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Nights of the Moonless Sky: A Tale from the Vijayanagara Empire
N S Vishwanath
Vishwanath's debut novel is a tense political drama set in medieval India. While a war of succession rages across the nation, a similar conflict plays out on a smaller scale at the Madhuvana estate. Lord Rajanna has been killed under suspicious circumstances, and local officials decree that his wives must commit ritual suicide at his funeral. The youngest wife, Aadarshini, refuses to give in and hatches a plan with Rajanna's bodyguard, Azam Khan to escape her demise. As various factions battle over the estate, Aadarshini must gather her allies to outwit a spying priest, find her son, and take back her home.

Exploring the intricacies of the historic empire of Vijayanagara, Vishwanath creates an immersive story filled with vibrant details of daily life, from a message system that stretches across the Empire to traveling theater troupes complete with made-up boys in the role of a monkey army as they perform the Ramayana. Front and center, though, is the drama of succession. Alternating chapters show the perspective of the treacherous priest Prabhakara Swami as he and Aadarshini engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse for control of the estate. Much of the plot depends on near-misses and mistaken identities, which at times stretch credulity–Aadarshini initially seeks Prabhakara Swami for aid, only to pass him unrecognized on the road; Azam Khan delays his journey by a single day and arrives to find his village in ashes. While sometimes over the top, the story generates a compelling tension that will keep readers hooked.

Aadarshini is a captivating protagonist whose growing strength and ruthlessness is tempered by her love for her son and for the bodyguard Azam Khan. Torn between love and duty, the doomed romance brings a tenderness to an otherwise brutal sequence of events. Emotional, tense, and richly detailed, this dramatic thriller presents a microcosm of larger historical events.

Takeaway: Fans of historical political dramas full of powerful women will love Aadarshini's arc as she grows into her fierceness.

Great for fans of: Philippa Gregory’s White Queen, Indu Sundaresan’s The Twentieth Wife.

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

The Amazing True Stories of Pepito The Squirrel
F. Jordan Erebia
Erebia debuts his True Tail Tale nonfiction series with this story of the frolicsome Pepito, a lame squirrel who made the author’s acquaintance by crawling onto his boot. This delightful adventure follows the author, a retired physician, as he nurses Pepito back to health with love, shelter, and creative physical therapy. Erebia illustrates Pepito’s comeback with adorable photographs featuring the squirrel’s process and antics – including his penchant for hide and seek, love of pineapple, and even a tired squirrel yawn. Social media links for Pepito invite readers to stay connected.

Animal lovers will be charmed by Pepito’s underdog charisma — “Pepito The Squirrel, was crawling towards him / Determined to catch up, while dragging his hind limb” — and cheer him along as he perseveres through physical exams for broken bones and bouts of exhausting rehab. The bond between man and squirrel is evident, as Pepito ventures away just long enough to try out new activities before bounding back “to rest in his arms, where it all began.” Erebia documents Pepito’s convalescence without wasting time on pity, stressing the squirrel’s hard-wired zip and innate need to safely interact in nature, while devoting plenty of space to Pepito’s performances (“He loved taking photos; he was quite a ham”) for his social media followers.

The rhyming text is stilted and at times feels forced — “Once, he got lost, it took hours to find him / The man gave some thought, and looked on a whim.” Still, the end result is a playful narrative that eschews formality for fun, and there’s ingenuity in rhyming squirrel with deferral. Not to be underestimated or taken lightly, Pepito has overcome Herculean odds and adapted to serious challenges. Erebia has literally stumbled onto a story worth celebrating, and Pepito’s vivacity is guaranteed to make readers of all ages swoon.

Takeaway: Animal lovers will cheer this squirrel’s recovery, captured in photos and light verse.

Great for fans of: Diane Trull and Meredith Wargo’s DAWGS: A True Story of Lost Animals and the Kids Who Rescued Them, James Herriot’s All Things Wise and Wonderful.

