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Cracks Of Light
John Charles Reedburg
Reedburg’s provocative series launch–following the everyday experiences of Demetrius, a Black nine-year-old in Hyde Park, Los Angeles in the early '90s–demonstrates how in fiction the fantastic can illuminate the 'real.' A prologue establishes Demetrius’s world: “my mother, my mom’s drug habit, my momma’s bipolar disorder, that mysterious light in my room, and me.” Soon, that Light, a fantastical presence, speaks to him in the voice of a girl his age and appears when he is in peril. Since Demetrius encounters violence at home, he has “to face the Light to avoid the terrible pain Momma’s other half so often inflicted.” The Light also allows Demetrius to meet his ancestors and foretell events. Emboldened, Demetrius makes strides with his friend/crush Natalie, stands up to his bully, and risks the Light’s jealousy by bringing home a plasma orb given to him by his science teacher.

Intertwined with Demetrius’s experiences are occasional chapters telling the story of his mother, Olivia, detailing her cruel upbringing and roiling mind. Cracks of Light is raw and frank by design: Even advanced readers will likely be challenged by harrowing events such as a convenience store shooting or incidents of incest, and sensitive and younger readers should probably avoid the novel. Although the voice, focus, and narrative are strong, the sequel hinted at in an epilogue would benefit from more rigorous editing.

Despite the heavy themes, a welcome colloquial lyricism and humor come through Demetrius’s voice, which is that of an honest, level-headed, and superhero-loving boy typical of fourth grade. Reedburg’s dialogue often soars, and the narrative device of the Light and impervious young voice of Demetrius lift Cracks of Light, resulting in a singular urban novel, about a boy seeking refuge and strength in fantasy, that will appeal to young adults already exposed to adult language and content

Takeaway: This raw YA coming-of-age story finds a young boy’s hard upbringing lightened by fantasy.

Great for fans of: Lamar Giles’s Let Me Be a Man, Ibi Zoboi’s anthology Black Enough.

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

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Operation Market Garden: Airborne Invasion of the Netherlands
Robert J Mueller
A guide crafted for people interested in touring historic battle sites by car, Mueller's (The Bulge Battlefields) examination of the failed World War II Allied Operation: Market Garden is remarkably thorough as it encompasses both the wider plan for this invasion of the occupied Netherlands as well as the actions of individual soldiers and civilians. In a methodical fashion, Mueller offers an abundance of historical detail while still providing a crisp overview of the mission and the goals of the major divisions involved (including the American 101st and 82nd Airborne). Each division’s mission is broken down into surveys of individual actions and battles, complete with summaries, maps, extensive footnotes offering additional biographical information, and specific coordinates for those visiting modern memorials.

A wealth of fascinating anecdotes accompanies the overarching details of the operation. Mueller’s account emphasizes a crucial truth: No matter how an operation is planned by the officers, it's up to the courage of the soldiers to carry them out. He illustrates this with stories of bravery and ingenuity from soldiers and civilians, including the Dutch resistance fighter cutting wires to a bridge that the Germans were going to destroy, the soldiers who escape a hospital prison on foot, and the farmer who talks Germans out of using a bridge by telling them it’s too fragile. Mueller's judgment at times is harsh, especially on the British officers whose arrogant planning failures led directly to the deaths of thousands.

The book’s practical purpose makes it a tough straight-ahead read, even for armchair historians. Instead, it’s intended as a field guide, and as such it’s jammed with invaluable details that would illuminate a traveler's experience. The exercise of reading these accounts where they actually occurred supports Mueller's idea that war is always a traumatic local experience dependent on the actions of individuals. When those individuals are betrayed by bad planning, the sacrifices become even more tragic.

Takeaway: Readers interested in the minutia of military operations will be fascinated by this guide’s thoroughness.

Great for fans of: Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far, John Buckley's Operation Market Garden: The Campaign For the Low Countries 1944: Seventy Years On.

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

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A Foreigner's Heart
Robert Valletta
Valletta’s (Crossfire) coming-of-age romance for young adults invites readers on a quasi-spiritual journey from a rural Pennsylvania hometown and on throughout Europe. Tony Schiavone, from the age of seventeen, has felt the compulsion to get out and see the world–and to escape his father (“I am the way I am because of him, but I’ve almost always hated him”). Two years after high school, with only $3,000 in his pocket, he wings away from his old life to London, setting sail on an epic hitchhiking trek across the continent, all the way to Turkey and Mount Ararat. His introspective adventure concludes in Ireland, where he meets a mysterious young woman whose mere presence brings him to life.

