silk Road Affair: A Novel
Larry Witham
Witham’s international thriller (after Gallery Pieces) pits Chinese and American teams against each other as they vie for dominance in the art world. When a piece from a missing American art collection is discovered en route to China, Washington assigns U.S. agents Grace Ho and Julian Peale the task of recovery. Meanwhile, in China, Quang Daiyu, an entrepreneur and niece of the general secretary, Ren Jinuah, schemes for power; she has her own art ambitions, alongside her deadly rival, Soong Wei, an equally politically connected adversary. The parties—and their high stakes missions—maneuver from Shanghai to sparsely populated regions near the old Silk Road in their efforts to secure valuable artifacts.

Witham does a masterful job covering the dirty dealing in artwork through the eyes of Quang and Soong, and even better is his deft portrayal of modern China. He navigates readers through a China still reflecting on its imperial era, even after communism and recent forays into capitalism, where soldiers can sing Bee Gees songs, but to Quang, the last imperial ruler, Empress Cixi, is "still present." Even the Cultural Revolution seemingly didn't erase all vestiges of the royal family, at least in spirit, and Witham’s lovingly penned descriptions of the country hold attention, even when the plot meanders.

Though the focus is mostly on China itself, Witham capably develops agents Ho and Peale as well; they’re an engaging pair, and their sleuthing in China is buoyed by their comfortable rapport. For action fans, there's plenty of martial arts fighting and a particularly well-staged army helicopter extraction scene, and Witham deserves full marks for the offbeat but exciting wind-up. The novel delves into the concept of cultural property, a background against which Witham weaves a plausible and gripping denouement centered on artwork, museum building contractors, and a mysterious drink called Gold Tea. This lands well for fans of impassioned political thrillers.

Takeaway: America and China engage in complex—and deadly—espionage over art.

Comparable Titles: Dan Brown, Sam Christer.

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

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Money for Nothing
Aaron Palmer
Palmer’s debut, the first volume of his Tales from Taylor Street, centers on the capers of three friends, self-styled “‘honorable’ thieves,” in 1980s Chicago. Best pals Ralph “Beans” Trombino, Cosh Geraldi, and Richard “Izzy” Tonsi reside in Chicago’s Taylor Street neighborhood, running small-time robberies and holding court at their old Italian-restaurant-turned-club in between jobs. The trio, strict adherents to a code of honor that dictates they only engage in “victimless crimes, or at least [crimes where] the victim had it coming,” take teenager Jimmy Pope under their wing as they seek out new jobs, but when they agree to an epic score with the notorious “Step” Virrina, their lives are forever altered.

Taylor Street is a worthy setting, equal to the book’s thrilling plot line, where the gritty neighborhood comes alive with colorful characters, whether it’s Beans’s Uncle Skinny, neighborhood bookie Willy the Wiz (replete with black Stacy Adams wingtips), or Pete the Bum, a “bona fide hobo” with serious street cred. Palmer paints the labyrinthine ecosystem of cops, thieves, their all-too-human aspirations and dreams, and their collaborations—said and unsaid, overt and covert—in a realistic manner, and he smartly avoids styling the protagonists as idealistic heroes. Each is a thorough professional, as proud of their skills and exploits as any other on the “right” side of the law.

The brisk pace and mounting tension towards the end will keep readers on the edge of their seats, and once Step’s true intentions are exposed, the stakes grow exponentially higher—with actual lives hanging in the balance. The final resolution adds depth and nuance to the thriller, setting the stage for the next in the series, as Beans and his crew are tasked with avenging a childhood friend’s abuse at the hands of his physical therapist. This is a gripping read with unforgettable characters.

Takeaway: A gang of good-hearted thieves takes on 1980s Chicago.

Comparable Titles: S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief.

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

Click here for more about Money for Nothing
Beyond Stonebridge
Linda Griffin
Griffin’s dark romantic suspense story, the sequel to Stonebridge, melds love, trauma, and the supernatural as it follows pregnant widow Rynna Wyatt and her cousin, Ted Demeray, in late 1950’s Virginia. Rynna’s newly deceased husband, Jason, is the focus of an investigation following his suspicious death—a death that lands Rynna and Ted as primary suspects. The two want nothing more than to put that past behind them and start over together, but they’re keeping too many secrets—like their clandestine love affair and the ghostly appearance of Jason’s mother, Rosalind, who played a central role in his demise.