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

More Amazing True Stories of Pepito The Squirrel
F. Jordan Erebia
Pepito the squirrel is back in this rollicking sequel, this time accompanied by new playmates for readers to relish. Erebia returns to the story of his adopted rodent buddy on a morning when Pepito is nowhere to be seen—“He searched the whole day, and the next morning / But, Pepito was gone, without any forewarning!” Fortunately, Pepito soon returns alongside Colita, his new girlfriend. This pair are only the start of a squirrel extravaganza that lands in the sanctuary of the author’s yard, delivering pages of entertainment, feasting, and captivating photographs.

Erebia’s playful pictures steal the show in his lighthearted adventure, and animal lovers will devour the escapades of Pepito and friends. Fun facts like “A group of squirrels, is called a scurry” and the star’s affinity for rolling in peat moss and loam will charm younger fans and provide teaching moments. The eccentricities of Erebia’s rhythmic text sometimes distracts from the merriment (“Pepito would climb walls, right up he’d go / He’d leave behind, the ground below”), but the message comes through, inviting readers into a squirrel’s daily life. Pepito’s single-mindedness during pre-winter acorn burying is amusingly paired with his distinctive stunts—“It really was funny, he’d poke and he’d dig / And, when he was done, he’d dance an old jig."

Though geared for younger audiences, this squirrelly promenade has staying power and will hit the spot for anyone who enjoys carefree animal play and is amused by (or tolerant of) doggerel. From their discriminating palates (“he also went nuts, For almonds, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts”) to their penchant for wrestling, Pepito and his entourage entertain. Erebia’s affinity for nature highlights the special attachment between humans and animals, and his affectionate carousing with Pepito is aptly memorialized in the abundant action shots that are the hallmark of Erebia’s True Tail Tale nonfiction series.

Takeaway: A spirited adventure of squirrel horseplay, complete with educational tidbits and enjoyable photos.

Great for fans of: Nick Newman and Karin Mitchell’s The Rhino Crash, Beverly Keil’s Diary of a Dumpster Pup, Belinda Recio’s Inside Animal Hearts and Minds.

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

OOF
Strobe Witherspoon
Witherspoon’s timely metafictional novel explores the ways (mis)information can shape public discourse in the digital media age. The story chronicles what happens when a chapter of FLOTUS: A Memoir—the fictional autobiography of a former first lady of the United States—gets leaked to the public. The leak kicks off a deadly Online Outrage Fiesta, or OOF, that eventually leads to tragedy for Witherspoon himself, a story told in the book via “news articles, blog posts, tweet storms, emails, transcripts” and other media errata.

Witherspoon (the real one, not the one in the book) creates a sense of authenticity through skillful recreations of media sources. For example, the narrative starts with the story of the book itself as it might appear in Publishers Weekly before moving on to news reports, podcasts, and blog posts about the leak--and then the reactions on Twitter. The autobiography at OOF’s heart chronicles years of abuse and neglect the First lady suffered at the hands of her husband, but in the ensuing chaos kicked off by the revelations, the main victim is Whiterspoon, who the novel’s The New Yorker calls a “foreign policy analyst, turned novelist, turned meme punching bag.” OOF showcases a variety of voices, tones, and approaches to mass-media storytelling. Sometimes sad and sometimes hilarious, the wildly entertaining result illuminates the dark side to fame, circa 2021.

Eventually, as the story edges toward the dystopian, it all gets to be too much for the fictional Witherspoon, who declares “I must take responsibility for my destiny. This circus must end. Words are not enough. Update forthcoming. :)” In the fiction, this engaging book about our online lives is not available in the United States. Fortunately, that doesn’t apply to the real world. This readily purchasable novel will appeal to anyone fascinated by the impact of social media and mediated perception.

Takeaway: This highly mediated satire cleverly apes an “Online Outrage Fiesta.”