Tony’s travels expose him to cultural delights and spin him into the orbits of fellow voyagers and generous, gregarious locals. Valletta’s loving attention to detail brings Tony’s, destinations to life, and the people Tony encounters are true examples of humanity–from the woman who pays for his hotel stay one evening to the Irish gents with whom he shares a meal, a pint, and local tall tales of flying saucers (“While they were talkin’ the spaceman asked if it were true that the Irish believe in wife-swapping.”)

The novel functions more as a travelogue than a cohesive story, with little in the way of plot or narrative momentum. The dialogue at times is stilted, and readers will be left wondering about unresolved story points, such as Tony’s relationship with his father and the next steps in his relationship with Meaghan, the barkeep he meets in Donegal. On the positive, Valletta offers engaging details about his travels, from curious train bathrooms to camping in Irish rainstorms, and readers will be easily pulled into Tony’s musings on family dynamics, the ins and outs of depression, and the simple acts of human kindness that can transform lives.

Takeaway: This European travelogue follows one American’s journey toward romance.

Great for fans of: Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, Rob Spillman’s All Tomorrow’s Parties.

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

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The Wayward Haunt
Cas E Crowe
Nineteen year-old- Zaya Wayward is trapped. Imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit in a brutal “re-education facility” that aims to subdue zealots with labor and control, she spends her days dreaming of one thing: freedom. Yet five days before her next escape attempt, Zaya’s plans are forever changed when she’s conscripted into the Haxsan Guard, an elite military band of magicians who protect the world’s leading Council as well as all of Earth’s inhabitants. Zaya’s distant-future Earth has been completely restructured by natural disasters into a severe and unfriendly planet rife with radiation, storms, and monstrous creatures due to unknown causes. As a side effect, humanity has been ravaged by a virus that created two distinct groups: humans–who can only survive in Earth’s hostile climate with the help of inhalers and special radiation suits–and “casters,” or magic-users, who develop their own unique powers. As she transforms from prisoner to master caster, Zaya grapples with the truth of her power and her past all while uncovering the secrets of the mysterious woman who has long haunted her dreams.

Polished and sharply written, The Wayward Haunt grabs readers’ attention from the opening line of its prologue (“Ghosts haunt dreams”) and doesn’t let go until its thrilling conclusion. Case blends humor and intrigue in her literary debut to great effect, creating a protagonist that readers will root for from start to finish. Thriller lovers and romance fans alike will find much to love in this paranormal adventure, from the supernatural battles that Zaya must fight, to her alliance with Captain Jad Arden, who simultaneously infuriates and intrigues her.

Despite its designation as “YA,” The Wayward Haunt is written with maturity and depth that will appeal to fantasy-minded readers of any age. Equal parts spooky and engrossing, Zaya’s adventure verges on epic, with plenty of magic, war, drama, and darkness. Readers will be thrilled to learn that a sequel is currently in the works.

Takeaway: Mysteries and magic abound in this stellar YA fantasy debut.

Great for fans of: Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth.

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

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THE MIND IS MIGHTIER: Reflections on the Historic Rise of Cognition and Complexity
Bar-Giora Goldberg
Goldberg’s analysis of humanity’s cognitive evolution reframes our past and re-envisions our future. He argues that humanity’s rapid acceleration of “cognition,” or the ability to generate and communicate abstract thoughts, has allowed us to transcend the Darwinian endgame of mere physical survival and instead live in “the age of Idea, Data and Cognition.” Because abstract thinking is now the primary mode of our existence, we each inhabit the “Cognitive-Cloud,” Goldberg’s term for the “mental universe” composed of our own ideas and beliefs that mediates our relationship with reality. Goldberg goes on to argue that the Cognitive-Cloud’s growing power has increased the complexity of nearly every aspect of human life, including government, economics, religion, and the arts.