As Rynna and Ted escape the family manor together, they must navigate her pregnancy amid their blossoming relationship, but they soon find themselves plagued by the past: Jason’s ghost is obsessed with possessing his soon-to-be-born son, Robert (“I take what is mine” is his constant refrain), and Rynna can’t shake the nightmares of Jason terrorizing her—both in life and in death. Her relationship with Ted is destructive in its own right: Rynna’s deep insecurity pushes her to pursue marriage with him, and children of their own, despite his fears that their children will inherit his disabling arthritis, and Ted’s manipulative treatment of Rynna echoes her past marriage. Added to the mix is Jason’s ghost, repeatedly threatening to kill Rynna and Ted or steal Robert, and Ted’s memories of his failed relationship with prior girlfriend Sylvia, to whom he’d been “sort of engaged.”

The abusive dynamics between Rynna and Ted may be triggering for some readers, but Griffin takes time to explore the past trauma shaping their interactions. That theme of two wounded souls stays center stage throughout, although the character-driven moments are interlaced with chilling supernatural angst that gives the novel some edge. Rynna’s determination to protect her son adds much needed optimism, and, despite an abrupt ending, the epilogue is rewarding.

Takeaway: Love struggles to overcome trauma, past and present, in this dark romance.

Comparable Titles: Nancy Price’s Sleeping with the Enemy, John R. Holt’s When We Dead Awaken.

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

Click here for more about Beyond Stonebridge
Seven Perfect Days
Francesca Vespa
In this sweeping and unpredictable debut, Maggie Lomax—who has grown used to being known as the Maggie Lomax—is a woman from an undisclosed island looking back on her life, which includes insightful coming-of-age drama, a diverse cast, exciting global travel, and murder, though Maggie is quick to tell readers, “This is not a crime story.” Instead, it’s a story of living and growing, told through letters, diary entries, and multiple POVs. Seven Perfect Days follows a group of teenagers into young adulthood across multiple locales, through many romantic interests, and the ups and downs of their friendships. This tale runs the gamut of dysfunctional relationships, traumatic experiences, and death as the characters evolve, learn themselves and each other, and continue to grow into who they are meant to be.

Incorporating elements of mystery, Vespa has written a touching story about the transition into adulthood that pierces the heart while avoiding what Alexandra, one of Maggie’s correspondents, calls “badly wrought sentimental life lesson”s. Vespa creates a memorable group of friends experiencing grief, struggling with their sexual identity, and striving to find acceptance. These include Maggie’s friend Adam Moon, who says to his father “You’d prefer that I was out of my mind, shooting heroin into my arm, or dead, rather than be attracted to guys?” (The response is devastating.) Meanwhile, Maggie works her way through school, takes on odd—and sometimes dangerous—jobs from shady acquaintances, and continues to add friends to her already proudly unusual bunch, whose letters burst with wit and feeling.

Written with empathy plus much snarky, dark humor and razor-sharp dialogue, and always attentive to life as it’s lived in moments of connection, Seven Perfect Days fleshes out its cast in three dimensions as they enter the world, in vividly described locales like Singapore, the Maldives, and the unnamed island. The novel is long, but Vespa keeps it brisk and focused, offering an intricately woven tapestry of friendship, family, and romance.

Takeaway: Sweeping coming of age story full of adventure, romance, and dark humor.

Comparable Titles: Allison Larkin’s The People We Keep, Anne Youngson’s Meet Me at the Museum.

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

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Mattie, Milo, and Me: a memoir
Anne Abel
Abel debuts with a heart-warming memoir spotlighting the intense bond between dogs and their owners. Plagued by depression stemming from an abusive childhood, Abel vows her “primary goal in life [is] to be a good mother,” and after years of her son begging for a dog, she finally gives in—adopting Mattie, a wheaten terrier, who becomes an important link in Abel’s fight against depression. When a UPS driver accidentally runs over Mattie, Abel feels herself sinking into darkness again, prompting her search for a new four-legged companion. Enter Milo, a mixed breed, “one of a kind dog” who instantly connects with the family—but comes with baggage of his own.