Great for fans of: Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.

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

Click here for more about OOF
Things That Go Bump in the Night: A Trilogy of Terror
JC Bratton
In Bratton’s short stories, teenagers go missing, dolls come to life, and saying “Bloody Mary” into a mirror isn’t going to make things better. The horror tales gathered together in Things That Go Bump In the Night are quick to read and often lightning fast in their pacing, especially the three shorter stories contained in “Dollhouse,” the book’s final section. Full of references to horror legends, urban legends, and fringe science, the stories cover a lot of ground in just a few pages, sometimes featuring nods to each other.

Despite being marketed for young adults, only the first story, “Who’s At the Door” seems fully crafted for a teen audience. Clearly influenced by RL Stine and Christopher Pike, authors that Bratton cites as favorites, this suspenseful tale of a teenager, a doorbell, and the supernatural is the collection’s most fully developed, offering engaging twists on a perennial ghost story. The Silicon Valley-set “Parasomnia” takes on the tension between science and the paranormal, with an edge of romance, but its fleeting attempts to explain scientific concepts key to the narrative (“hypnopompic hallucinations”) confuse rather than clarify. “Dollhouse” actually has three stories within it, tales so short that there’s not much room for a sense of unease or terror to develop.

Bratton favors dialogue-driven storytelling, often even revealing the narrator’s inner thoughts this way, an approach not ideally suited to horror, as the emphasis on what people are saying over what they’re seeing, feeling, and doing doesn’t offer much opportunity for dread or terror to mount. Still, readers may appreciate Bratton’s quick doses of horror if they’re looking for paranormal mystery or a quick adrenaline rush. Able to be enjoyed in one sitting, Things That Go Bump In the Night will spook teen and adult readers, whether they’re afraid of their alarm system, nightmares, or that old doll in the attic.

Takeaway: These quick doses of horror have enough jolt to engage teen readers.

Great for fans of: Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone Inside Your House, Katie Alender’s Bad Girls Don’t Die.

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

Click here for more about Things That Go Bump in the Night
Wiggles, Stomps, and Squeezes Calm My Jitters Down
Lindsey Parker
Parker’s lively debut follows a neurodiverse child with heightened sensory experiences as she navigates her day. While eating breakfast, getting dressed, and playing at the park, the young protagonist explores her need to wiggle, tap, squeeze, stomp, and run, while her supportive mother works to help calm her. Before zipping around the kitchen, the unnamed narrator declares, “I get jitters down deep inside and it makes me want to run!” As the girl acclimates to the world around her, she discovers new techniques to relieve her jitters, including humming and running water. But when a sticky sandbox leads to sensory overload, she finds herself tested.

This is a lean, fast-paced, urgent tale with quick-moving prose. Rebecca Burgess’s illustrations are electric, complementing the high-speed storyline and finding a visual depiction of the sensations that accompany a heightened sensory experience. Sometimes, particularly in the sandbox scene, these images can become frightening–these portrayals of sensory overload may be scary for younger children. Most pages offer a lot of action, with some images achieving a balance between interesting and overwhelming, and others edging toward cluttered. For the most part, though, the illustrations are eye-catching, fresh, and emotionally engaging as they suggest the child’s experience. Squiggles, triangles, motion lines — she lives with a sensory cavalcade.

For a children’s book, Parker’s ideas are remarkably mature. None of the concepts are inappropriate for young audiences, but the lessons and values are as much for kids as for their parents. The sympathetic representation of the mother — who understands, encourages, and helps her daughter even through the most difficult of her urges — is a good reminder to parents who are raising neurodiverse children of the virtues of patience, calm, and sensitivity. Some of the story’s impact may be lost on toddler-age fans, but parents will find the message invaluable.

Takeaway: This fast-paced picture book is perfect for those looking to learn more about the daily experience of sensory differences.

Great for fans of: Jenn Bailey’s A Friend for Henry, Alicia Ortego’s Kindness is my Superpower.

