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Outfoxed: The Fox Witch (Book One)
R.J. Blain
Fantasy author R.J. Blain (A Magical Romantic Comedy series) delivers an adventurous romp through postapocalyptic Tulsa in 2043. Jade Tamrin is a fox-human hybrid—who’s hiding two much more coveted traits: she can shapeshift fully into a fox, and she’s a witch who can control toxins and see the past. Her hybridity makes her extremely high-value bait for bounty hunters, who catch people like her so that rich families can buy them at auction, enslave them, and marry them off to the eldest heir to get desired magical traits into the bloodline. One of those bounty hunters is the mysterious, sexy master magician Sandro Moretti. Despite their enmity and her desire to remain free, Jade must ally with Sandro to uncover what’s behind the extreme tornadoes that ravage Tulsa and kill its residents daily.

Some readers will be put off by the book’s somewhat cavalier treatment of a form of slavery for which “tiny,” “pure white” women are most targeted. And the pacing and structure may cause readers some frustration. The opening scene, with Jade and Sandro trapped in a cellar together during a storm, cues readers to expect a romance novel, but Sandro doesn’t reappear for another 200 pages, which describe three days of Jade’s surviving more tornadoes, finding a new place to live, hiding from bounty hunters, and working shifts at her two jobs. It’s only when he returns that their relationship and the investigation of the story’s big questions—who took out the bounty on Jade in the first place? What’s causing the tornadoes?—really kick into gear.

But Jade is the typically feisty and fierce heroine of science fiction, a badass with a sharp tongue and an inconvenient sense of honor that leads her to take big risks to help others. And the magic is fascinating, boasting a proliferation of mages and witches all with distinct abilities—plastic mages, poetry mages, curse mages, elementalists, toxin witches, and the particularly well-drawn music mages, capable of altering reality by harnessing the power of song. Fantasy fans will enjoy Blain’s complex and well-built world, root for the fiercely principled Jade, and eagerly await the next installment.

Takeaway: This sci-fi fantasy adventure boasts an intriguing system of magic and a fierce heroine.

Great for fans of: A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers, The Clockwork Witch series by Michelle D. Sonnier.

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

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Chasing Rory
Michelle Mars
Mars keeps things hot and heavy in the second installment in the Love Wars paranormal sci-fi romance series, after Moving Jack. In 2025, Earth is facing an ecological crisis. To save the human species, the Alien Relocation Cooperative—a family business run by members of the golden-skinned Staraban species—has been brought in to relocate them all. But one problem persists: at least one of humanity’s supposed saviors lied, and Earth isn't entirely doomed. Now feisty bilingual human munitions expert Rory Espinoza and her well-muscled, cat-loving Staraban counterpart Bren must battle their mutual attraction and bring this troubling information—and a dangerous prisoner—to the All Alien Alliance entrusted with humanity's survival. But the tight quarters of a starship aren’t designed for avoiding sexy crewmates, and Rory’s hiding a supernatural secret of her own.

Given this entry’s indebtedness to the events of Moving Jack, some readers will find this sequel more accessible after reading its predecessor first. Newcomers to Mars’s world are tossed into the conflict between ARC and the Humans Against Relocation Movement, to which the series’ human protagonists belong, with little explanation of Earth’s crisis or the major human players. But that won’t stop them from getting sucked into the action or enjoying the quippy interplay between the characters.

Inspired in part by the culture of the real-world Gitano people of Spain, Rory is a heroine all romance fans will root for. She is equal parts brilliance, directness, and stubbornness to a fault, traits that come in handy on her interstellar mission of diplomacy. Her chemistry with Bren is electric and adversarial: though they constantly fight over their mission’s next steps, their vastly appealing differences keep them—and readers—hooked. This enjoyable blend of comedy, sci-fi, intensely physical romance, and women’s empowerment is sure to please readers.

Takeaway: This witty, sexy adventure’s mixture of sci-fi thrills and paranormal romance makes it a solid addition to any adult reading list.

Great for fans of: Grace Goodwin, Jennifer L. Armentrout, K.F. Breene.

