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Fallen Child
Kathleen Morris
Morris, winner of the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best First Western Novel, follows up The Lily of the West by taking readers back to the 1800s on a wild adventure through the Arizona territories. Sixteen-year-old Josie Fallon survives an abusive childhood at Angel’s Refuge, an orphanage that sells its boys to the mines and its young women to the brothels. With the help of her friend, Colin, Josie escapes that life, but she finds that freedom comes at a price as she seeks vengeance on those who have wronged her. Along with a ragtag team of friends, including her love interest Billy, Josie does whatever is necessary to survive.

With the line between right and wrong blurred, anything is possible as the vividly realized Josie becomes a vigilante, righting the wrongs from her cruel past while ensuring the same evil doesn’t befall other orphans in the region. She’s a dynamic, independent young woman who takes her life by the reins despite her dire circumstances. While the 1800s isn’t a kind time for women, Jodie refuses to be a victim, preparing for the worst while holding to the hope of a future with a little bit of love and peace, all as her crew comes to depend on her wisdom and skills to get them out of danger.

Josie isn’t the only bold female character. Her best friend Isabella, fellow orphan whom Josie rescues from prostitution, also shines in the spotlight. Both prove that the Wild West is no match for them. The plot follows a cyclical pattern of action and reaction, where similar conversations and ideas recur with situational variations. But rather than get bogged down in this formula, Fallen Child offers twists that will keep readers of the genre glued to the page and eager for more escapades. Morris’s love for westerns and her passion for developing charismatic women protagonists blend seamlessly in a lively adventure sure to lasso fans of western fiction.

Takeaway: Western fans looking for strong-willed, capable, and dynamic women characters will relish this action-packed adventure.

Great for fans of: Olivia Hawker, Sandra Davis.

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

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Face the Night: A Novel
Alan Lastufka
Lastufka’s debut introduces Adriana, a talented artist and young, single mom who finds herself in a custody battle with her father for her son, Dylan. When Adriana wins temporary custody that’s dependent on gainful employment, she manages to convince the police chief of Cellar, Ohio, to bring her on board with the department as a sketch artist and administrative assistant. Unfortunately for Adriana, her new job and the fight for her child resurfaces a recurring nightmare from her past. As she connects with her neighbors—and the newest police officer on the force—she increasingly begins to wonder if her nightmare is a reminder of a heinous crime long buried and forgotten.

Adriana is a classic heroine, fighting for a better life for herself and her son, while her ex is a stereotypical deadbeat dad and drug user; Lastufka’s characters are consistent, but some tend toward the one dimensional. Her father, Bradley, adeptly plays the role of a corrupt, scheming mayor, and Matt Hinkley is the eager, straight-as-an-arrow cop who’s ready to swoop in and save the day for Adriana, even if it means bending the rules.

Still, the plot, in which danger from the past and the present threatens Adriana and her son as she’s trying to rebuild, will stir anticipation in readers of thrillers, although one of the story’s biggest surprises is how much information gets revealed early rather than teased out. The shocking incidents that transpire in and around the community of Cellar during a contentious mayoral race—one that Adriana’s father is determined not to lose, at any cost— reach a fever pitch with a terrible act of violence. Meanwhile, the increasing intensity of Adriana’s nightmares leaves her determined to uncover the memories she believes she’s repressed, putting her and her new friends in danger from those who would prefer the past stay buried. The cast might be familiar, but Lastufka’s storytelling keeps Face the Night suspenseful.

Takeaway: A single mother faces danger from the past and present in this engaging small-town thriller.

Great for fans of: Alex North, Stephen Graham Jones’s My Heart Is a Chainsaw.

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

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The Boy Who Wanted to Rock
David Weiser
A young boy celebrates all things music in Weiser’s lively debut. The story opens with a “a boy who wanted to rock” but can’t seem to put notes together on his guitar or drum, despite his best efforts. After giving up and charging out of his house, he runs into a playful dog who offers him a quick, rhyming lesson in beats and rhythm: “One is the downbeat,/ the start of all songs.” The boy masters basic rock tempos and continues on his way, soon encountering other animals eager to teach him the nuts and bolts of rock and roll. Whether it’s the octopus who uses its eight arms to introduce the boy to scales, or the cats who hip him to guitars’ notes, frets and strings, the boy’s animal friends coach him into becoming the rock star he’s always dreamed about.