This is a sweet ode to the joy of nurturing animals, though Abel admittedly has her work cut out for her in training Milo, an aggressive alpha dog who the family quickly realizes is a far cry from their previous pet. Abel and Milo's journey through training, asserting dominance, and learning to trust each other is an endearing story of overcoming grief, finding coping mechanisms in the most unlikely places, and the love between a dog and its owner. Abel refuses to give up on Milo, even after being warned of his volatility, writing that she was "determined to save him."

Animal lovers will relish the central role that Abel’s pets play in her wellbeing throughout the narrative, as she goes from adamantly avoiding dog ownership—due to a traumatic experience in childhood, when her father threw her puppy down a flight of stairs—to discovering not just camaraderie, but also healing in the human/animal bond. Abel writes transparently about the struggle to tame Milo, her troubling relationship with her parents, and the supportive nuclear family she establishes as an adult. This compassionately vulnerable memoir is, in Abel’s own words, a manifestation of her “determination to create an environment of unconditional love.”

Takeaway: Touching ode to the bond between humans and pets.

Comparable Titles: Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain, John Grogan's Marley & Me.

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

Click here for more about Mattie, Milo, and Me
To Save the Earth, Work Less! : The Crucial Environmental Issue No One Is Talking About
Charles Siegel
In this impassioned call for (in)action, Siegel (author of A Skeptic’s Faith) argues the merits of Americans working less and having more free time—and by doing so potentially sparing our planet by reducing the consumption of natural resources and production of toxic pollution and waste. Exploring how mass production and an ever-growing workforce has led to "global warming and other urgent ecological challenges,” Siegel urges a rejection of the culture of “compulsory consumption.” Instead, he points to the Dutch model, with a more humane economy, with policies that would encourage fewer work hours, reduce inequality, encourage “ecological economics,” and reshape the concept of “growth.”

With well-chosen data, Siegel demonstrates how countries like The Netherlands have "created a prosperous economy with low unemployment" due to letting employees work fewer hours, though he’s clear-eyed about the practical challenges of fostering such profound change. To that end, he examines historical precedents like the Depression and the women's rights movement, chronicling the many ways employment actually has changed within the past century. The stakes are high, and he’s compelling in his depiction of a potential future where, if American workers continue to work, produce, and consume at the continued growing rate of recent decades, technology and environmental catastrophes will "bring immense destruction.”

Through consistent reiteration of its thesis—"this book looks at a way of dealing with ecological limits that is more politically practical"—even when Siegel entertains oddball hypotheticals like what if helicopters became the new cars, To Save the Earth, Work Less is an urgent, thought-provoking resource that challenges orthodoxies of American workforce, consumerism, capitalism, inequality, and "the law of diminishing marginal utility.” This is a quick, potent read that will spark conversation and provide food for thought on essential questions of the American dream, what it actually means to feel satisfied in life, and nothing less than the fate of the world.

Takeaway: Urgent call to reduce work, consumption, and inequality and save the planet.

Comparable Titles: Mary Robinson's Climate Justice, Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything.

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

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Undomesticated Women Anecdotal Evidence from the Road
Anna Blake
This inspiring memoir is a rhapsodic testament to living a nomadic life and following passion where life leads. Blake (author of Going Steady, among others) shares her love of horses, farm life, and being "undomesticated" as her job as a horse trainer offers her the opportunity to do what she loves: traveling with her dog, Mister, her RV, the Rollin' Rancho, and the trusted navigational support of the "GPS Woman." Making new friends along the way, finally meeting in person friends made virtually during the pandemic, and fiercely holding on to her independence and undomesticated life, Blake's cross-country voyage is an adventurous narrative filled with green pastures, blue skies, and the open road at a time when “we all felt fragile and lonely and not sure how to behave socially.”

Blake's love for her work and animals pulses through this memoir that reads like journal entries as she covers "14,000 miles in eight months" as a traveling horse trainer "promoting a kinder method of training." Delving into the development of “Affirmative Training,” her empathetic method, and also how the pandemic changed the trajectory of her life's work, and the "special connection" horses and their humans share, Undomesticated Women offers much that will engage seekers and animal lovers. "Sometimes I refer to myself as a couple's therapist for horses and humans,” Blake affectionately writes, and her stories back this up as she demonstrates a passion for her career path that is infectious and inspiring.

