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Six Moons, Seven Gods: The Legends of Baelon
Robert A. Walker
Walker’s polished debut imagines a seer’s urgent mission and an uneasy alliance between thieves and assassins in the low-magic realm of Baelon, where ambitions, tragedy, visions, and much political intrigue converge to shape the kingdom's destiny—and to jolt readers with well-executed twists of consequence. The kingdom, ruled by King Axil, becomes the backdrop for a tale that commences with the tragic demise of Princess Lewen and the subsequent death by suicide of her guilt-ridden mother, Isadora. This event serves as a catalyst, setting in motion events of wide-ranging consequence. Several "almons" after the princess’s death, Mari Dunn, who had overlooked a previous vision foretelling Lewen and Isadora’s death, has another glimpse of a possible future: King Axil's murder. Determined not to make the same mistake again, she attempts to make her way to warn the King, her daughter Sibil by her side. Meanwhile, the Takers Guild, a group of skilled thieves, plots the assassination of the king, electing to approach the League of Assassins for help.

Walker skillfully weaves the intricacies of Sibil's skill and friendships, Mari's prescient abilities, and the looming threat of the Takers Guild, employing subjective points of view to keep readers guessing and questioning the reliability of each character. The narrative unfolds through multiple perspectives, but Walker’s commitment to showing what motivates each character never comes at the expense of the brisk pacing, especially as Sibil emerges as a formidable force in crisp, engaging scenes of action. Despite her diminutive stature, her proficiency with a dagger shapes the world around her—and will captivate readers who relish flinty fantasy heroes.

The attention Sibil receives from key figures, including the intrigued Marshal Erik Carson and the enigmatic Rolft, who believes he acts on the deceased princess's orders to randomly kill three victims, adds layers to the narrative, creating a dynamic interplay between characters. This first series entry both promises and delivers an enthralling narrative that leaves readers anticipating the next chapter.

Takeaway: Strong fantasy series starter of thieves, assassins, and a seer’s urgent mission.

Comparable Titles: Paul J. Bennett’s Servant of the Crown, Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury.

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

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Elly Robin : Bird in a Gilded Cage (The Ordeals of Elly Robin)
PD Quaver
The mystery-filled fifth installment of Quaver’s Ordeals of Elly Robin series opens, in the years before the first World War, with Elly Robin, the piano prodigy last seen in a New Orleans bawdy house (in Elly Robin in the Big Easy), taking up an offer of mentorship. Considering Elly's asocial nature—she’s a child of trauma and the road, speaking rarely and lacking basic etiquette, though she’s bold, talented, and a whiz at making friends and helping those she cares for—pianist Vittorio Bellini makes a special arrangement for Elly's training in Chicago with Lillian LaSalle, a woman of means and proper decorum, but with an unspoken mutual agreement: Lillian must know nothing of Elly’s past.

Quaver does not indulge in the familiar story of a gifted musician’s quest for fame and fortune, tackling instead pressing issues concerning Elly’s time. This story is a matter of privilege versus poverty. Elly stands in sharp contrast to the LaSalle family, having lived as an orphan, hobo, and a “defective child,” for the sole reason of resembling a mute after losing her parents in the San Francisco earthquake. Her social ineptness becomes especially clear when she’s the butt of the joke among the unenlightened LaSalle children. But Elly's introduction to a group of anarchists kicks off a series of unexpected events involving the LaSalle family, whose garment shops “are some of the worst for hiring the cheapest sorts of labor, mostly young immigrant girls just off the boat, working for almost nothing, afraid to unionize.”

Quaver writes with historical accuracy but is committed to life as it’s lived rather than textbook details. The story teems with timeless insight on racial prejudice, abuse of power, slavery, radical love, and the courage to break free from the “gilded cage” of ignorance and indifference. Quaver’s world-building is razor-sharp, with a diverse cast and resonant reminders of inequality. The plot twists are smartly teased until revealed in quick succession, leaving readers eagerly anticipating the next installment.