While he celebrates the generative possibilities of the Cognitive-Cloud, Goldberg also warns that “much of what we do and imagine is the invention of our mind” and notes the dangers of not recognizing that we can be “prisoners” of our clouds. He embraces the complexity of his subject, and there’s much that’s fascinating and challenging in his abundant details and wide survey of topics. The material can also overwhelm, though, and some readers will struggle to synthesize all the information and connect it to Goldberg’s ideas on cognition and complexity. In addition to his broad scope, Goldberg’s writing style amplifies the intricacy of his subject, as he shifts topics quickly and frequently circles back to previous points. Some readers will revel in the kaleidoscope of facts that he presents, while others will wish for a more focused discussion.

Goldberg presents a steady stream of intriguing facts and thought-provoking quotations. His analysis of the Cognitive-Cloud’s impact on frontiers like Artificial Intelligence, cryptocurrency, and climate change offers a fascinating peek at our future. Readers who are up for the challenge will be rewarded by this exciting and in-depth examination of our species’ past and its potential.

Takeaway: Goldberg’s wide-ranging commentary on humanity’s next steps offers abundant food for thought for the intellectually curious.

Great for fans of: Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

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

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Jackie Wins Them All
Fabian Ferguson
The exuberant Jackie J. Spade in Ferguson’s debut picture book is a young but seasoned competitor who, so far, has only experienced victory. Jackie’s an all-around over-achiever: an exemplary athlete in multiple sports who’s also taken first prize at science fairs and a spelling bee, and even won a chess match against a college student. Now, expecting to add another first place medal to her trophy case, the Albany Middle School sixth-grader will run the 200-meter race in a city-wide competition. The book’s title is both a confident declaration and a hint that, this time, things may be different.

Ferguson celebrates Jackie’s accomplishments with an infectious enthusiasm that encourages readers (especially Black girls) to identify with the protagonist and feel like winners. Illustrator Alisa Aryutova has made Jackie a joyous dynamo with endearing geek-chic aplomb. But Ferguson’s point about good sportsmanship (“Work hard, give your best, and do all you can do./That’s what matters most, and this Jackie knew!”) is somewhat blunted by only appearing at the story’s conclusion. An earlier glimpse of Jackie’s healthy attitude toward competition would show young readers how she’s able to recover from a painful disappointment and quickly get herself back on the right track.

Aryutova’s energetic illustrations are vivid color blocks with bold lines and textures, and she employs glowing gold on every page (including the end papers) in a nod to Jackie’s shiny trophies. The most emotional drawing is a textless spread that shows a hunched-over Jackie expressing in body language what her mind cannot yet process. With this pause in the narration, Jackie Wins Them All offers emotional catharsis by showing a successful athlete facing an upset. It will resonate with young readers ready to challenge themselves, reminding them that good sportsmanship--and always putting your best foot forward-- keeps them in the race.

Takeaway: Young readers will be inspired by this lively achiever who’s reminded that winning isn’t guaranteed.

Great for fans of: Brian Pinkney’s JoJo’s Flying Side Kick, Sharon Bell Mathis’s Running Girl: The Diary of Ebonee Rose, Addie Boswell’s The Rain Stomper.

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

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I Am Nuclear Fusion!
Muriel Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick’s colorful, customizable storybook teaches elementary school kids that everyone has a special gift or talent, but that some people blossom later than others–and that is perfectly okay. Seven-year-old Rita often compares herself to her talented friends, Emma and Lily, and feels that she always comes up short. “I am not a star,” she laments. She eventually remembers some advice from her aunt and concludes that her time to shine will likely come later in her life. Until then, she will be like “nuclear fusion” and work on building the energy her star will need to shine by being kind and always trying her best.

Rita tells her story four separate times, with each fresh revision a response to advice from a teacher to incorporate new details such as dialogue, description, and action. Rita’s final draft features bright, lively illustrations and a fleshed-out story that underscores the book’s central message: that practice is essential to success. It also suggests that Rita’s own burgeoning skill just might be writing and storytelling, which kids will recognize in themselves, too, as they work with their parents or a teacher to add details to their own stories. Fitzpatrick invites readers to copy the opening sections of the book–Rita’s first drafts–to allow children to color the pictures and add their own words in the same way that Rita eventually does.

Rita serves as a relatable and indomitable protagonist, revealing her disappointment over not being as good as her friends at singing and gymnastics but never letting it get the best of her. Her resilience demonstrates not only that failure is a part of life, even in a world that tends to worship superstars, but that it’s okay and even admirable to be supportive of other people. Most importantly, the book reminds kids never to give up, even if success doesn’t happen immediately.