Weiser’s experience in the music industry is clear throughout this rhythmic narrative. Some of the lessons may prove slightly challenging for young readers who have not started music lessons, but the animals break things down in rhymes that invite the repeat readings that will help crystallize key ideas about keys and octaves. Meanwhile, climactic lessons from trolls and gnomes about how to pose while rocking out—complete with a rock n’ roll swagger “just like we taught/ Angus, Prince, and Mick Jagger”—are a silly delight, a reward for the introduction to music theory.

Derek Lavoie’s illustrations are intricately complex, with layers of color and tiny details waiting to be discovered in each scene but an overall sense of propulsive movement appropriate to the subject. Readers will want to pay attention to the graphics’ secrets, like the bioluminescent plants in the trolls’ cave or the boy’s fishbowl air tank in the underwater sections. Weiser’s story situates music as part of the natural world, and for young music students, or readers of any age with a passion for song, this rousing tale will invite calls for an encore.

Takeaway: Animals help a young boy discover the basics and brilliance of music making in this energetic tale.

Great for fans of: Connie Schofield-Morrison’s I Got the Rhythm, David Weinstone’s Music Class Today!

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

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The Parenting Backpack: Strategies and Tools to Help You Parent with Confidence
Susie Garlick
“The more we understand about ourselves, the more we can help our children,” Garlick declares early in this clear-eyed, parent-focused guide, her follow up to DiddleDots: Tips to Ease the Madness of Parenting. She argues that it’s impossible to become the perfect parent raising the perfect kids, and instead advises readers to face and deal with their mistakes and failings—and to learn how to react to imperfection. To that end, she urges parents to understand what rocks (or “fears and insecurities” from their own parents, life experiences, genes, and society) they’re carrying in their “backpacks,” as well as how those rocks affect their parenting–and what they’re putting into their own kids’ metaphorical backpacks.

“We all have rocks,” she notes, before offering welcome practical advice about how to turn them into strengths. Garlick guides readers through this idea with compelling stories from her personal and professional experience as a mental health counselor, questions for contemplation and self-investigation, and reports on established research: she digs into alarming studies that suggest children today are often more safe than before but more likely to struggle emotionally. She urges readers to know themselves well, to practice apologies and forgiveness, and to accept that their brains, habits, and responses are malleable.

Garlick’s original exercises include prompts for readers to examine the rocks they’re carrying, identifying the source (mother, father, life itself) and boiling each stone down to its essence: FEAR. SHAME. WORRY. Identifying them, in Garlick’s estimation, is the hardest part. She demonstrates techniques for dealing with their weight, demonstrating the cycles connecting thought, feeling, and behavior, and considers approaches to handling anger, the temptation to try to fix everything in a child’s life, and the urgency of occasional adult time outs. The book’s second half, centers on parenting techniques, such as teaching problem solving, creating a safety net, and how establishing boundaries is like giving a child a compass. Encouraging, pragmatic, and always clear and honest, The Parenting Backpack should lighten parents’ load.

Takeaway: This parenting guide showcases how knowing yourself will better prepare you for being there for kids.

Great for fans of: Hunter Clarke-Fields’s Raising Good Humans, Ruby Usman’s Self-Care for Parents.

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

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The Fortuna Coin
Karen Ann Hopkins
Hopkins (Blood Rock) introduces readers to Wendy Catalano, a single mother of four ready to begin a new chapter of her life after marrying her soul mate, Ben Engel, in this spectral, emotionally charged psychological thriller. When violent tragedy strikes, Wendy is thrust back in time, giving her a magical opportunity to correct past mistakes. After divorcing her abusive ex-husband, Josh, Wendy looks forward to her future—but her past soon interferes and puts a stop to her plans. Plagued by crazy dreams and premonitions, Wendy struggles with reliving moments she only vaguely remembers, until a psychic reading sheds insight into her problem and leaves her with a devastating choice to make.

The story begins with an emotionally charged prologue that introduces Wendy and The Fortuna Coin–a good luck charm with mystical properties that most of the plot centers around. Hopkins has broken the novel into three parts, the first fast-paced, intense, and told from Wendy’s point-of-view. The pace slows in the second part, alternating chapters from Ben’s perspective, which adds depth and welcome romantic tension. Emotions run high throughout the entire story, but they take a somewhat darker turn during the urgent final part, as the abuse and manipulation Wendy suffers at Josh’s hands escalates.