Takeaway: A young woman’s enlightening historical adventure, exposing injustice.

Comparable Titles: Heather Wardell’s Fiery Girls, Nancy Zaroulis’s Call the Darkness Light.

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

Elly Robin in the Big Easy (The Ordeals of Elly Robin)
PD Quaver
The fourth in Quaver’s Ordeals of Elly Robin series picks up the picaresque misadventures of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century heroine, a musical prodigy, with Elly adrift on the Arkansas river, orphaned and near death, until she’s rescued by the crew of the Jean Lafitte. Her next destination: living rough on the streets of 1913 New Orleans, where Elly, as she always does on her unexpected journeys, makes friends and music, this time falling in with the ragtag Razzy-Dazzy Spasm Band at the dawn of the jazz era. She becomes a piano player in an elegant bordello and befriends the women toiling there, getting involved in their lives. One evening a visitor, the musical maestro Bellini, opines that, though Elly is prodigiously talented, her music reveals a lack of formal learning. Though hurt, Elly realizes this is true. After saving some lives and setting others on track, she leaves New Orleans with plans to learn under Bellini.

Set in the sleazy underbelly of America’s most international city, where a host of global cultures fused into gumbo, this entry in the sprightly series captures the spirit of the city and its great love for music. The parade of interesting and colorful characters includes glimpses of epochal musical figures, founding fathers of what will come to be known as jazz. Also entertaining, as always, is the protagonist herself, whose silence hides not just oodles of talent but reservoirs of grit as well. Then there is the gun-toting, cigarette-smoking “countess,” Estelle, who wants to be child free; Liddie who yearns to be a mother; Dago Annie, the angel of death; and the Karnofsky family with their ‘adopted’ child, Louis Armstrong, boasting a “mile wide smile.”

The pace is brisk and narrative taut. The portrayal of the city and the times is realistic but good humored, imbuing Elly’s adventures with feelings of Twain-like amusement, and bemusement. Readers who relish fun, adventure, history, and a driven protagonist will be eager for more.

Takeaway: A young woman’s vivid, charming adventures in 1913 New Orleans.

Comparable Titles: Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy, Diane C. McPhail’s The Seamstress of New Orleans.

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

Altered Estates
Chris Mathison
This epic, prankish, psilocybin-laced game of a novel is less a puzzle box than a puzzle shipping container, a massive world of its own double stuffed with clues, portents, twists, surprises, and moments where a reader barely has time to wonder, “Wait, that’s odd, isn’t it?” before another door locks, another character behaves bizarrely, a statue of Shakespeare comes to life, a news report about dognappers intrudes, or half the cast kills several pages playing a game where they dream up new names for pubs. So it goes in Mathison’s massive debut, a book that aspires to do to Myst-like interactive puzzle games what LITRpg titles do for World of Warcraft. Told in second person like an Infocom text adventure, Mathison’s story, centered on a recently fired protagonist being told he’s unexpectedly inherited the most eccentric of estates, offers a relentless series of riddles, enigmas, palindromes, Easter eggs, and literal escape rooms, as the narrator explores the great house, meets its staff, and must prove the legitimacy of his inheritance.

Of course, this is all complicated by scheming staffers and the possibility, laid out in a prologue, that the narrator is undergoing some hallucinogenic experiment. Despite that and the story’s frequent evocation of exploratory games, Mathison favors traditional one-thing-after-another storytelling and scenecraft, with the always-odd events, conversations, pageantry, and moments of puzzle-solving related in crisp, engaging language.

The fun of Altered Estates is in digging into the secrets of Arthur Hanover’s mad estate, a place that crams centuries of British history, including a pub and countless priceless paintings, all under one roof and brought to life through technology inspired by amusement parks. Still, the novel’s protracted length, frequent asides, and general lack of urgency mean that the satisfying final chapters, which pay off much that came before, will prove a challenge for many readers to reach—an inevitability the narrator winks at, recalling reading that Myst, like A Brief History of Time, “are works that only fifteen percent of purchasers actually finish.”