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

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What Dog is That?
Lois Nicholls
Lois Nicholls’ (Bye-bye Bikini and Aussie, Actually) delightful debut children’s book introduces youngsters to a different dog on each page, sharing fun tidbits about both the individual animal and their breed. Children meet dogs of common breeds, such as “Tarna the Golden Retriever,” dogs of no specific variety like “Oogie and Moogie,” and newer breeds like “Fwuffy the Groodle.” Joyful poems introduce each character, describing their personalities and interests, as well as mentioning common physical qualities that differentiate breeds and each dog’s distinctive temperament. When the occasional word comes up that young readers may not know, such as “paddock,” the author provides easy-to-understand definitions at the bottom of the page.

A poem about each dog sits beside a whimsical watercolor portrait by the author’s daughter, Lara Nicholls; they illuminate the dogs’ personalities and draw readers in with their expressive eyes. Lara Nicholls also ups the enjoyment factor for young readers by adding one tiny, intricate bee on every page—hidden on a dog or in a word—as a seek-and-find challenge that older kids and adults will enjoy, too.

Lois Nicholls’s charming poetry is not the only star of this show; she ensures an enjoyable reading experience for budding readers with the creative use of fonts and imaginative formatting for a quirky touch. An amusing game at the end titled “What’s My Name” tests how well readers paid attention to the narrative. Kids and adults alike will revel in the entertaining format, and the reading combined with games will have them returning again and again.

Takeaway: Young readers and those reading along with them will delight in this entertaining introduction to loveable pooches.

Great for fans of: Kevin O’Malley’s The Perfect Dog, Avery Corman’s Bark in the Park!: Poems for Dog Lovers, Maira Kalman’s Beloved Dog.

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

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Water Must Fall
Nick Wood
Prolific South African writer and psychologist Nick Wood deftly portrays an Earth run dry in his vision of an uncomfortably near future. Protagonist Graham, a South African journalist, travels across the globe, including to the Federated States of America, to document the worldwide water crisis. This strains his marriage to Lizette, who’s confronting a painful case of endometriosis, her church’s unyielding views on homosexuality in a time when she’s honing in on her own, and how to best serve a community that resents her whiteness. Meanwhile, Art, a data sweeper, is tasked with finding and stretching the little water available. Can these three overcome their struggles and bring some relief to this parched world?

Wood’s dystopian portrait is not without its rough edges. Despite the first-person narration, the characters’ inner thoughts are constant and can include confusing expository passages. Readers will find some story lines rushed, such as that leading up to Lizette’s outburst in church, and the antagonists are typical: powerful people hell-bent on hoarding all the water they can. But within the rough patches, there’s a diamond in Wood’s writing.

The worldbuilding is fully fleshed out with technology, consequence, and history; a direct line can be drawn from the present day to Wood’s imagined future (via, for example, “the Make America Great wall,” the “new Pence administration,” a “Black Lives Still Matter” poster). Atop the plausible political and corporate machinations are elements more fantastical (such as sentient AI, which in one captivating case has been given the form of a dragon to represent the Chinese water protection god Bok Kai) and spiritual. The book’s relationships are abundantly complex and it does not offer simplistic, easy happy endings. Wood’s dystopian creation, with its warning about global warming, makes for an emotional and satisfying ride.

Takeaway: Fans of plausible sci-fi with a political bent, eager to envision a very near future, will connect with this dystopian environmental novel.

Great for fans of: Omar El Akkad’s American War, Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife.

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

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The Epic of Gabriel and Jibreel
Marin Darmonkow
Marin’s (The Tale of Was and Das) fourth entry in his 2Gether picture book series is a dark story friendship, adult violence, and tragedy set against the backdrop of a refugee crisis. Gabriel, a boy of indeterminate age, lives a somewhat privileged life alone with his father, after his mother’s death in childbirth. He and his father travel to the beach weekly, on the day his nanny does not work, and Gabriel spends time exploring while his father stays in the car. On one of these trips, Gabriel meets Jibreel, another motherless boy who lives in a makeshift refugee camp on the shore, and they form a fast friendship.

Addressing potentially upsetting topics with younger children is a difficult undertaking, and Marin makes every effort, via the use of evocative digital collage illustrations and vivid prose, to make comprehensible to his readers the typically mature topics of racism, the dangers refugees face, and loneliness. However, the story’s word choice learns toward a more mature audience than that of the typical picture book. And one main element of the plot is not fully explained (the boys’ building of a “digital airplane”).