Takeaway: This innovative storybook teaches young readers that everyone has a special gift or talent, but that sometimes it needs to be nurtured.

Great for fans of: Barney Saltzberg’s Beautiful Oops, Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing.

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

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Revelation!: The Single Story of Divine Prophecy to Abraham and His Descendants - the Jews, Christians and Muslims
Jane McCabe
In this religious history surveying Creation to Mohammed, McCabe attempts to reconcile the Judeo-Christian tradition with the text of the Koran. Looking solely at the “revelatory texts” of the Bible and the Koran (that is, the passages believed to be transmitted directly from God), McCabe examines areas of overlap and dissonance among the three faiths’ holy texts. Placing particular weight on the Nicene Creed and its emphasis on consubstantiation, she explores how human interpretation shapes traditional understandings of these texts, all as she considers each religious tradition through the lens of the others. A Christian with an interest and education in Islam, McCabe takes a respectful, calculated approach.

Much of this work is a summary of, or direct quotes from, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Koran. While McCabe’s analysis of these texts and their historical background is cogent and absorbing, the often lengthy quotations themselves might frustrate lay readers. The most engaging sections center on McCabe’s own words, such as her succinct and illuminating recounting of the Nicene Creed and the key players involved. For the purposes of this exploration, McCabe treats all of these “revealed” texts as inviolably true and uncorrupted by millenia of translations, limiting the work’s utility for those who favor a more clinical approach to religious history. Others will balk at the premise: treating Mohammed as a true prophet in the Judeo-Christian religion. But her detailed explanation of each tradition is perfect for believers eager to expand their worldview.

While McCabe emphasizes the similarities in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the sovereignty of God, codes of ethics), in the concluding chapter she acknowledges the immutable differences in the text of the various Revelations. But McCabe’s respectful treatment and analysis of the three religions is interesting on its own as she examines how religious traditions build upon earlier groundwork.

Takeaway: This measured look at the foundational texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam will appeal to believers eager to understand the origins of their faith.

Great for fans of: Ahmed Deedat’s The Choice: Islam and Christianity, David B. Burrell’s Towards a Jewish-Christian-Muslim Theology.

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

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The Season of Living Dangerously: A Fan's Notes on Baseball's Strangest Season
Robert Kopecky
When the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 Major League Baseball season to 60 games, it meant significant changes to a sport typically characterized by endurance. Like many baseball aficionados, Kopecky found the abbreviated season both fascinating and frustrating. His conversational book chronicles day-to-day observations of the year’s standout plays, memorable moments, and brushes with the coronavirus, as originally published on his blog. He also focuses on new, unique rule changes intended to shorten games, such as starting each extra inning with a runner on second base, as well as the strangeness of fake crowd noise coming from empty stands during game broadcasts, and how the sport could change going forward.

Kopecky offers plenty of wonky baseball stats and lamentations over missed opportunities for the game’s greats, such as Nelson Cruz and Mike Trout. He also places the sport in its larger context in an evolving and volatile world, acknowledging that the 2020 season was exceptional because players began to show unity on issues of racial inequality and injustice, and noting that several Giants players knelt during a “rousing gospel version of the [national] anthem.” At times, he questions whether the season should have been played at all during a public health crisis. Baseball, he philosophizes, could be considered “just a form of entertainment,” though it also provides “a needed psychological boost at a time when many are coping with the stresses occasioned by the pandemic and its consequences.”

Kopecky writes with a passion for the sport cultivated over many decades, as well as deep knowledge of the game’s complex statistics, sabermetrics, and unwritten rules. His book provides a thorough account of perhaps the strangest season in baseball’s 150-year history, one that fans will find both meaningful and enduring, particularly after the pandemic has ended and life has returned to something resembling normal.

Takeaway: Conversational, philosophical observations of the pandemic-shortened baseball season of 2020.

Great for fans of: Roger Angell; Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King’s Faithful.

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

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7 Unicorn Drive: From Startup to A Billion Dollar Sale in 7 Years : The Adventure of Iza and Samo Login
Dani Polajnar
Polajnar’s multifaceted biography follows Iza and Samo Login, a Slovenian couple with a spiritual approach to business, who turned a small startup into a billion-dollar company in seven years. Part biography, part how-to, Polajnar’s account explores the Logins’ team-focused business culture, their devotion to the law of attraction, and their ideas about “success” meaning more than monetary gain. Told through the eyes of Danny, a fictional journalist, this genre-crossing story implores readers to think deeply about wealth, of both the monetary and spiritual varieties. When the Logins sell their business during its prime, Danny reevaluates his ambitions and discovers for himself a more fulfilling way of day-to-day living.