This spirited memoir focuses on travel, human-animal relationships, and what it actually feels like to live an adventurous, nomadic existence. Blake mourns her losses, celebrates her husband, tends to the animals she loves, and frankly addresses issues of mental health—“My depression sat next to me in broad daylight, like an evil twin with poor hygiene”—she writes, as this candid, memorable memoir finds her hitting the road, leaving domesticity in the rearview.

Takeaway: A horse trainer’s intimate nomadic journey through pandemic-era America.

Comparable Titles: Lisa Wysocky's Horseback, Courtney Maum's The Year of the Horses.

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

Inspiring Work Anniversaries: How to Improve Employee Experience and Strengthen Workplace Culture through the Untapped Power of Work Anniversaries
Rick Joi
Noting that employees are twice as likely to leave a job in the month of their workplace anniversary, author Joi makes the case—and provides a comprehensive plan—for how businesses can and should celebrate their employees with work anniversaries ... and how such anniversaries “simultaneously improve both employee morale and performance,” improve team effectiveness, help “steer your organization’s culture in the direction you want it to go,” and more. Organized into three parts, this upbeat resource, Joi’s debut, highlights why it is important to incorporate work anniversaries into the schedule, the roles of various departments and how they can contribute, and detailed steps on how to create work anniversary celebrations that will "create feelings of belonging for all employees" and “triumph over workplace anniversary mediocrity.”

While Joi’s focus is on practical, original steps to organize and perform work anniversary celebrations, the broader theme is the creation or improvement of healthy, “intentional” workplace culture, especially through demonstrating that employees are valued, appreciated, and remembered for their work. "Work anniversaries can play a significant role in helping you craft an intentional workplace culture," Joi writes. Joi likens work anniversaries to birthdays, with the distinction that work anniversaries are to be celebrated inside of the workplace, while birthdays are personal. Touching on the importance of celebrating both in-person and remote employees, the nuts and bolts of how much to spend and how elaborate to get, and the value of framed certificates and other acknowledgements of employees’ contributions, Inspiring Work Anniversaries makes a compelling, positive case for the power of celebrating employee milestones.

A wealth of clear-eyed advice will help avoid awkward scenarios and ensure celebrations for a host of different types of employees resonate, including guidance for honoring remote employees, writing celebratory speeches, and navigating limited budgets. Business leaders looking for a simple way to acknowledge their employees and curate actionable positivity into their workplace culture will find the ideas and advice here inspiring and easy to implement.

Takeaway: The power and practicalities of celebrating employee anniversaries.

Comparable Titles: Donna Cutting's Employees First, Cindy Ventrice's Make Their Day!.

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

Click here for more about Inspiring Work Anniversaries
The Song of Jonas
Jake Hansen
Hansen’s debut immerses readers in a surprising sci-fi odyssey set in a distant future where harmony among diverse alien races is maintained through the Ashtar Command Center, at the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy. There, Jonas Neferis, a first-year Intergalactic Special Agent, receives a mission to locate the missing agent Talley, believed to be abducted by underworld demons. Jonas is a Shastra, a humanoid species with jackal-like features, and will be accompanied by fellow Shastra agent Bheem and Khafre, a Navan—“a gray-haired monkey being”—on a mission to perhaps the most surprising place in the galaxy: a radically transformed Earth.

The dynamic plot, marked by constant shifts in mission objectives, offers continual unpredictability as the scope and stakes—and the playful strangeness of an Earth full of dino-lizards and mega honey badgers—become clear. Jonas's initial objective is to find the all-knowing hermit Siegfried. Persistent bounty hunters Necrat and Tarsus complicate things, relentlessly pursuing Jonas and Siegfried. The narrative gains momentum as Jonas encounters Siegfried, triggering an onslaught by the skeleton god Khapre-Tum’s army on Earth's city of Heliopolis. The revelation that Khapre-Tum plans to unleash a world-shattering weapon on Earth forces Jonas to shift his focus to confronting a literal Demon-god, which of course is a bit much for a first-year agent. Fortunately, in a twist of destiny, Jonas is bestowed with additional power and responsibilities by the celestial being Garud, elevating him to the position of a Savior. It all builds to a high-octane final act of infiltrating the underworld.