Scenes depicting domestic violence and emotional abuse may trigger some readers; however, Hopkins is not gratuitous, and these harrowing moments raise the stakes for Wendy and signify the enormity of the decision that she is destined to make. Wendy and Ben’s relationship adds a tension-filled romantic subplot–complete with a happy ending–without sacrificing the suspense. With clear, compelling prose, Hopkins has constructed a seemingly effortless story that weaves together paranormal fantasy and romance with mind-bending elements of psychological thrillers. Readers will become quickly engrossed in The Fortuna Coin’s richly emotional tale of good luck charms, psychic visions, and premonitions.

Takeaway: This urgent, personal thriller combines paranormal and romantic elements as a woman out of time faces an agonizing choice.

Great for fans of: Kate White’s The Secrets You Keep, Julie Clark’s The Last Flight.

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

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The Tocks on the Clock
Jozef K. Richards
Desi’s clock is unlike most clocks—there aren’t just hands pointing to numbers, there’s a monster known as a Tock living in each number, with the birdlike Drix residing at six and the fearsome Yeven dwelling in a cavern at seven. Richards offers readers a whimsical rhyming journey to a fantasy world full of creatures reminiscent of Seussian wockets and sneetches but also the leading edge of contemporary horror beast design. Vibrant and lively illustrations bring the Tocks to life, with flowing hair, grumpy faces, fascinating habitats, and frightening accessories, like the skull around the neck of the Dren who lives—yes—at ten. The Tocks on the Clock has been crafted to familiarize young readers with key concepts of clocks and timekeeping while stirring a sense of adventure and intrigue from the inventive characters on each page, including Desi’s travel companions Lola the dog and Jack the cat.

The Tocks’s efforts to teach about clocks through rhyme proves tricky at moments, as there’s little beyond the rhyming names to reinforce connections between each Tock and their number or the time of day or night that number represents: the Drix feeds her chicks, but there are three of them, rather than six. The illustrations likewise feature no elements linking each Tock to its number, drawing no clear link between each nonsense word a clock number.

There’s one exception. A masterful detail, especially for a book about time, is the addition of a character that represents midnight. Desi and her companions must return to where the Phloon was to meet the Zight, which is a clever way to differentiate and make clear the difference between noon and midnight. Ultimately a simple and playful, yet thoughtfully crafted and beautifully illustrated, primer on clocks and time, The Tocks on the Clock is sure to delight and occasionally gently spook younger readers, even if they are only enjoying this story as a story, without their eyes on the clock just yet.

Takeaway: A beautiful, slightly spooky journey through the numbers of a clock—and the monsters who reside at each.

Great for fans of: Tom Fletcher’s The Creakers, D. M. Cornish’s Monster: Blood Tattoo.

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

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Monologues for Adults
Mike Kimmel
In this follow-up to Monologues for Teens, Kimmel again centers positivity and personal choices in its host of original showcase audition pieces for actors. In an introduction, Kimmel notes that it’s too rare to encounter an audition monologue with “an uplifting or encouraging message” and identifies a reliance upon “edgy” material as a “trap” that many actors fall into. He urges actors to think like producers or casting directors, asking “Would you want to invite a walking black cloud of gloom, pessimism, and negativity into a production you’ve been developing for years”? The 60 monologues he’s crafted here—centered on moments of everyday realization and transcendence, like a celebration of an ugly sweatshirt, or the story of an apartment-dweller who manages to focus despite his neighbors’ intrusive marijuana smoke—can double as both audition piece and upbeat demonstrations of character.

In short, Monologues for Adults offer a chance to demonstrate mastery of craft while also announcing that an actor would be a pleasure to work with. Light pieces like “An Inconvenient Convenience,” which gives performers the arresting and flexible first line “I need your advice,” have been composed to start small, describing a relatable moment or incident, and then over a page or two tease out some broader significance or insight (in this case, a narrator’s objection to “that highly inconvenient ritual of valet parking.”)

The language is crisp, but the structure of the pieces loose enough for a performer to showcase personal rhythms and approaches, as Kimmel always includes chances to trail off, change the subject, crack a joke, express mild embarrassment, and build to a memorable conclusion. One begins “I had a blind date last night. Don’t even say it, okay?” and then, rather than report romantic disasters with snark or bitterness, settles into quiet, moving realizations about how loneliness alone is less lonely than loneliness on a date. Kimmel’s warm, inviting monologues will make auditioning actors feel less lonely, too.