Takeaway: Epic puzzle-box novel bursting with riddles, mysteries, and surprise.

Comparable Titles: Blake Crouch, Marisha Pessl’s Night Film.

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

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Elly Robin On the Road (The Ordeals of Elly Robin)
PD Quaver
Set in 1912, the third volume of Quaver’s The Ordeals of Elly Robin series continues the rousing historical adventures of independent yet reserved 13-year-old Elly, her long-time friend Jimmy, his new bride Sara, and Sara’s physically disabled eight-year-old brother Jonah. Fleeing Colorado Springs after the previous entry’s trouble with a cruel mine owner and his henchmen, Elly drives the impromptu family in her Model T Roadster through Kansas when they happen upon a broken down car belonging to a group of thespians. Elly proves to be not only an expert mechanic but also a piano prodigy, so the actors invite her to join their theater troupe. Elly is a genius pianist who learns quickly and anticipates the actors in their comedy, drama, and ventriloquism acts. They perform at various towns, but some country folk fear the demonic of the ragtime that Elly plays, and a murder causes the four friends to flee in the Roadster again.

Quaver crafts the characters with empathy and has an ear for the language and culture of an era rife with minstrelsy and more that’s definitely not filtered through contemporary sensibilities. The divisions of the American past become even more clear once a storm in eastern Arkansas separates the friends and washes Elly down a flooding river. She’s discovered near death by a Black family who nurses her back to health. Quaver depicts the tensions between the Black and white residents as palpable, edged with danger, especially after a boy pilfers Elly’s stash of cash and suddenly makes the small town very rich.

Meanwhile, Elly’s growing feelings for Buck, the Black teenager who rescued her, are touchingly developed, though neither can forget that interracial relations can be deadly. Quaver carefully blends nostalgia with clear-eyed realism, not shying away from the past’s darkness. The story, targeted to adults but with a YA feel, is still buoyant, alive with audacious,idiosyncratic characters who remain loyal in their friendship. Readers will enjoy the camaraderie, humor, and author’s era-appropriate illustrations.

Takeaway: A spirited teen's 1910s misadventures in love, danger, and ragtime.

Comparable Titles: Audrey Couloumbis’s Maude March Misadventures series, Joyana Peters’s The Girl in the Triangle.

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

Little Moe can't Fly
Pria Dee
Little Moe is a Canadian gosling and a late bloomer, behind his siblings when it comes to swimming and flying. Being teased by his brothers and sisters yet encouraged by his doting mother, Moe is determined to learn how to fly before winter comes. This cute, empathetic, and (eventually) high-flying motivational picture book from Dee (author of the Billy and Molly Butter Stories series among other childrens’ books) emphasizes never giving up and the truth that it is okay when learning how to do something that others can do takes a little more time and practice. Little Moe Can’t Fly carries the imprint “Michigan Nature Stories,” and as the gosling the others call “Slow Moe”—he was slow to hatch, waddle, and swim—strives to learn to fly, young readers will learn interesting facts about Canadian geese, such as their flying patterns, when they migrate south, where they live, what they eat, and their growth from fuzzy yellow hatchlings to mature geese.

Moe's story is full of support, encouragement, and survival instincts, but the book is also fun and inviting, filled with vibrantly illustrated images from Emily Hercock and warm easy-to-read-aloud prose that comes to life with lyrical alliteration, as when Moe "flaps, flutters, and flounders" to try to stay airborne. Though it’s set in sky and waterways it still centers around concerns that young readers face, such as bullying, feelings of inadequacy, and determination in the face of adversity, insecurity, and disappointment.

This engaging children's story has been crafted to inspire young readers to always strive for their best and to never lose sight of their goals. Little Moe Can't Fly also demonstrates the hard work that goes into achieving a difficult task or acquiring a skill, even when one flounders at first. Snapshots of real Canadian geese in the final pages illustrate the birds’ life cycle, with an eye toward Michigan.