Moreover, the book’s bleak, abrupt ending, in which the boys burn to death as the result of a hate crime perpetrated by Gabriel’s father, will strike many adults as inappropriate for picture book readers. While there is some hope—the narration describes Jibreel’s dwelling turning into an airplane and taking off with “the two angels inside,” as though to carry them to the next phase of their cosmic journey—this is a shocking development, and the last sentence of the book is “life isn’t fair.” This ambitious story is well told, but its subject matter may be too much for young kids.

Takeaway: This dark picture book addresses racism, hate crimes, and cosmic unfairness in bleak fashion.

Great for fans of: Irena Kobald’s My Two Blankets, Wendy Meddour’s Lubna and Pebble.

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

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When Courage Comes: A world at war. Two siblings separated by 6,000 miles. The enemy soldier who changes their lives forever
Paul Fleming
Longtime entrepreneur Fleming turns to historical fiction in his debut novel. Stephan Jurgen is a reluctant member of the German army in 1943. A native Austrian, his Christian ideals clash with the fanatical loyalty of the Nazis in his regiment. Serving in North Africa, he is captured by American soldiers and, after a freak accident, saves the life of his American interrogator, Ralph Bauer. When Stephan is shipped off to the hastily constructed POW camp in Huntsville, Tex., he begins work on a farm, striking up a relationship with Rose—who is Ralph’s sister. Neither Rose nor Stephan are aware of the other’s connection to Ralph: will it bring them together or tear family members apart? Meanwhile, intrigue at the camp grows, as a group of Nazi prisoners attempt to take on the well-meaning German chaplain Major Heller for his campaign for peace in the face of the Third Reich.

Fleming’s rich period piece is carefully researched; atmospheric details capture the tensions of the war. At times, however, the prose feels melodramatic, detracting from the novel’s thrust. And even though the story is set in wartime, the stakes are low, without much suspense. Big questions—whether Rose and Stephan will end up together, whether Stephan will recover from an attack—can feel like foregone conclusions.

But the author gives readers a deep sense of divided loyalties. Stephan’s objections to Nazi philosophy give the character depth, painting a picture of a man caught between duty and fear. He must persevere against the attacks in the camp from the fanatical Nazis, eking out a precarious existence in a hostile environment. Likewise, Rose’s struggle to reconcile her feelings for Stephan with being loyal to the American cause is equally complex. Fans of introspective fiction will appreciate Fleming’s sensitive depiction of WWII experienced from the sidelines.

Takeaway: Fleming’s rich period piece is a sensitive depiction of romance and divided loyalties during World War II.

Great for fans of: John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

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

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The Woman Who Fell Through Time
J.M. Frey
When recent university graduate Jessie Franklin survives a plane crash, she finds herself inexplicably transported to 1805, where she’s rescued from the mid-Atlantic by Francis Goodenough, post captain of the HMS Lyre, following the Battle of Trafalgar. As Jessie recovers from her injuries, she slowly comes to accept she’s stranded in the past. After accepting a position as companion to Goodenough’s younger sister Margaret, Jessie is startled to realize her new friend is an author who will become famous for depicting the first lesbian kiss in British publishing. As Jessie and Margaret fall for one another, Jessie must figure out her place in an era she barely understands.

Frey (The Accidental Turn series) skillfully portrays Jessie’s complicated emotional state as she copes with the assorted traumas incurred by her near-death experience and subsequent temporal stranding. Frey doesn’t shy away from the social realities of 1805 England, and Jessie’s frequent chafing at customs and expectations makes for good story fodder. However, the story’s beginning is often dark, including a subplot where Jessie must face off against her would-be husband, an unrepentant domestic abuser. This contrasts sharply with the charmingly sweet romance she later develops with Margaret, and despite the emotional payoff, the early heaviness asks much of readers.