Takeaway: These upbeat, engaging monologues for actors have been crafted to showcase both talent and character.

Great for fans of: Andrew Biss’s Monologues They'll Remember You By, Alisha Gaddis’s Women's Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny and Men's Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny.

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

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A Different Slant of Light
J.D. Levin
The energetic follow-up to Levin’s warm punk-rock tale Incomplete finds songwriting-bassist-turned-English teacher Brian Smith, named for Brian Wilson, thrust back into the life he’d left behind after the ugly dissolution of his ‘90s band, Call Field, who despite being signed to a major label “didn’t even last long enough to put out a Greatest Hits.” But in the online age, rock (and fleeting almost-fame) never goes away. Two decades later, precocious student Veronica, Brian’s daughter’s favorite babysitter, has found Call Field on YouTube, Brian realizes something’s missing in his life. Though he’s wise enough to recognize that “nostalgia is a beautiful liar,” soon he’s relishing the possibility of a life touched with music again, first reluctantly agreeing to accompany Veronica at a talent show, and then—maybe—something more.

Levin again demonstrates a sure hand writing about music, inspiration, prickly band relationships, and the complexities of aging, all of which he renders in vivid, persuasive detail and prose as direct as good pop punk lyrics. He’s especially adept at charting the excitement and humiliations of the rock life, which comes up when Brian, stuck in a locked down high school, tells Veronica about the band’s breakup: the CD cover of a Call Field album with only the lead singer’s photo on it is hilarious yet painful, and a dismissive Rolling Stone review is pitch perfect. That protracted flashback, while engaging as it builds to a crisis at the Fillmore, slows the narrative momentum of a novel at first set firmly in Brian’s adult present of plodding jogs and dental travails (“As it turns out, I’m a bit long-winded,” Brian confesses, which is true of both books about him). But fans of spirited rock stories will love it.

Brian must face that flashback’s tragedy and trauma in the present when, inevitably, Call Field gets the call to give it another shot. Levin’s attention to stung to egos, unburied hatchets, and grown-up healing proves almost as exciting as his love for riffs, melodies, and hooks.

Takeaway: A punk rock novel about break ups, aging, and healing, bursting with energy and vivid detail.

Great for fans of: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six, Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments.

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

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A Matchbox Full of Pearls
Kamille Roach
Roach threads love and mystery in this impassioned debut. The death of her foster mother Blossom brings Lola back to the small Australian town in which she grew up. After two years of an emotionally sterile existence in Melbourne, Lola must face questions about her life and her relationship with Walshy–her savior, best friend, love of her life, and the reason she left town after her eighteen birthday. At the same time, the usually peaceful Wheatbelt town roils from the reemergence of a serial rapist, and soon Lola finds herself absorbed in another crime from the past: trying to understand why the only thing that Blossom left her points her to the story of Lovely Lorrelai, an exotic dancer who was convicted in the murder of her lover's wife in the 1970s. Before long, Lola starts to wonder if past may be dangerously relevant to the present.

The novel's strength lies in Roach's ability to generate question marks and red herrings that keep readers guessing. She also succeeds in imbuing the story with a great affection for Australian nature (especially in a chase scene), and in imbuing her characters with a strong sense of yearning and love. Lola and Lorrelai are the center of the narrative—to the point of overshadowing everything else—and their parallel stories roll out in a rugged style that matches Lola's bristliness.

The relaxed pacing picks up at Lorrelai's part, though some repeated information in her section still slows down the story, and a stereotypical representation of mental illness that plays into the novel’s bigger revelations, will give some readers pause. Still, Roach utilizes her characters’ back stories to showcase the many facets of love, illuminating its power and potential for destruction at the same time. Readers whose heart strings are compelled by stories about resilience and love will be drawn to this heroine in her search for roots.

Takeaway: An Australian novel of love, mystery, and resilience that finds a woman facing her hometown and past.