Equal parts love story, business history, and how-to guide, this debut covers a lot of ground. Polajnar takes a unique approach to biography: Danny, the fictional protagonist, is a stand-in for the reader, more a vessel for the Login’s life lessons than a well-crafted character. His failures (such as his bungling of an interview with the Logins’ son) are difficult to care about–he’s a 2D character in a 3D world. Polajnar strives to fit everything into one story—the history of Outfit7, the account of its early development, and the enduring message of the company— but the fictional material overshadows the most interesting subject matter here: the entrepreneurs, the specifics of their day-to-day, and their search for meaning and success.

Polajnar draws from the Logins' unique approach to leadership valuable lessons for entrepreneurs and others looking for a change. This unusual biography touches on everything it takes to run a profitable company while also exploring why someone would want to start a business in the first place. (The Logins founded Outfit7, for example, to fund philanthropic environmental projects.) This is not just a business history, but a spiritual guide, and will appeal to self-starters looking to redefine success.

Takeaway: This unique biography, part business history and part self-help guide, advocates a more fulfilling life beyond monetary success.

Great for fans of: John Strelecky’s The Big Five For Life, James R. Nowlin’s The Purposeful Millionaire.

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

Furey's War
T W Lawless
This lean and atmospheric police procedural, set in WWII-era Australia, is narrated by small-town police sergeant Jack Furey, who recounts how he faced a surplus of troubles: an influx of boisterous American troops, an abortionist and a self-righteous busybody, and racial issues involving both the town's Aboriginal population and the segregated African-American servicemen. Furey has to solve several cases, including an abandoned infant and a bloody murder. As he addresses the varied incidents, he recalls how the crimes tested the soul of the town and his own faith.

Both native Australians, Lawless and Bell offer readers a pitch-perfect immersion in their milieu, presenting a nuanced view of the nation and its people, refreshingly free from stereotypes. Furey's own prejudices come to the forefront when a trip to an Aboriginal neighborhood highlights Australian racism, and again when he meets the American commanding officer with his Southern accent: "…they draw out their vowels, like what they have to say is somehow more important than anything anyone else has to say." Although the novel’s episodic approach and lack of a strong central narrative blunts the force of its conclusion, the individual stories never fail to engage.

The most richly drawn character is Furey himself, scarred by his World War I experience and full of contradictions. He’s still deeply devoted to his late wife yet cranky around almost everyone else, especially the town gossip, whom he loathes. Despite being a Catholic, Furey hints at a mournful respect for an abortionist who offered her service to desperate women. The final mystery is a heartbreaking tale of forbidden love. "There is no redemption, and no one is saved," concludes Furey, but he has, in fact, spent the whole book saving himself, even as a final twist calls into question his reliability as a narrator. Readers will no doubt be pondering the good and bad choices the downtrodden characters make long after finishing the book.

Takeaway: Fans of classic police procedurals will revel in the crisp storytelling, fresh setting, and emotionally damaged sleuth.

Great for fans of: Ian Rankin, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.

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

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Tuesday Night Requiem: Episode #5 Nurse Kit Carson's Knife & Gun Club
L.S. Collison
Collison delivers a quirky fifth episode of her Nurse Kit Carson's Knife & Gun Club, a satiric dystopian serial set in the New Wild West. This time, a mysterious virus called “the grippe” — which functions something like a stand in for COVID-19— is spreading like wildfire. Working the night shift, “nursettes” (seemingly glorified waitresses) are packing heat, and the soon-to-be CEO is gleeful about profiting from the virus. Oh, and a shooter who fancies himself a deliverer for the Grim Reaper is working his way through a list of patients at the High Plains Medical Center. Next on his list: virus crusader and nurse Kit Carson.

Collison’s imaginative plot about the dystopian state of affairs in New Wild West health care will seem downright plausible to contemporary readers. The details ring true, especially about the burdens placed on nurses, which isn’t surprising considering Collison worked as a registered nurse herself for over a decade, specializing in emergency and critical care. Her characters are memorable, especially the crooked sheriff in town, who resembles a recent occupant of the Oval Office right down to the pejorative and racist names he applies to the virus, his false bravado about his health, and his thirst for retribution. Witty dialogue provokes chuckles in many places, and the milieu, which combines western tropes with the American present of NDAs and online college classes.