Jessie’s relationship with Margaret will satisfy readers with its expressive richness, playful banter, and well-crafted sensual scenes—making the over-the-top villain and certain late-breaking dramatic moments feel almost unnecessary. Thankfully, Frey pulls all of the threads together to bring this tale home. Her attention to historical detail provides both grounding for Jessie’s experiences and a constant source of friction against her 21st-century upbringing, especially her out-and-proud bisexuality and sexually liberated nature. For those seeking a time travel romance with a distinctly queer feel, this will hit the spot.

Takeaway: This sweet yet complicated story’s overlap of Regency courtships, queer romance, and modern sensibilities will appeal to those searching for a drama with a happy ending.

Great for fans of: Olivia Waite’s The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Catherine Friend’s The Spanish Pearl.

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

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Pearls of Wisdom: Be Truly Set Free
Terry Sweeney
Sweeney’s readable and down-to-earth debut aims to help others live their best lives by sharing his own rocky—but frequently humorous—journey. The author shares how his 12-step program and faith in God guided him from destruction to restoration and revealed inspiring truths. In thematically focused chapters, Sweeney recounts episodes from his childhood and adulthood, starting with growing up in a Boston suburb and being educated at strict Catholic schools while dodging his parish's predatory priest. His father was a renowned WWII war hero and raging alcoholic secretly called “General Nuisance” by his children, and his mother was quick to use a belt as punishment. Despite years of physical and emotional abuse, Sweeney grew up to join the Marines, work as a stockbroker, become a successful businessperson, and get in touch with his feelings and faith.

The essays address a wide array of meaningful topics, including humility, trust, and pornography. Sweeney recounts both trauma and healing in conversational, often funny prose (“I understood what the people in the [12-step] group were talking about. Well, except for one lady who shared about talking to God while sitting on the toilet that morning.”) His sincere desire to help others is on frequent display: he recounts his rewarding experience as a mentor in the Big Brothers program; taking in two young women whose parents had kicked them out of their homes as teenagers; and offering school and career advice to his younger neighbors. Some readers, however, will be put off by Sweeney’s habit of referring to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus” and government-provided cell phones as “Obamaphones,” and others will be alienated by the assertion that “most of the protesters” at Donald Trump’s rallies “make between $50 to $100 per day, just for carrying a sign.”

The book is at its best when imparting sage advice Sweeney received from his mentors, particularly 12-step program sponsors. Some of the counsel is simple (“Don’t die wondering”), but Sweeney’s heartfelt stories drive home his guidance in poignant and unforgettable ways. Sweeney and his tales make for entertaining companions along the bumpy road of life.

Takeaway: Sweeney’s conversational, funny prose makes for entertaining company along the bumpy road of life.

Great for fans of: Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Phil McGraw's Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out.

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

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Snakes and Lovers
Anne Lovett
In this punchy romantic comedy, Lovett (Rubies from Burma) introduces readers to 38-year-old Daisy Harrison—a two-time divorcée avoiding responsibility on the Florida coast, whose life is turned upside-down when she learns that her parents are splitting. Simultaneously, Daisy’s friend Lorelei mysteriously skips town, leaving Daisy to care for her nine-year-old son, Raj, and pet python, Bogart. Saddled with these unexpected burdens and hoping to solve her parents’ struggles, Daisy returns to her Georgia hometown for the first time in years. While there, she’s forced to confront her childhood sweetheart, Luke, in order to reunite her parents and get her own rocky life back on track.

Daisy is a likable, independent woman who marches to the beat of her own drum. Readers will sympathize with her plight after realizing that Luke married Daisy’s ex-best friend, Alyssa, because his prim and proper parents didn’t approve of Daisy’s free-spirited personality. Daisy’s inevitable reconciliation with Luke, who is now separated from Alyssa, is predictable but nevertheless sweet. Before the happy ending, readers will enjoy rich buildup and Daisy’s snarky inner monologue (“in case it might not be Luke McDuffie, but his evil twin, Fluke, whom they’d hidden in the attic all these years”).

There are many important characters, and each is well-rounded and purposeful in both their own arcs and Daisy’s narrative. With Lorelei indisposed after a serious injury, Raj’s absent father comes into play; he tracks the Harrisons down to meet his son but ultimately helps Daisy forge a path to her own maturity. As she unknowingly and unwillingly grows more attached to Raj, Daisy’s endearing relationship with him becomes the central and most satisfying element. Her winding path to love, family, and identity will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever stumbled in finding happiness.