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

Dying to Live
L.F. Earl and S.L. Earl
This husband-and-wife team’s second short novel is a taut, heady science fiction tale of resurrection and unbridled passion. Doctors Zach and Marcia Gage are two accomplished neurosurgeons. When Zach’s John Doe car crash victim, nicknamed Frank, goes into a coma and dies, Marcia finds herself consumed with a need for revenge. She administers a superhuman dose of a rare plant to Frank’s body, reviving him. Desperate to hide her breakthrough success, Marcia keeps Frank hidden, even as he turns violent against her coworkers. Inexplicably drawn to the undead man, Marcia will risk everything to save him and give him something back of his former life, even at the expense of her own.

The Earls layer the story with a clear sense of tension and unease, peppered with moments of humor, while offering a detailed glimpse of behind-the-scenes work in hospitals and morgues. Readers might be divided on the trajectory of the narrative: Marcia, admittedly a talented neuroscientist, happens rather coincidentally upon a life-altering natural medicine from an African tribe to resurrect the presciently nicknamed Frank. The convenience of this might raise eyebrows, but the ensuing suspense and intrigue make up for it.

The most potentially divisive choice is also the novel’s most interesting: Marcia’s affair with the reanimated man. Still, her character seems rather one-note: Her coldness and callousness suggest she could develop into a memorable antihero, but her sexual dreams about Frank (wherein a strong orgasm wakes her from her slumber) and her overstated longings (“Although Zach had been gone for only a few days, Marcia’s loins were aching for some manly attention”) blunt the nuance. Her actions are not tempered with many persuasive moments of empathy—for instance, Marcia’s decision to not sleep with Frank in her marital bed comes too late to have much impact. Frank, meanwhile, is given more lifelike treatment, an inquisitive character capably fleshed out.

Takeaway: This tense novel of resurrection walks a fine line between science fiction and romance.

Great for fans of: Jesse Petersen’s Living with the Dead series, Joan Frances Turner’s Dust.

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

Click here for more about Dying to Live
A Shepherd of Wolves
R.J. King
King’s intense, character-driven debut examines the lives of a serial killer and a detective to reveal the conditions that made them into adversaries. Edmund Glass lives in St. Anna, South Carolina, with an insatiable hunger that leads him to bite, strangle, and devour various body parts of his victims before discarding the corpses. Detective Sergeant Raymond Wright protects St. Anna–a relatively easy job until human body parts start showing up around town. Wright embarks on a mission to hunt down this devious killer before more innocents end up dismembered.

King holds nothing back as he plummets into these men’s lives, giving readers the pieces to construct crisp images of their upbringings. Wright grew up in the segregated South, and King’s examples of torment and humiliation by bigoted white characters (who repeatedly use the “n” word and take pleasure in assaulting Black characters) paints a visceral depiction of racism. The plot also tackles child abuse in both the past of both men, while dropping ominous hints that Glass’s peculiarities and troubled mind will lead him down an evil path. Influential supporting characters—such as Wright’s best friend, Carl, and Glass’s love interest, Grant—bring intrigue and complexity into the lives of the leads, adding depth and feeling to the plot.

The present timeline, focused on Wright’s investigation in 2010, finds these lives intersecting. Unlike in most novels of cops and killers, some readers may feel the background chapters offer more drama and tension than the case the detective is working. Although the book’s present boasts engrossing scenes that will capture the attention of procedural fans, some border on repetitive. Still, this overall is a powerful exploration of two men and their inner demons, with one serving the law and the other viciously breaking it. Readers looking for a nosedive into what makes men monsters versus heroes will enjoy this unsettling thriller.

Takeaway: This dynamic crime thriller plunges into the environmental and psychological forces that create villains and heroes.

Great for fans of: Nadine Matheson The Jigsaw Man, Thomas Mullen’s Darktown.