Great for fans of: Rhys Bowen’s The Victory Garden, Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

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

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My English Teacher and I
Mikhael Aroni
Aroni’s light touch and dry wit transform the weighty concerns of longing and belonging into a romantic roundelay of bemused Londoners struggling to express themselves in My English Teacher and I. His breezy debut is both a touching portrait of a nascent writer reconciling his multiple identities and a wry dissection of worldly Anglophiles who migrate to London for immersive English language classes (and the chance to warm the hearts of chilly Brits). In the first section, he introduces optimistic students in telling vignettes as they traverse the city, reveling in their love of London and its testy inhabitants. They’re a bit frustrated with their teacher, the enigmatic Michael, who may exude warmth, but maintains a careful emotional distance during one-on-one lessons.

Then one student discovers that Michael has written a roman à clef about being a rent boy. Like his fellow pupils, David believes that connecting with a native Brit will anchor his driftwood existence, but the slippery Michael upends his every attempt at stability. The middle section focuses on David, whose swirling insecurity overshadows his professional accomplishments as an English-to-French translator. Raised in Geneva, a city whose cosmopolitan image belies a provincial mindset, David looks to reinvent himself in lively London. Aroni masterfully contrasts the yearning David, seeking to uncover his true nature, with the arrogant Michael, willing to cloak himself in whatever image will get him the most attention.

The callbacks in the final section are stellar, and his characters have delicious, distinct voices. (If this were a movie, it would a PG-13 romcom, with racy dialogue but no sex sxenes.) No one does condescension with such pithy elegance as the British, such as the matronly, eccentric professor who tells David, “It’s strange…and baffling, really, how a single word…a single sound can expose one’s true nature.” A compassionate satirist, Aroni puts sophisticated naïfs in a hidebound, multicultural London where love and identity are both elusive and just within reach.

Takeaway: Romance readers seeking a contemporary comedy of manners will relish Aroni’s London, filled with eager wannabes and rakish locals.

Great for fans of: Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners, Hanif Kureishi.

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

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Open Eyes, Happy Heart: A Story of Healing from Sexual Abuse and Childhood Trafficking
Carolyn Thompson
Targeted at readers who have faced sexual abuse or sex trafficking, Thompson’s debut—a memoir about her own healing, written from a Christian perspective—reveals the story of suffering sexual abuse as a child that, in her words, “blinded the eyes of my heart.” Through church counseling, self-investigation, and her own relationship with God, those eyes, she writes, have been healed, not by her but by God. She’s crafted the book to share her path with readers, recounting how through prayer she found the courage to face these traumatic memories and the feelings of guilt that came with them.

Thompson traces the abuse inflicted upon her by her father to “generational sin” rather than any one person, writing “it festered from previous evil waged against my flesh and blood by Hell itself.” Understanding cycles of abuse has helped her to feel compassion and forgiveness, though she’s frank about the challenge of this, admitting that, when she felt God telling her it was time to “get well,” she responded “by yelling at Him some more.” She vividly paints the portrait of herself, in 2019, worn out, hyper alert, and struggling with past trauma at a time when her 25 year marriage seemed to be failing. Her accounts of breakthroughs and setbacks as she undergoes EDMR therapy and other forms of counseling is frank, direct, and moving.

When discussing abuse, Thompson’s never graphic, though the horror is clear. Her emphasis, instead, is on trauma recovery, with a focus on inner strength, the power of forgiveness, and the therapeutic techniques and intense, at times contentious prayer that helped her. While she offers some practical advice suited for Christian readers, Thompson has the humility to declare “This isn’t intended to be any kind of self-help guide.” Instead, it’s an act of witnessing and healing, a believer telling her story to an audience who might need encouragement to face their own.

Takeaway: This Christian memoir and guidebook focuses on nurturing the strength to heal after sexual abuse.

Great for fans of: Nicole Braddock Bromley's Hush, Justin S. Holcomb’s Rid of My Disgrace.

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

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Risky Restoration
E.F. Dodd
Dodd’s debut novel, a contemporary romance that glows with heat, heart, and heroes readers will fall in love with, introduces Kesler, a lawyer with great friends, her own practice, and one not-so-tiny flaw: she can’t quite get over her ex, Miller. It’s not cyber-stalking if the stalkee doesn’t know about it, right? When Kesler—“Kez” to her friends—stumbles across the earth-shattering news that he’s now engaged and his high school reunion is coming up, she throws a half-plan together to go up to Rochester, New York, his hometown, to see if she can get closure. With her two best friends at her side, nothing can go wrong—other than meeting Jackson, Miller’s former classmate/rival, the man who will set her alight.