The swift resolution of conflicts through Ashtar or Garud's interventions, such as the use of a prophecy, occasionally lessens the tension and challenges faced by Jonas, and the novel’s length is demanding, exacerbated by a tendency to explain in narrative what’s already clear from dialogue. Still, the ending is satisfying, and the narrative's strengths lie in its diverse characters, constant surprises, and jolting reimagination of an ancient Earth.

Takeaway: Wildly inventive SF adventure sending a far-future rookie to a changed Earth.

Comparable Titles: Pittacus Lore’s Ashfall Legacy, Rebecca Coffindaffer’s Throne Breakers.

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

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A Map of the Edge: Coming of Age in the Sixties
David T. Isaak
Isaak’s second in The Isaak Collection (published posthumously by his wife, Pamela Blake) follows Tomorrowville and offers a nuanced glimpse of late 1960s American counterculture through the eyes of 15-year-old Rick Leibnitz, whose childhood is overturned when his mother leaves with his two siblings in tow, abandoning Rick to his abusive father. After a stint in juvie, Rick meets freethinking fellow high schooler Lincoln Ellard, and his worldview is transformed; the two read books, do drugs, and chase girls together, living a bohemian life of their own making, even starting their own high-brow salon in the process. But adolescence can’t last forever, and before long, the pair become mired in the muck that comes with growing up.

Rick and Lincoln straddle the cusp of adulthood throughout—a taxing gig that’s reflected in Lincoln’s flippant assessment of Yucaipa, their isolated Californian city: “I like it here…the edge is where everything happens. Ask any chemist. Ask any historian.” The story takes its cue from there, as the boys construct a new world for themselves at “the edge of nowhere,” a world that’s scattered with fitting references—literary, musical, and political—that signal the ‘60s fringe culture shaping their capering. Isaak takes pains to showcase that culture, whether it’s Rick’s assessment of I Am Curious (Yellow) as “vague [and] unfocused” or the veiled references to the helpless horror of the Vietnam War.

Isaak is careful to treat the story’s evolution with a light, humorous touch, avoiding the pitfall of taking coming-of-age revelations too seriously, but the characters of Rick and Lincoln are neither glorified nor treated dismissively: they’re portrayed as impressive but ultimately ingenuous young boys doing the best they can to navigate the treacherous waters of becoming an adult. Isaak’s deft merging of teen angst with of-age awakenings makes this a treasure.

Takeaway: Teen boys navigate America’s 1960s fringe culture in this stellar coming-of-age.

Comparable Titles: Ann Patchett’s Tom Lake, Ellen Meeropol’s Her Sister’s Tattoo.

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

Click here for more about A Map of the Edge
The Real Gatsby: George Gordon Moore: A Granddaughter's Memoir
Mickey Rathbun
Rathbun excavates her grandfather’s history in this irresistible debut, drawing parallels between the man as she knew him—George Gordon Moore—and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s infamous Jay Gatsby. Though the evidence she unearths is mixed, in retracing her grandfather’s life story Rathbun discovers the roots of some of her own family trauma. Moore, who began his career as a businessman in Michigan, resided in, and traveled from, London to New York to California, living extravagantly while participating in the First World War and conducting questionable business deals along the way. When the Great Depression hit, Moore’s success fell apart, launching the beginning of his financial struggles—and accelerating the downward slide of his relationship with his daughter, Rathbun’s mother.

Rathbun tells this story with verve and real historical research, including a robust detailing on sources as well as photos that grounds the characters and setting. Far beyond the historical value, this is a compelling and deeply intimate portrait of her own grandfather: his fascinating life shapes her own, from her mother’s alcoholism to her family’s fascination with horse racing to the irrevocable stain the Depression left on her mother’s psyche. She doesn’t shy away from Moore’s “shadowy business dealings,” and just how he made his millions is never quite clear. From Rathbun’s telling, his life before the fall consisted of lavish parties, hunting for wild game, and machinations with the British aristocracy.

Rathbun’s commitment is admirable: she travels from North Carolina to California to find people with knowledge about her grandfather, in addition to extensive archival research, and the anecdotes she shares add color and pathos to the narrative, such as when she forces herself to eat wild boar meat or when she reconnects with her Uncle David. The result is an unflinching portrait of a somewhat scandalous transformation from “a low-born immigrants’ son into a celebrated international financier who lived the American Dream.”