However, odd typography choice unnecessarily detracts from the serial’s unusual pleasures, as do many of the willfully peculiar character names (such as Balmy Wether, Stormy Wether, Calamity, and Big Dick in particular.) Sentences like scattering atoms sometimes make following the narrative difficult. As this is a serial story, the entire plot isn’t contained within these pages — leaving readers who haven’t read the previous entries struggling to keep up. Fans of Collison who have been keeping up with the serial will enjoy this episode; those who haven’t are likely to be confused.

Takeaway: This western serial’s sly take on the events of the day will engage fans of satiric storytelling, but is best read from the series’ start.

Great for fans of: George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Terry Pratchett, Al Capp.

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

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She Remembered
Rita H Rowe
Rowe’s psychological novel follows Elena, a young painter, as she tries to recover the memories of her childhood that she has locked away. Elena’s recollections start with her mother, Maria, abandoning her for a job singing in clubs in Melbourne. Suddenly motherless, she grows up doted on by her father Jose, her brothers, and her best friend Luke–until one terrible night Elena’s life is changed with a sexual assault that ends her childhood and drives Luke away. Unable to remember exactly what happened, Elena begins to suffer from nightmares that plague her for years, and she starts down a destructive path involving parties, questionable men, and a tumultuous reconnection with her mother.

Rowe weaves a compelling tale of the impact of childhood trauma on adulthood, and both Elena’s sexual assault and the loss of her mother reverberate through her adult life. Elena’s story is raw and unflinching, and She Remembered tracks her father’s remarriage, her own damaging romantic relationships (including dating Robert, a man her father’s age), and her stormy bond with her mother. It is only when Luke re-enters her life that a happy future seems possible, but he’s guarding his own secrets–secrets that could threaten everything Elena thinks about him and their past. Rowe does not offer easy solutions to handling trauma, and she effectively explores themes of attachment and alliance as she dramatizes a toxic mother-daughter relationship.

Memory fascinates Rowe, at times to the detriment of the storytelling. Much of the narrative takes the form of a recollection: Almost every chapter opens with “She remembered.” This slows the pace, and the choice not to offer the perspective of the present-day Elena who is actually reminiscing distances the reader from the protagonist. Readers will be disappointed to miss the impact of Elena’s memories on her present life, and some may find the resolution too convenient, but overall the involving plot and all-too-real turmoil will keep them engaged.

Takeaway: Readers interested in the long-term impacts of trauma and the nature of memory will find plenty of value in this novel.

Great for fans of: Kate Atkinson, Anne Enright’s The Green Road.

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

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Sun Wolf: Space Unbound Book 2
DAVID C. JEFFREY
The second installment in Jeffrey’s Space Unbound series (after Through a Forest of Stars) follows the crew of the Sun Wolf, a high-tech Science and Survey vessel, on a journey to save the universe. When a series of government ships mysteriously vanish, and the solar system’s transportation portals (voidoids) are attacked, Commander Aiden Macallan and his team are recruited to track down the perpetrators. But what starts as a straightforward mission becomes increasingly complex, when Aiden discovers that the voidoids themselves may be sentient—and responsible for the existence of the universe itself. With the help of Maryam Ebadi, codirector of the advanced research center the Cauldron, the crew must travel outside the realm of Bound Space to track down Elgin Woo, a missing scientist with the knowledge to stop the carnage.

While the novel’s opening promises elements of mystery (Aiden’s pompous military advisor Colonel Aminu warns him not to trust anybody, even his own crew), the rest of the book is an epic space adventure written in the hard SF mode. The plot operates on a grand scale, featuring interplanetary jumping, rogue space pirates, and warring government factions. But, like its predecessor, Sun Wolf really shines on the micro level. Aiden is a likeable, honorable protagonist who commands a diverse crew of scrappy, well-intentioned individuals. With a team of nine (and counting), not everyone gets a chance to develop, but the well-crafted character dynamics add a personal touch to the wide-ranging storyline.