Takeaway: Women’s fiction readers will be delighted with Daisy’s wittiness and independence and enjoy her unusual path to love and happiness.

Great for fans of: Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook, Meg Cabot’s The Boy is Back, Jennifer Weiner.

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

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The Last Day of Paradise: A Greek family saga that highlights the powers of love!
Kiki Denis
Novelist Denis crafts an eccentric, scandalous coming-of-age tale that flips between 1960s and 1980s Greece. It all kicks off when 15-year-old protagonist Sunday finds out her dad may not actually be her biological father. She relates her struggles with love and her parents’ fractured love affair; the story shifts every few pages between the “ancient era” of Sunday’s mother and her own “current era,” highlighting their different approaches to sexuality and relationships. While Sunday’s experiences are rife with mischief and promiscuity, her mother’s life reads like a more traditional story of love and deceit.

Their stories are in conversation and present lessons on female liberation, sexuality, and generational differences (“It’s them who didn’t keep up with their promises, letting their dreams fall short. How long will we have to pay for their mistakes?”). Sunday is confident, spunky, and sometimes prickly (“‘Cause I am not the nurse type and I don’t want to be the teacher type,’ I say feeling glad that I called him antique ‘cause his ideas are coming from a thousand years ago.”). Her narration spools out in long, stream-of-consciousness threads: “Of course that’s my personal view of the matter ‘cause mama still believes that money doesn’t buy happiness only rents a portion of it and those who depend on rent end up homeless.”

This story is not for the faint of heart: it includes cruelty, unpleasant sex, rape, abuse, casual racism, a suicide attempt, and many images of feces and food as excrement. Denis offsets these intense elements with soft simile (“Now her mood is a bit clearer, semi-transparent, like a steamed mirror”) and playful onomatopoeia, making for an interesting juxtaposition. Sunday is a likeable and compelling character surrounded by chaos. This novel will grab readers and take them for a wild ride.

Takeaway: Denis’s raunchy novel of love, sex, and generational conflict, with its spunky teen protagonist, will grab readers and take them for a wild ride.

Great for fans of: Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, Fran Ross’s Oreo.

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

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The Promise Of The Gateway
Nick Iuppa & John Pesqueira
Iuppa and Pesqueira’s (Alien Mission) hopeful young adult fantasy romance explores teenage anxieties around popularity, the corrosive effects of resentment, and the redemptive power of love. In 2019, nerdy amateur photographer Emily Perkins is mostly a social nonentity at her high school. Everyone in her small town, Green Mountain, knows that 24-year-old Jake Cane was a football superstar on a path to the NFL until he was grievously injured during a game in 2011. When Emily accidentally discovers a shimmering green portal that transports her back to the night of Jake’s injury, she shares it with him. Jake, convinced he can change the fateful game, takes various members of the 2019 football team through the gateway with him. His plan repeatedly fails—and each time Mr. Paulsen’s social studies class meets after a student has time-traveled, that student ends up reliving a shocking event of injustice in American history, such as 1962’s Bloody Sunday in Selma or the Salem witch trials. Can Emily convince the man she’s fallen in love with to change course before someone really gets hurt?

This is a plot-driven story in the vein of Back to the Future. The small-town setting lends itself to a sweet web of relationships between the kids, their friends’ parents, and older neighbors, and the football team gathers at a diner to brainstorm about the weird goings-on. Certain elements, however, strain credulity: Jake is at times selfish, threatening, and even violent, but Emily feels that “the boy she couldn’t stop loving” is “a reclamation project... she could handle,” even though he’s just “chased her two best friends across the schoolyard apparently trying to kill them.”

Readers who are hoping for explanations of the gateway’s origins, nature, and functioning will be be left wondering: it’s unclear why the gateway takes everyone back to Jake’s traumatic night, why traveling through it makes Emily more confident and attractive, why it causes temporal flashbacks only during one teacher’s lectures specifically about injustice, and why each student’s flashback concerns people who share their ethnicity and gender. But readers who put aside these questions will be rewarded with a fast-moving teen adventure that they’ll tear right through. Iuppa and Pesqueira’s uplifting message about prioritizing the here and now and leaving the past behind will resonate with YA readers.