With characters who are larger than life yet imminently relatable, Risky Restoration blends the best of escapist reading with heart and substance. Kez’s life seems to be great, except for her singular inability to find the right partner. Not only is her lack of a love life driving her around the bend, figuring out why has become her obsession. Then Jackson appears, tripping all of her triggers. Thus begins the slightly madcap adventure which, at times, edges toward over-the-top, yet always just this side of plausible.

One of the novel’s greatest strengths is its nuanced female characters. From driven yet well-rounded Kez to the sweet, accomplished Vivian, to the dynamic powerhouse that is Rae, each woman has her own distinct voice and beautifully detailed personality as she faces challenges and triumphs. This balances nicely with their interpersonal dynamics with the men, particularly Kez and Jackson. While Jackson has a dominant personality, he’s quick to allow Kez the space and freedom to handle her own affairs. If she needs him, he’s there, but otherwise their relationship models healthy boundaries—despite being fast and furious. Readers will delight in this fast-paced romance, and will almost certainly clamor for Vivian and Rae’s installments.

Takeaway: A stunning happily-for-now contemporary romance featuring strong female characters readers will fall for.

Great for fans of: Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez’s The Dirty Girls Social Club, Justine Faeth’s Chat Love.

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

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The Order of Time and Odin's Door: Book 2 of The Order of Time Series
Scott P. Southall
Southall populates this delightful, fast-paced adventure through history, the second installment of the Order of Time series, with resourceful tweens and snarling monsters. Returning from ancient Egypt, twelve-year-old twins Anastasia and Edward Upston must defend their mentor, Dr. Alfred Gregorian, after he is called to task by the Order of Time in London for involving the children in unauthorized time travel. After Dr. G’s exoneration, the Order invites the Upstons to attend the London Academy of History and Science, once they first pass a field test. But someone has sabotaged their time traveling Refractium Crystal rings, and the intrepid duo mistakenly ends up in Viking era Denmark, face to face with Erik the Red and his cousin, Jarl Soren. Unable to return home, martial artist Anastasia and history nerd Edward decide to help Erik and Soren battle Nidhogg, a fire-breathing dragon threatening Soren’s village.

Refreshingly, Southall depicts his child heroes as capable participants in their adventures who are believed and trusted by adults, which bolsters their confidence and self-worth. The story becomes more urgent when the twins discover they have only four days to defeat the dragon, sent by the trickster god Loki, who knows that Soren’s people are guarding Odin’s magical door—a portal that can bring about Ragnarök, “the end of the world.” Whatever they do, the children cannot change history, as Edward cautions: “the ripples from any change in the past can completely change the future.”

Southall sprinkles welcome historical detail about the food, culture, and religion of various periods and cultures among action-packed fight scenes and strategic battle plans. Written in a brisk, cheerful tone, the story encourages thoughtfulness and action to right wrongs, as well as offering assistance where it is needed. Fans of time-travel stories will enjoy this character-driven story with smart, competent children in a historical setting.

Takeaway: Young readers and adults who love time travel stories will savor the adventure and nuggets of historical fact.

Great for fans of: Paul Aertker’s Crime Travelers series, Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger.

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

Click here for more about The Order of Time and Odin's Door
Snatching St. Nick
Myla Taylor
Ten-year-old Cooper Bartholomew Finister is determined to get on the Nice List this year. He may be Miami’s worst behaved ten year old, but if he wants to get a Zop’Em 3000—this year’s hottest toy—and win the bet against his arch nemesis Dax, he’ll have to think outside of the box and resort to some desperate measures. He doesn’t just operate alone, though: Cooper’s got a best friend, Peony, and an elf accomplice, and along the way he’ll encounter an elf enemy and two unqualified criminals. Equal parts funny, action-packed, and heartwarming, Snatching St. Nick is a fast-paced, rollicking holiday adventure.

One thing that’s abundantly clear at the start is that Cooper is not the average ten-year-old. He attends a private elementary school, has a nanny, easily fakes being his father so that he can charter a private jet to the North Pole, and makes declarations like “Cravat is French for goofball handkerchief tie. That’s what my pool cleaner says.” Cooper might not be relatable, but his wit is sharp, his cunning is boundless, and his extravagant life is certainly compelling. At one point, he demonstrates a mature understanding of beer and drunkenness, telling a server to cut off an elf who’s already had too many, a moment that might raise questions.