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

Click here for more about A Shepherd of Wolves
The Place Beyond Her Dreams
Oby Aligwekwe
Oby Aligwekwe (Hazel House) transports readers in her debut YA novel, part fairy tale romance and part realistic fiction rooted in West African traditions and folk tales. Protagonist Ona has had the gift of “intuition,” or seeing into the future, since the age of seven; when her beloved grandfather dies, she realizes she can travel between her hometown of Ntebe and an idyllic dreamland called Luenah. In Luenah, she learns the power of manifestation– manifesting her thoughts in physical reality–and is sent back to Ntebe on a quest to find her purpose and “give something back to humanity.”

Aligwekwe shines in her development of characters, each offering an avenue to reflect on the ways social class unfairly dictates daily lives and relationships. Ona’s ultimate goal is to find “love and happiness,” but she’s not sure if that love will be with Albert–the handsome crown prince of Ide, a town involved in border clashes with Ntebe–or Okem, her childhood best friend and household servant. Will she find happiness with her one true love despite their differing social statuses, or become a Queen and bring peace to Ide and Ntebe? “I don’t know how people will feel about me marrying someone of a lower status than me,” Ona says. “They will castigate me and wonder why I gave up comfort.”

Although branded as fantasy, the majority of the narrative takes place in the real world rather than Luenah, a choice that might disappoint readers desiring the fantastic. Despite this, Aligwekwe deftly weaves commentary on colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism into an appealing and suspenseful story of love and whimsy. She presents many nuggets of wisdom as Ona seeks her life’s purpose, while emphasizing that “Two things must occur for love to be manifested. The first is to believe you’re worthy of love. The second is to love yourself.”

Takeaway: Young adults and older readers will be enchanted by this fantasy’s magic, romance, and life lessons.

Great for fans of: Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread, Nandi Taylor’s Given.

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

Click here for more about The Place Beyond Her Dreams
The Prize-Winning Story
KEN YODER REED
In this layered and ambitious Chaucer riff, Reed (Both My Sons) dares to set a pilgrims’ story-telling contest in the most heated of contemporary religious milieus: He’s imagined a squad of American fans of a Christian radio show called “For Zion’s Sake” touring Israel on the day of Donald Trump’s election. The tour leader, an end-times minded raid host named Vladdy, agrees to the idea of a contest, first proposed by Israel’s Major Eli Bloom, “Israel’s top expert on terrorism,” a guest lecturer celebrated by Vladdy for offering “None of this politically correct ‘Islam is the religion of peace’ stuff.” Vladdy’s enthusiasm for Jewishness is undercut by his cluelessness: Early on, he schedules a car trip with Bloom on Shabbat, and they end up hoofing it eight miles. Soon enough, though, Vladdy’s pilgrims are touring the holy sites and dishing a surprising variety of tales, among them a contemporary refugee drama, a scarifying account of an American serviceman’s deployments to Iraq, a meditation on the life of Corrie Ten Boom, and a fiery denunciation of sexual predation in the seminary.

As the tour (and the tales) go on, Vladdy finds his American assumptions about Israeli life challenged by exposure to the reality, especially as he faces a surprising confrontation involving his own family. The question What about the Palestinians? comes to haunt him, and the book builds toward a complex ending that laces the joy of the pilgrims’ faith and camaraderie with geopolitical tragedy.

No satiric novel about the Middle East could please all readers, of course, but Reed’s approach is smart and sensitive, even as he gleefully satirizes the relationship between American evangelicals and Israeli hardliners. His prose is sharp, even cutting at times, but there’s nothing parodic about many of his pilgrims’ stories, which take faith seriously. Even Vladdy, at first a caricature, emerges as a figure of pathos; it’s moving to see the scales fall from his eyes.

Takeaway: Inspired by the Canterbury Tales, this satire finds American Christians facing the reality of the Holy Land.