Actions, weapons, and scientific concepts are explained in-depth throughout, and the plot often feels secondary to the workings of the universe itself. It is not enough to have a ship travel at 92 percent light speed—the mechanisms by which it does so are explained and re-explained. The exposition can sometimes bog down the narrative, but Jeffrey gives lovers of the genre interesting perspectives on his concepts. Adventure fans and tech aficionados alike will appreciate this cosmic escapade.

Takeaway: This detailed space opera with a touch of mystery will appeal to those interested in the science of interplanetary adventure.

Great for fans of: Peter Watts’s Blindsight, Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin.

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

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GOROSHI Beyond Technique: What is Karate
Andrés Escobar
In this amalgamation of martial arts quotes, facts, and techniques, Escobar, who uses the pen name “Goroshi,” invites readers to learn more about karate and its powerful impact on personal growth and balance. Fighting against what he calls the “prostitution” of karate, Escobar shares his own martial arts journey, his brilliant teachers along the way, and the relationship between karate and Zen, with an emphasis on the discipline, physical training, and self-sacrifice necessary to develop as an individual. With advice on how to meditate, how to navigate group training, and what to look for in a mentor, Escobar’s tips will appeal to beginners and experts alike.

This guide reads almost like a diary: Escobar releases all of his thoughts, often without clear consideration for what information readers might be seeking. Sections range from how-to (“Meditation” or “The Ideal Psychological State for Students”), memoir style (“Sensei Takayuki Mikami”), and even précis of other material (“Takuan Soho: An Interpretation and Summary”). Despite an abundance of information, the material is presented without much structure, and readers will feel disoriented at the historical timelines, photos of the author in various stages of his life, and commentaries on the modern-day martial arts–commentaries that at times offer no clear takeaway.

Regardless of the unconventional approach, Escobar has much insight and encouragement to impart in this fast-moving read. For beginners, it offers a glimpse into the world of advanced karate, and what can be achieved by sticking with the demanding (and rewarding) practice. For more advanced followers, Escobar’s musings may be a reminder of karate’s purpose or an interpretation of the teachings he’s picked up over the years. Although it can feel unfocused, and that language about the “prostitution” of karate will strike some as distasteful, Escobar has written a treatise that will appeal to martial artists of all skill levels, as well as to those interested in expanding their view of martial arts beyond fighting techniques.

Takeaway: Part how-to and part memoir, this treatise on karate emphasizes the deeper purpose of martial arts.

Great for fans of: Takuan Soho’s The Unfettered Mind, Gichin Funakoshi’s The Essence of Karate.

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

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Bridges: To There - Poems for the Mind, Body & Spirit
Gary W. Burns
Burns’s latest collection brings together appreciations of the natural world with poetic thoughts and invitations to meditate, enjoy the journey of life, and focus on the beauty of love. Inspired by Zen Buddhist and Taoist thought, these short poems meld introspection with nature, with motifs like the sky and clouds or birds and trees appearing in several poems. Burns strikes up a conversation on the page, with poems that often shatter the fourth wall and address the reader, offering encouragements to feel things or to dare to begin a journey.

Many of the pieces concern love: “Love/Tells me/Closeness/Is ecstasy/Let’s be.” While Bridges occasionally touches on relationships, Burns never delves into familiar topics like lost love or the search for love, instead focusing on appreciating the love that is, on enjoying a moment despite its ephemeral nature. He urges readers “Take time to cherish/And understand/The love/At hand.” Despite the brevity of these poems—“Truly” contains just three words, “Be/See/Eternity” —they illuminate the author’s dedication to Buddhism and the Tao.

Burns divides the work into four parts: Aerial, Suspension, Crossing, and Banks, each accompanied by photographs that often feature bridges in natural surroundings. The images pair well with the contemplative aesthetic of his poetry, and the photographic architecture reinforces the idea of “Be/Here/Be/Now/Blissful/Tao.” Though some of the elements feel repetitive, the pacing and crispness of the lines prevents them from becoming tiresome. The tone in these brief but rich pieces is comforting, with a warm voice advocating contemplation and self-love (“Whatever you do/Don’t hesitate/To celebrate/You”). In these tumultuous times, Burns’s poems offer a peaceful refuge for those who want to be immersed in the natural world while simultaneously looking inside themselves.

Takeaway: This succinct collection is an invitation to meditate on and appreciate the presence of love and the beauty of the natural world.

Great for fans of: Gary Snyder, A.S. Kline.

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

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