Takeaway: Inspirational story of a gosling striving to soar after floundering.

Comparable Titles: Robert Kraus's Leo the Late Bloomer, Toni Collier's Broken Crayons Still Color.

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

Click here for more about Little Moe can't Fly
Unpaved Tomorrow: Short Story Poetry
Billie Bioku
This poignant poetry collection is split into three distinct parts: the past, the present, and the future. Each part is further divided into different facets of the poet's existence. In the first section, "Alphabet Soup," Bioku (author of We Ponder) pays homage to her childhood in a tone that’s playful yet bittersweet in its evocation of “malfunctioned friendships” and “Small interactions analyzed to the depths of my findings.” The collection shifts gears in "Growing Pains" and "Artificial Adulting" where Bioku faces the beauty and terror of maturity. "The wilderness begged me to return. / But where did I go?" she muses, capturing the freedom of childhood and the wariness of adulthood.

As the subtitle suggests, the strength of this collection lies in how Bioku has unified individual poems into a cohesive story suggesting the poet’s life. While the voice is detached and observational, often making each line a declarative ending in a full stop (“Vanished arrows burn your rind and frame.”) the words themselves offer a raw, sometimes abstracted depiction of encounters with trauma, aggression, body image struggles, and the pains of being a victim of bullying. These verses grapple with the internal battle faced by countless women, torn between lost youth and the burdens of maturity. Spirituality is a recurrent theme—and source of relief—as Bioku constantly seeks deliverance when “Jagged addictions fought zealously for control.” Bioku writes, “I’m weary standing at Your door,” reaching out for faith to be an anchor.

While the absence of a consistent rhythm in her one-sentence lines can create a sense of disconnection over the course of stanza, the messages—searching, searing—flow. Bioku's phrasing can be ambiguous, yet at its core, this is a love letter, one that chronicles the journey of being lost and dissatisfied in life, finding love in oneself and others, and holding out hope for the future: "But for now, let’s walk through life hand in hand, taking it one stride at a time."

Takeaway: Soul-baring poetry collection of a voyage towards spiritual awakening

Comparable Titles: Dian Tinio's Catastrophes, Lang Leav's Love & Misadventure.

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

Click here for more about Unpaved Tomorrow
Miss Mary: The Legend of Miss Mary Mack
Kathbell Stumpf
In Stumpf’s debut YA ghost mystery, a high-school student discovers she has a special connection to the infamous Miss Mary Mack, the featured phantom of the children’s well-known clapping rhyme. Seventeen-year-old Anna Ipswich lives in Cannon Falls, PA, a town replete with Civil War history and artifacts. When she and several mischievous friends sneak into Mary Mack’s historical home after hours, Anna has a run in with the forlorn woman’s ghost. Driven by curiosity, she researches Mary’s story and discovers that her soldier fiancé went missing during a Civil War battle, sparking Anna’s vow to uncover the truth of his death so Mary can finally be at peace.

This is a quick, smooth read, abounding in text message vernacular, playlist-worthy song titles, and several of-the-moment Starbucks references. Anna’s budding romance with the high-school football star and reliance on her boisterous pals add a jovial, team-sleuth flavor, while the ubiquitous jock boyfriend and clique of superficial mean girls match the genre’s standards. The core group encounters plenty of high-stakes action as they set about deciphering the cryptic clues concealed in Mary’s house, and Stumpf adds just enough romance throughout to keep readers engaged. Those looking for immediate closure may be disappointed that the story ends before Anna’s questions are fully answered, but Stumpf includes a preview of the next installment for a snapshot of what’s to come.

Most catching is Stumpf’s skill in writing directly to her YA audience; Anna’s idyllic relationship with her parents sets a positive tone for teen readers, and the mystery manages dramatic flair without too much angst. Teens will also identify with Stumpf’s detailed descriptions of trendy clothing and menu choices at local hotspots, while Anna’s lovable coterie of friends, the story’s high-school ambiance, and its Civil War-infused setting will entertain both history lovers and ghost-hunting enthusiasts alike.