Precocious and mischievous as he may be, Cooper is still a likeable character who shows genuine growth throughout and ultimately, in an ending that offers appropriate holiday warmth, connects with the adults in his life. Meeting Taylor’s singular version of Santa—a fit, flannel wearing, happy go lucky guy—is a joy in and of itself. Snatching St. Nick is sure to delight readers young and old, and hopefully caution them against making the same mistakes Cooper does at the start, prizing the Nice List only as a path to gifts.

Takeaway: Troublemakers and goody two-shoes alike will enjoy this delightful Christmas adventure.

Great for fans of: Caleb Huett’s Top Efl, Michael Fry and Bradley Jackson’s The Naughty List.

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

Click here for more about Snatching St. Nick
Long Journey Back
Jeanne Bandolina
Bandolina’s debut, a mystery-thriller set in North Carolina, jumps into the thick of the plot right at the start, as an unexpected explosion rocks one of the concourses at the Greensboro airport. Galaxy Airline pilot Alex Decker had been slated to land a jet there, but was warned away at the last minute, as a mysterious policeman told him to request a different gate. In the aftermath, Decker teams up with FBI Special Agent Maria Rodriguez to uncover the culprits behind the explosion. What ensues is a journey from Greensboro to Africa to Central America, full of unexpected twists and turns, encompassing everything from fast-paced shootings to raw diamonds to encounters with the dead.

The story is both propulsive and intricate, and hurls forward with full force. Bandolina keeps readers on their toes, using every opportunity to introduce new characters, unexpected plot twists, and violent clashes. Chapters end on page-turning cliffhangers (“Alex needed answers, and the place to start was at the airport”), throwing thriller fans into a fabulous world full of swift high-stakes storytelling. Bandolina grounds the tale’s implausible elements by demonstrating a firm grasp over the technicalities of drone strikes, flying an airplane, and how battles get waged in the desert.

Still, the sheer number of moving parts can get overwhelming. It’s hard to keep track of the wide array of characters and the intricacy of the plot at times edges into inscrutability. The relentless twists and turns also have a tendency to stretch the imagination, risking reader incredulity. However, Bandolina’s prose and motley set of characters prove engaging enough that readers willing to roll with Long Journey Back’s wildest notions and purposeful momentum will be sucked into its shady world and the fate of its cast. Lovers of fast-paced mysteries and airplanes will enjoy this ambitious globe-hopping thriller that’s both personal and larger than life.

Takeaway: This fast, twisty, thriller sends a pilot around the globe after an attack on a North Carolina airport.

Great for fans of: Irene Hannon, Dee Henderson.

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

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Home is Within You
Nadia Davis
In this singular memoir, Davis—a public figure, attorney, and mother with a history of public service—has written heartfelt letters to her children revealing what she has faced throughout her life, touching on addiction, abusive relationships, and broader ideas about hope, justice, poverty, and courage. “It is not easy to have courage to be vulnerable,” she notes in one, though she exhibits that courage throughout the collection, juxtaposing this intimate disclosure of her actual self against all that has been said about her in media coverage. The amount of interpersonal work Davis has done is evident, and this memoir is a tribute to how much effort she has put into her health—and to setting up a hopeful future for her family.

Opening with lessons drawn her father’s impoverished upbringing and closing with the touching story of telling her son, as he applies for college, that “Sometimes we don’t realize the challenges we’ve walked through until they are over,” Home Is Within You is alive with Davis’s honesty and vulnerability, threading both her pain and the hard work of recovery and healing into its pages. Her frank accounts of grief, loss, and assault are upsetting, but the memoir’s hopeful trajectory sees Davis—“that little bright-eyed brown girl who simply wanted to save the world but sometimes hid in the closet”—building a thriving career, giving back to the community, and finding the strength to face trauma head on.

Her account of her journey will help readers build understanding, empathy, and hope, though due to the intensity of some of the accounts and the length of the book the most pleasurable reading experience likely involves taking in a couple of letters at a time. Even when recounting instances when the press or people she counted upon have been unfair to her, Davis’s grace and humanity are striking. She is kind to those in her life and, after much work and learning, to herself.

Takeaway: In these tender, urgent letters to her sons, Nadia Davis reveals her life, vulnerability, and journey toward healing.

Great for fans of: Stacey Patton’s That Mean Old Yesterday, Kimberly Rae Miller’s Coming Clean.

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

Click here for more about Home is Within You

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