Great for fans of: Randy Boyagoda’s Original Prin, Terry Lindvall’s God Mocks.

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

Click here for more about The Prize-Winning Story
Gut Feelings: Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction and the Patient-Doctor Relationship
Douglas Drossman, MD and Johannah Ruddy, M.Ed.
This innovative, dual-focused volume from Drossman and Ruddy offers a study of the history, diagnosis, and treatment of Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction from Drossman, the eminent scientist of gastroenterology, with an emphasis on new approaches to these chronic illnesses that too often have been misunderstood by a conventional medical wisdom that failed to grasp their negative impact on patient health. Gut Feelings pairs this specialist’s intervention in his field with an urgent effort to improve communication between doctors and patients, especially in cases of chronic illnesses where there’s a disconnect, as in the case of DGBI, between symptoms and medical findings. Ruddy, a patient advocate and executive director of the Rome Foundation, has endured DGBI herself; she pens clear-eyed, authoritative passages for patients about how to optimize their communication with their physicians.

Together, Drossman and Ruddy address physicians and patients, with Drossman explaining his findings over a lifetime of treating and researching DGBI. With rousing passion rare in medical literature, Gut Feelings urges physicians to adopt George Engel’s biopsychosocial model of treating patients—to create the conditions in which patients and physicians can “engage collaboratively on the care that will improve the clinical outcome.” The book itself is evidence of what doctors and patients can achieve when they collaborate: Drossman treated Ruddy and her DGBI.

In moving testimonial, Ruddy recounts how other doctors proved dismissive of her symptoms–“Women can get hysterical and exaggerate pain, especially at certain times of the month,” she recalls a physician telling her. Drossman, though, listened to her and understood that there’s more to gastrointestinal health than what colonoscopies can reveal, as he spells out in persuasive detail in the book’s first half. While it offers sound advice for patients, Gut Feelings will most resonate with medical practitioners eager to optimize communication between doctors and patients, especially in cases of chronic illness or pain that’s not traditionally been well diagnosed and treated.

Takeaway: This innovative medical text guides patients and doctors toward greater understanding of disorders of gut-brain interaction—and greater communication.

Great for fans of: Emeran Mayer’s The Mind-Gut Connection, Peter Tate and Francesca Frame’s The Doctor's Communication Handbook.

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

Siljeea Magic
Judith S. Pratt
In this adventurous coming-of-age novel, Pratt (The Dry Country) conjures the magic of little woodland people who teach an upper middle class tween girl about environmental care, diversity, and heroism. City kid Andrea Jernigan has always been able to see child-sized, human-like people the “color of the dried oak leaves” in the buffer zone of forest wedged between highways and houses, but when she tells people about this no one believes her. After moving out of her Boston-area city to a big new house, school, and suburban sprawl, Andrea laments the loss of old school friends. Frustrated with her helicopter mother, angry stepfather, and bratty five-year-old brother Andrea steals away at dawn to meet with Eraustaak, a Bokaaj (small people) teenager living in the woods behind her housing development. Eraustaak awakens her to the wonders of nature, edible berries and leaves, and animals. When developers threaten to raze the Bokaajs’ forest, Andrea gathers her courage to help them.

In light, flowing prose, Pratt evokes the inquisitiveness and innocence of young people of two cultures meeting and sharing their knowledge– until distrust and discrimination on both sides intervenes. The Bokaaj fear human encroachment, and tensions rise when one of them fires a gun at construction workers. Determined to help the starving Bokaaj relocate to safer grounds, Andrea seeks the wisdom of their Siljeea, the shaman women whose magic protects the forest enclave.

Never talking down to her readers, Pratt reveals the language and customs of a fully realized culture struggling to live on the fringes of American neighborhoods. Pratt explores how some people take action to right wrongs and help those in need while others just accept the sacrifices of “progress.” Readers of all ages will enjoy the uplifting story of a brave teenage girl making friends and coming into her own identity and purpose.