Takeaway: A light, ghostly suspense with wholesome teen investigators.

Comparable Titles: R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders.

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

Click here for more about Miss Mary
How Crypto Changed My Life With Only $20: Achieving Financial Freedom With Cryptocurrency
Annmarie Allman
“It wasn't luck that made me successful, but knowledge” writes Allman in this instructional debut on crypto currency investing. With straightforward advice and understandable language, she offers pro-tips that transform cryptocurrency from a risky gamble into an investment strategy, all based on her own crypto journey that started with a portfolio account of just $20.00. Allman shares the immense growth she experienced in that account and breaks down the crypto insights that she learned along the way, ranging from how to recognize user-friendly trading platforms to understanding the professional lingo.

Though presented informally, Allman’s guidance contains a wealth of tried-and-tested tips on an industry well-known for its complexity and uncertainty. She starts with the basics, including the various types of cryptocurrency, fees that accompany trading, the nuts-and-bolts differences between traditional currency and digital currency, and more. Readers new to crypto investing will welcome Allman’s summaries of complicated topics—like just what a crypto wallet is, or how to navigate crypto staking—as well as her willingness to share her own preferences for success in the industry (she recommends investing in non-fungible tokens and putting in the necessary time to study market trends before jumping in headfirst).

Though Allman acknowledges this is a challenging market to break into, and argues against the age-old “get rich quick” adage, financial freedom is the end goal here; but, as with all things related to money and investing, she consistently reminds readers that nothing is without risk. There is hope, however, through strategic planning and informed decision making, of long term success, as Allman encourages readers: “If you believe in the crypto industry and start focusing on low-level traits, you can definitely hope to multiply your investment in the coming years.” Readers just dipping their toes into the cryptocurrency waters will find this an informative stepping stone to digital money investments.

Takeaway: Beginner’s guide to cryptocurrency investing.

Comparable Titles: Ben McKenzie's Easy Money, Ben Armstrong's Catching Up to Crypto.

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

The Future King: Return of the Once Monarch
Vishnul Jain
Jain spins an imagination-filled YA debut, the first in his series The Future King, that builds on the iconic legend of Camelot. The story opens with mystical wizard Merlin, pleading with the Lady of the Lake to save King Arthur from imminent death on the battlefield against his fabled foe Mordred. His entreaty is met with a cryptic prophecy: “Arthur has a great destiny that precedes Camelot. This is not the end of his journey, but the beginning of a new one. More lifetimes await him. And you.” Fast-forward to the present day, where, unknown to his students, Professor Limren is actually the magical Merlin of Camelot times and King Arthur is about to be reborn—and the stage for a world-rattling battle between good and evil is set.

Jain toggles between the centuries-old backstories and the present time, where Arthur has re-emerged as a teenager with multiple sclerosis, and his longtime friend Merlin (resplendent in a dark amethyst Porsche 911 Turbo and teaching at both Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania ) is determined, once again, to keep him safe. The dark forces—in present day, the Order—are as anxious as ever to vanquish both Arthur and Merlin and finish the job they started centuries ago. The Order hopes to free powerful sorceress Morgana from the specialized pendant Merlin once contained her in, so that she can control Arthur from the time of his rebirth—a scenario that Jain renders eminently possible via his lyrical prose and stunning reimaginations.

YA readers will relish these revised myths of Camelot, with well-drawn, likable characters and plentiful twists and turns, though the story leads to a thrilling cliffhanger that may disturb readers who prefer tidy endings. But that choice paves the way for ongoing series adventures, and fantasy fans— especially those enchanted with King Arthur’s lore—will devour Jain’s well-plotted, expertly characterized tale.

Takeaway: Mesmerizing reimagining of the traditional Camelot tales.