Takeaway: Irresistible memoir of early 20th century extravagance, scandal, and family heritage.

Comparable Titles: Nathan Miller’s New World Coming, J.R. Ackerley’s My Father and Myself.

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

Click here for more about The Real Gatsby: George Gordon Moore
Wind on the Sounds: A Novel Set in the Yacht Race Around Vancouver Island Canada
Barbara Wyatt
A history professor heeds the call to adventure and discovers her strength and resilience in this spirited sailing novel from Wyatt (author of Prairie Girls). Teaching her course on homesteaders of northwest Canada, Rebecca meets a student, Brac, who participates in the Van Isle 360, a two-week yacht race around Vancouver Island. During a race, Brac says, “You take all those fears, grab a handful, and throw them out," words that will prove prophetic for Rebecca. At Brac’s invitation, she joins the land crew of the 45-year-old yacht Gallivant, a support team following the race, furnishing supplies, but not actually sailing. But a funny thing happens on Rebecca’s path toward an edifying but not-especially-challenging lark around Vancouver Island: an emergency knocks out one of Gallivant’s veteran six-man crew, and suddenly Rebecca, “the backup to the backup,” is asked to join.

So, with certification from one Basic Sailing Course, Rebecca takes part in one of the great international sailing challenges, facing all the danger, thrills, glory, camaraderie, and hard work, all of which Wyatt describes with crisp clarity, convincing accuracy, and a teacher’s zeal for explanation. Simple sketches clarify the route, nautical maneuverings, and finer points of sails and jibs. Not all of the team approves of Rebecca, and Wyatt pairs the journey of the Gallivant with Rebecca’s own route toward confidence and healing. Nobody is as hard on Rebecca as she is on herself, in the form of hectoring inner voices that, ever since her childhood in the foster system, have told her she will fail.

“The romance and adventure” are real, Rebecca muses after much hard work, “but they came with sore muscles and wet hair.” They also come with real danger, which Wyatt dramatizes with precision and power, capturing Rebecca’s breath-by-breath confrontation with possible death. The novel, though, is a pleasant breeze, attentive to history, wildlife, and everything an attentive novice would feel and discover on the voyage of a lifetime.

Takeaway: Spirited novel of a novice sailing in a race around Vancouver Island.

Comparable Titles: Hannah Stowe’s Move Like Water, Victor Suthren’s Canadian Stories of the Sea.

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

Click here for more about Wind on the Sounds
Tomorrowville: Dystopian Science Fiction
David T. Isaak
Published posthumously, Isaak’s stark story critiquing a dystopian government gone too far percolates with a mix of humor and dread. In Los Angeles in 2003, 32-year-old Toby Simmons fell off a balcony and died with a broken spine, but he eventually wakes up in 2088. A computer engineer working for a cryogenics firm, he was frozen, thawed out, and treated, his spine repaired. His hospital bill, though, is nearly $5 million, which he has to pay off at a work-prison. But he’s a novelty, a man of the past, so he’s housed by Professor Spengler and agrees to provide Ph.D. candidate Night Enderhew with information about the 20th century. Despite rolls in the sheets with Night, the more Toby learns of this world, the more disgusted he gets.

Warning of the worst of government overreach, Isaak deftly immerses stranger Toby in a truly strange land. Extrapolating from laws of the 1990s when the DEA could confiscate a drug lord’s assets, and when everyone demanded that their taxes be lowered, by 2088 the government’s sole source of revenue is the confiscation of property. Jam-packed prisons are privatized, and government agencies arrest citizens with highly desirable skills on trumped-up charges, forced to work off their sentences performing slave labor in prisons that supply the government with goods. High on the government’s list of criminals is hacker Boots DeVore, who exposes the truth to the oblivious citizenry addicted to mandatory drugs. To help work off his obscene debt, Toby, with his hacker skills, is recruited to hunt down Boots. But whose side is Toby on?