Takeaway: A suburban coming-of-age fantasy for all ages that explores an imaginative culture and environmental responsibility.

Great for fans of: Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, Lynne Reid Banks’s The Indian in the Cupboard.

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

Click here for more about Siljeea Magic
How Does It Feel to Be You?: An Introduction to Animism
Oshri
Oshri's careful, hopeful examination of animism–the belief that inanimate objects have distinct spiritual essence–is a compelling exercise in mindfulness, empathy, and environmentalism delivered in verse. Divided into six parts, this spiritually minded commentary argues that, with time, our perceptions of ourselves–of how our bodies work and how we make sense of the world–have devolved to resemble our hierarchical society. Like our “detached rulers or ruling classes,” each individual’s brain “tells itself / that it–the brain– / Is the only one capable of making the right decisions.” In "Life, Inside Us,” Oshri disrupts the traditional notion of a biological "chain of command" by arguing that other body parts have agency, too, linking our belief in the brain’s primacy to the emergence of class and separatist doctrines.

Assuming perspectives like that of a favorite coffee cup and a salad, Oshri's free-style poems urge an understanding (“You know why people don’t focus on eating? / It is fear of intimacy”) of being present with all that we consume and cherish. Oshri beckons readers to pay close attention to objects they encounter everyday in "Life, Beside Us," and suggests taking a walk nude while covering the head on a chilly day to let the exposed senses take charge of the body, a recommendation many readers (especially in populous areas) may find extreme. Oshri's intent in such passages is not to shock or establish ideological supremacy. Instead, he’s presenting ideas and approaches to living, with insightful and at times challenging examples.

Oshri’s writing is clean and immediately clear throughout. The arrangement of prose passages in brief, broken paragraphs ensures a measured pacing that emphasizes the ideas, achieving stylistic and theoretical continuity with the interspersed poems. Straightforward and creative, this imaginative collection is an able,novel, and provocative introduction to the many principles of animism.

Takeaway: Readers interested in exploring the spiritual belief of animism will find illumination in this unique poetry collection.

Great for fans of: Dennis Schmitz’s Animism, Emma Restall Orr’s The Wakeful World.

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

Click here for more about How Does It Feel to Be You?
The Pages of History
david carney
A one-volume crash course in western civilization, Carney’s collection compiles short documents, speeches, and other written proclamations from throughout history “whose significance echoes far beyond their size.” In incisive introductory remarks, Carney notes that some of his selections represent the apex of rhetoric while others are mundane; their authors include “scientists, kings, rebels, artists, the inevitable Anonymous, and perhaps even the Deity.” The miniatures he’s assembled include works like the Monroe Doctrine, an oration credited to Chief Seattle and purportedly delivered on the occasion of a treaty signing, and the 1534 Act of Supremacy that, once passed by Parliament, declared Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

Uniting these disparate readings, besides their brevity and import, is Carney’s illuminating commentary. A lively history in their own right, his remarks set the stage for each selection, examining the circumstances that led to the penning of each text and then how each text in turn shaped the world. He considers issues of provenance, language, and textual accuracy, approaching each subject with welcome humility: “Scripture scholars will have had ample occasion in the preceding discussion to note where I have simplified, perhaps to a perilous degree, the details of the how the Bible came into Jacobean English,” he notes at the end of one engaging essay. Scriptural scholars might find nits to pick, but casual readers interested in the history will appreciate Carney’s spirited précis.

Carney’s generalist approach proves inviting as this miscellany finds him celebrating the achievements of Bach (introducing the composer's dedications to two works, including the Brandenburg Concertos) and, not many pages later, contemplating F.T. Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism. (“We have no comparable statement for our time,” Carney observes, adding, “And that may be a blessing.”) These short, surprising selections—each introduced with wit and warmth—accrete into a feast for readers of history and lovers of original documents.

Takeaway: This lively miscellany guides readers through many of the most significant (and shortest) documents in history.