Comparable Titles: A.R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy’s Once & Future, Sandhya Menon’s Of Princes and Promises.

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

Shadow the Scaredy Cat
Michelle Urra
Urra’s playful, encouraging picture book for young children follows a black cat named Shadow as she learns Halloween isn’t as scary as she thinks. Shadow loves a lot of things about the spookiest night of the year, particularly meeting new kids who pet her and give her treats, but she’s not so fond of ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, witches, and other unknown creatures that lurk behind the trees. When a bat swoops down from the sky and narrowly misses Shadow’s head, she panics and darts into a nearby cottage—but instead of finding solace, she discovers the house belongs to a witch. She tries again to run but instead bumps into a table and spills vials of random potions all over her fur.

It only takes Shadow a moment to realize what she’s done, and then she begins to transform into everything that frightens her: a bat, a ghost, a jack-o-lantern, and finally a witch. With each experience, she learns that these traditional Halloween characters are not what she imagined—the ghost, for instance, is surprisingly calm and peaceful, and the pumpkin feels warm and cozy. She learns to love witches as well when the house’s owner invites Shadow to stay as long as she likes, and Shadow promptly curls up in front of the fire to take a well-deserved nap.

Nicely setting the stage, Emilija Marija Navelskyte’s illustrations favor a fall-themed palette, with most scenes awash in shades of orange, green, purple, and gray. Wide-eyed Shadow wears an orange turtleneck sweater as she tiptoes through haunted landscapes, walking on two legs and showing recognizably human expressions of happiness, fear, and annoyance. Ultimately Shadow’s experiences will encourage kids to take a closer look at the things that scare them while also normalizing (and having a little fun with) the very real fear many young people feel during spooky season.

Takeaway: Encouraging story of a black cat discovering Halloween isn’t as scary as she thinks.

Comparable Titles: Kyle Sullivan’s Hazel and the Spooky Season, Alina Tysoe’s Emi Isn’t Scared of Monsters.

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

Click here for more about Shadow the Scaredy Cat
Ties That Bind: Circumnavigating the Northern Hemisphere by Train
Brent Antonson
Antonson (Of Russia) recounts his train travels with his father and brother over the course of 12 years—and to more than a dozen countries—in this interesting and amusing memoir. With vivid descriptions and arresting minutiae, he details the landscapes and cultures the trio experienced, alongside the personal transformations that took place during the astounding 15,000 miles they logged on long-haul trains—a journey that he started at age 27 and transported him to a slew of countries, from North Korea to Russia to Canada.

From his globetrotting childhood, where he remembers serving as a cute, five-year-old “diversionary tactic” for his parents’ travels through KGB-controlled Russia, to his parents’ eventual divorce, Antonson chronicles the role travel has played in cementing his familial ties. “We travelled with love and some misgivings,” he writes of the epic journey with his father and brother, while covering the major destinations they encountered through their travels—including notables like Moscow, Chicago, and Pyongyang, North Korea. Antonson adopts the role of a terminal outsider, more local than tourist, while incorporating history, personal memory, and each city’s impact on the trio in descriptions that unfold into a richly textured narrative.

Standout recollections include a 1994 Samsonite store opening in Estonia, despite the citizens having little need for luggage and minimum means to travel, and his summary of the rules for exploring North Korea (no one was allowed to leave the hotel without permission, and the first stop of the trip was a mandatory show of respect at Kim Il Sung’s statue). Throughout, Antonson paints travel as a catalyst for family bonding, though he doesn’t shy away from sharing the gritty particulars that come with circumnavigating the Northern Hemisphere in close quarters with family members. This is a touching tribute to both the people riding the railways and the railways themselves, which “[weave] folklore with history, countrysides with capitals, people with dreams.”

Takeaway: Touching tribute to the transformative power of railway travel.

Comparable Titles: Paul Theroux, Pico Iyer.