With a diverse cast and polished prose, Isaak captures the startling extent to which government can debase humanity for its own economic benefit. It’s a world of segregated communities, children of prisoners losing their civil rights, government fines if you get fat, and an elite class exempt from all crime. Readers will be enthralled by the meticulous descriptions, relatable protagonist, and wide-eyed revelations of the slippery slope we’ll be headed for if we’re not vigilant.

Takeaway: A 20th-century hacker confronts a dystopian future with skepticism and hope.

Comparable Titles: Cory Doctorow; Agustina Bazterrica’s Tender Is the Flesh

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

Click here for more about Tomorrowville
Body of Origin
Kimberly J. Smith
This searching YA novel from Smith (author of The Vardo) embraces both the everyday and the speculative, as it imagines a world where some, the switcherbornes, are born with the ability to switch bodies with someone else—but this power rouses prejudice, rejection, and mandated medication. Calliope Littleton is publicly known as a switcherborne, but as far as she knows she’s the only one who is immune to Lazator, the drug that suppresses the power to switch bodies. No one has a clue that, due to her on-the-downlow ability, Calliope is the reason her school’s star cross-country runner and ex-best friend Jamie Mulligan was in a car accident and can no longer walk. Soon, facing intense guilt, Calliope allows Jamie to use her body to run again—taking a huge risk that could ultimately destroy them both.

Body of Origin is an entertaining, thought-provoking read with a touch of romance and a commitment to investigating how the fantasy of switching bodies would work out in real life, especially when thrown into the life of a high school student who forges her own path—school dances, she notes, aren’t her thing. Smith captures the laughter and camaraderie of teen friends, but it’s not all fun and games. The darker elements, though, prove resonant and relatable, from the tragedy that takes away Jamie’s ability to run, a passionate fight for human rights, the “big brother” political aspects, and the prejudice that switcherbornes face. Calliope was born with a great gift—so why does she feel so terrible being who she was meant to be?

Smith proves thoughtful about the wealth of issues (consent, human rights, sexuality) that come with switching, as the story expands beyond Calliope’s friends to encompass events that will shock the world. Through it all, though, this is a novel about being true to yourself, standing up for what you believe in, and understanding that, while everyone is different, we’re all just human.

Takeaway: Smart, speculative slice-of-life about a powered teen staying true to herself.

Comparable Titles: Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Joma West’s Twice Lived.

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

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Istara's tale
ARS Nipun
Software professional Nipun’s whisks young adult sci-fi readers into an alternate world with this short fantastical tale, a literary debut in the spirit of classic adventure storytelling. After schoolboy Jimmy tries a space-time gadget given to him by a fellow student named Tom, he is catapulted into another world, Istara, a planet in a distant solar system. With a local girl, Asani, serving as his tour guide, Jimmy weaves his way through an unfamiliar planet, losing and re-acquiring his space-time gadget while trying to determine the best way to get back to his own world while dealing with a turquoise-hued world with strange cycles—night, day, and daypause—plus skyrock showers and, as Jimmy puts it, “Blood-sucking creatures as big as me?”

After Asani is captured during a village raid, Jimmy works with Asani’s explorer-turned-fisherman friend, Ro, to help free her from detention, and, later, her activist father from a work camp, daring moves with the distinct possibility of ending in disaster. Once he has the transporter back, Jimmy struggles to find the ideal moment for utilizing the magic device and returning to earth while not betraying his new friends. Readers will empathize with Jimmy’s emotions as he soldiers on, attempting to right wrongs and come out of the adventure unscathed, despite outwitting the skull hoarders (a dreaded legion of pirates) and Istara’s dreaded Council, which makes the planet’s rules and regulations and jails those who don’t agree with them.

Nipun does a fine job of describing Istara’s otherworldly atmosphere (“a group of six legged creatives that had been basking in the sun… had slender bodies covered in hard, spiny scales and large, menacing heads”) abounding with blue-beaked and pink-tailed megafauna, human-sized bloodsucking beetles ,and dastardly pirates. Spirited Asani, practical Ro and imaginative Jimmy make an excellent team, with each’s strengths complementing the others. Young readers who love larger-than-life interplanetary adventures will devour Nipun’s fantastical tale.

Takeaway: Imaginative other-planetary adventure in the spirited classic vein.

Comparable Titles: John David Anderson’s Stowaway, Erin Entrada Kelly’s We Dream of Space.

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

Click here for more about Istara's tale
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