Great for fans of: Lapham's Quarterly, Richard Panchyk’s The Keys to American History: Understanding Our Most Important Historic Documents.

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

Click here for more about The Pages of History
Effacement
Hieronymus Hawkes
Hawkes’s enthralling debut science fiction takes place in a future where implanted microchips connect humanity to all things technological and have become the only way of life for most people. Everything is done with a thought, and no one uses cell phones, controllers, computers, or even cash, thanks to the Vitasync neurochip from BioNarratus. When rumors begin swirling that people are dying and the chip may be to blame, Cole Westbay, one of Vitasync’s creators, investigates and finds answers the government is trying to hide. That makes him a problem they need to get rid of, and he wakes up one morning missing his chip and much of his memory.

Although the story’s often technical, with passages detailing how the implanted chips work with the brain, the programming involved, and their interfacing with other technologies, Hawkes hits the right balance of explaining just enough to be clear while eschewing jargon that might put off those without tech backgrounds. When the government, through an insider at Vitasync, adds an assassination code to a software update that is so sloppy it accidentally kills many people, Hawkes quickly and clearly reveals what the characters investigating the code are finding while simultaneously ramping up the story’s suspense.

The plot’s sturdy if not surprising, but Hawkes’s inventions like the “lifelog”–a cloud-based record of everyone’s life that people often rely on more than their own memories–resonate. It’s Hawkes’s characters who set this thriller apart, offering a welcome change of pace for the genre. Highly intelligent, exceptionally strong women protagonists are pivotal to the storyline– lawyers, VP’s, engineering geniuses, and multi-dimensional leaders. Even characters who function as antagonists are fiercely intelligent and well-crafted. Hawkes fleshes out his cast with many layers, a strategy that will keep readers invested in getting to know them as Cole strives to reveal the truth.

Takeaway: Fans of tech-savvy science fiction will be drawn into the web of those fighting to save society from technology that has spiraled out of control.

Great for fans of: Neal Shusterman’s Scythe, Douglas E. Richards’s Mind’s Eye.

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

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The Psyman: Freedom is the prison we built for ourselves.
Nicholas Bruechle
Experienced through the life of one young propagandist, this story of fame-obsessed far-future dystopia that disparages human nature finds ordinary person Biz finishing his basic education in preparation for an unremarkable life. But his teacher, hoping to plant the seeds of a new and better future, has spent years secretly administering treatments to turn Biz into one of the Sharps, the bureaucratic leaders of society. Once admitted to the administrative Bastion, home of the Sharps and the government leader Joe, Biz learns how society is controlled and contained with oxygen doping, reality TV, and propaganda created by Psymen–the people Biz is in training to become.

Bruechle’s novel is about striving in a cruel system rather than fighting it. Even after learning about the atrocities committed in the name of maintaining control over the populace, Biz schemes, betrays, lies, and manipulates himself farther up the Bastion chain of command, leaving his former friends to their fates. Biz’s involvement with a revolutionary faction seeking to remake society offers some suspense, but he’s not compellingly conflicted about his choices and difficult to sympathize with by design. With few interests other than his own advancement, the pace at times stalls, as the pages detail the natural disaster that spawned the present regime and the gases that control human behavior and potential.

Life in this cruel dictatorship is depicted with clear prose, and the story will appeal to readers interested in what humanity can become at its worth. Bruechle takes pains to make it hard to invest much hope in any one character or “side.” Western culture is castigated, while the dystopian society’s nebulous enemies “to the East” seem resigned and uncaring in the face of hostile occupation. Readers interested in the dystopian side of dystopian fiction rather than heroics may enjoy this grim story, more Brave New World than The Hunger Games, but those looking for hope will find little here.

Takeaway: This dystopian exploration of compliance and betrayal will appeal to readers fascinated by how far humanity can sink.

Great for fans of: Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.

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

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