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

Click here for more about Ties That Bind
The Patriarch and the Lord
Dennis Wammack
This surprising, impassioned novel—the sixth volume of Wammack’s sweeping The Beginning of Civilization: Mythologies Told True series—stands as the culmination of a singular project. The series imagines and dramatizes the lives, hearts, and minds of the leaders, thinkers, rulers, and believers populating the ancient histories attributed to Plato, Hesiod, Moses, and a host of Egyptian priests. Wammack does this in crisp, inviting language, touched with poetry but stripped of ornamentation: “Baalat spread a blanket for them to sit on and drink wine. She was happy, confident, outgoing, and awash with the joy of living. The men—not so much.”

That passage suggests the tenor of the series, which traces the development of myth into systems of belief often wielded as power, while emphasizing the humanity of all involved—pious readers starting with this entry will quickly be jolted by Wammack’s matter-of-fact treatment of sex, virginity, and pleasure, an approach more in line with the Song of Solomon than later primness. The women here have welcome agency: Fatimah boldly pledges to Ishmael to please him “with desert-heated love”; Baalat urges Horus to add “Respect Women” to his teachings; and a scene of Sarai and Hagar joining forces and applying oils to inspire Abram to sire a son is strange and funny.)

Dialogue often drives the overlapping, intergenerational stories as this entry surveys nothing less than the dawning of the Abrahamic religions during the age of pharaohs and Phoenicians, plus the building of desert cities, the Ark of the Covenant, and many other wonders, ideas, and beliefs. The talk is direct and plainspoken, sometimes earthy, and—like the rest of this sui generis novel—brisk and unpredictable. “Well, I don’t think it’s proper!” Abram tells his wife, Keturah, when discussing the possibility of women “teaching about the nature of God.” He adds: “It makes women think they are as good as men!” Wammack’s reimagining of foundational stories stand out by never indulging in hero worship.

Takeaway: Surprising, earthy reimagining of the dawn of the Abrahamic religions

Comparable Titles: Charlotte Gordon’s The Woman Who Named God, Joseph Blenkinsopp’s Abraham: The Story of a Life.

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

Click here for more about The Patriarch and the Lord
Lacey's Star: A Lady Pilot-in-Command Novel
Kay DiBianca
DiBianca (author of The Watch Mysteries) begins her Lady Pilot-in-Command series with an engaging hero and a twisty, entertaining plot. Cassie Deakin, a private pilot based in rural Nevada, is suddenly thrust into a criminal investigation when her beloved Uncle Charlie is nearly murdered. Cassie soon discovers that Charlie has been hiding a secret box for his old friend Sinclair—and his attackers have taken it. The knife-edge tension sharpens from there, launching Cassie into a fast-moving and complicated investigation that leaves even her own life hanging in the balance.

In true thriller fashion, Cassie doesn’t know whom she can trust, especially once she finds herself embroiled in a fraught partnership with deputy Frank White, a former DEA agent with whom she shares a complex past. The two are joined by a motley team of professional and amateur detectives who traipse through the Southwest, and their own pasts, to uncover a coldhearted murderer who has ties to Sinclair's tragic past and a long-missing runaway.

DiBianca’s plot is tightly woven, but her cast of quirky and lovable characters steals the spotlight. Cassie comes across as both tough and sensitive, while her tentative relationship with Frank is by turns amusing, tender, and always believable, as is her familial connection to Uncle Charlie. Especially well done is Pastor John, Sinclair's religious advisor and a de facto fellow sleuth, with religious insights that lend depth to character and theme without becoming preachy. A secondary romance involving Uncle Charlie—and Cassie's irritation—adds a welcome note of humor. Beyond the stellar characters, DiBianca has a good feel for the novel’s rural setting, dropping readers into small town scenes where unknown faces are rare and social circles are tight knit, before building up to an electric finale that will leave fans eager for Cassie’s next adventure.

Takeaway: An independent woman turns sleuth with the help of her quirky friends in rural Nevada.

Comparable Titles: Sue Grafton, J.A. Jance.

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

Click here for more about Lacey's Star
Already Home: Confronting the Trauma of Adoption
Howard Frederick Ibach
“Abandoned, shabandoned.” Ibach’s inspiring debut recounts his adult search for his biological family while also contesting the conviction that adoptees naturally feel a sense of abandonment and even trauma simply by having been adopted. That conviction, especially as laid out in a book by a psychologist that Ibach read, has felt like a “punch in my gut,” to Ibach, who enjoyed a happy, healthy childhood that prepared him for life. Especially galling: his feeling that “if I argued with [that psychiatrist] about this interpretation, I was in denial of my suffering.” Ibach writes that he “was never haunted by not knowing” the identity of his birth parents, but in Already Home he recounts how, in 2017, in his fifties, he received a message from his sister informing him of the Wisconsin legislation that now allowed adoptees to learn about their deceased birth parents—and then he went to find them.

Ibach’s memoir is broadly divided into two themes: stories from his childhood and his journey to discover his birth family, plus his life and relationship with them. Ibach paints a moving picture of life as a “happy, pampered, privileged child” with his adoptive parents and three siblings in Milwaukee, roughhousing, exploring the ravines of Lake Michigan, and meeting Santa Claus during the holiday season. This deeply personal tale offers a window into 20th century America as Ibach reflects on the societal treatment of unwanted pregnancies before the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, the perception of adoption and adoptees, and the experience of bisexuality in a culture that marginalized anyone not conforming to heteronormativity.

When Ibach meets his birth family in South Carolina he is welcomed into the clan with love, but this experience also reaffirms his love for his own family—the ones who “chose” him. His story touchingly challenges orthodoxies while celebrating love as it’s lived. Readers looking to cry happy tears will find solace in this emotionally charged memoir.

Takeaway: Touching story of adoption, love, and challenging orthodoxies.

Comparable Titles: Brad Livingood’s Surrounding Sparky, Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know.

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

Click here for more about Already Home
LEX'S STORY: The Sam Barrett Ops
Kimberly A. Biggerstaff
This genre-crossing thriller with themes of family, romance, and duplicity, a spinoff of The Sam Barrett Ops that Biggerstaff wrote under the pseudonym Alex A. Jameson, centers on Air Force lieutenant Alexi “Lex” Rogov’s assignment to "get close" to C.I.A. agent Nikita Devin. The two are tasked with teaching allies how to be snipers and spotters in Poland, and within a year Rogov has gotten close enough to Devin to convince her to marry him, as he continues to discover her secrets. Rogov endures being taken as a prisoner of war, mental health troubles, and the complexities of his familial relationships, all while staying the course of his mission to unearth Devin's true allegiance.

Set against the backdrop of impending war between Russia and Ukraine, Lex's Story finds Rogov striving to fulfill his duty to his country and his struggles with the many relationships in his life, familial and romantic. Blending domestic drama, romance, and military action, Biggerstaff has written a fast paced and immersive story that jumps straight into the action, exploring how far Lex will go to fulfill his sworn duties as a military man—and what he's willing to sacrifice, including love and potentially his life. Rogov proves to be a strong and resolute soldier, one who will even continue his original assignment after he becomes convinced that Devin has turned him over to the enemies. Rogov must swallow his pain and trauma to succeed and possibly get revenge.

Biggerstaff creates a character that embodies the loyal soldier archetype, one that readers will sympathize with and root for. With crisp dialogue that drives the story and direct prose that wastes no time, Lex's Story will please readers who relish emotional stories of domestic espionage, loyalty, and cover-ups The twists shock, and the violence is more graphic than the romantic clinches, but Lex’s Story has lots of heart.

Takeaway: Emotional military thriller of domestic espionage and romance.

Comparable Titles: Sandie Jones’s The First Mistake, Jane Elizabeth Hughes’s The Spy’s Wife.

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

Click here for more about LEX'S STORY
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