Takeaway: Young adult readers will relate to the conflicted characters’ self-determination to change their future in this fantasy journey to the past.

Great for fans of: Ilsa Madden-Mills’s I Promise You, Arya Rose’s Deception, Stephen King’s 11/22/63.

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

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The [New] New Patriotism
Jennifer Blackburn
Debut author Jennifer Blackburn claims two things are incontrovertible: “History repeats itself and change is constant.” She immediately challenges her audience with this paradox in her meticulous exploration of the current state of American politics, while exhorting readers to be change agents in redefining the “American Ideal.” Part history lesson and part manifesto, Blackburn’s guide covers issues such topics as shifting definitions of nationalism and patriotism, recent challenges to the idea of American exceptionalism, and technology’s influence on modern Americans’ political identities. Blackburn calls millennials and “incumbent Gen Zs” to action, urging them “to continue flying the banner of American democracy at home while living in a global interdependence.”

Blackburn makes an effort to be nonpartisan, and she succeeds: in one chapter, she advocates for the philosophy of “America First,” while in another she unflinchingly characterizes American history as fraught with white supremacy—two viewpoints that are positionally opposed in the current political climate. Ultimately, however, some of her ideas will limit the readership with whom the book resonates: for example, in discussing the calls for stimulus packages to help a populace economically affected by Covid-19, she recommends that millennials read Milton Friedman and revisit “the war effort of the 1940s,” when “Americans rolled up their sleeves, enlisted in the military, worked factory jobs and bought war bonds to help support the government. Not the other way around.” Without suggestions about how readers whose livelihoods have been lost should survive, let alone pitch in economically to support the government, such sentiments are unlikely to convince readers who don’t already share both her views and the economic safety that makes this idea seem feasible.

Through mixing history, anecdotes, and opinion, Blackburn skillfully combines America's past with the present cultural moment in undertones of obvious pride and devotion. She seamlessly moves from paeans to Thomas Paine into reflections on the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Fellow centrists will appreciate this rousing blueprint for reviving American patriotism for the 21st century.

Takeaway: Political junkies and patriots alike will appreciate Blackburn's blend of American history and modern social commentary.

Great for fans of: Adam Gopnik’s A Thousand Small Sanities, Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner’s What Unites Us, Amitai Etzioni's Reclaiming Patriotism.

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

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Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary
Jody A. Forrester
How does one become a happily married, middle-class chiropractor after spending years in a communist group? In this galvanizing debut memoir, short story author Forrester takes readers behind the scenes of her college years in a communist group. She begins in 1960s lower-middle-class Los Angeles, skillfully illustrating how idealistic young college students can easily get sucked into extremist groups. Anti-Vietnam war protests (“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”) and drug experimentation lead her to join the radical communist group the Revolutionary Union. In 1969, Forrester quickly evolves from a middle-class teenager to sleeping with a “30-ought-6 and a M1 rifle” under her bed—and, after leaving the group in 1972, she feels she’s lost part of her family.

A born storyteller whose prose immediately draws readers in, Forrester vividly portrays the fear of crouching in the dark with guns in case of a police raid, the horrors of being sexually assaulted by a babysitter’s husband, and the heartbreak of romantic betrayal and a subsequent abortion (which, pre-Roe v. Wade, required psychiatrist approval). She also skillfully outlines what can happen when starry-eyed teenage idealism meets bad actors—and the sometimes-lifelong results (in Forrester’s case, difficulty finding employment and an FBI investigation). Her skillfully crafted prose is studded with evocative, tender details (her hospitalized grandmother “looked like a wizened overripe potato. I cried to see her laboring for each breath”; she follows a women’s lib group’s instructions for masturbation “as though piecing together a balsa airplane”).

At the outset of this gripping account, Forrester muses, “I decided it was time to reclaim those lost years, to learn more about how I got there, and how I got from there to here.” She adeptly records how, despite her early choices closing some doors, they contributed to her becoming a strong, determined woman and led her to discover a happily-ever-after with her husband and two daughters. Readers will devour this deeply honest and heartfelt memoir.

Takeaway: This insightful and incisive memoir brings the ’60s to life and powerfully illustrates what it’s like to be radicalized—and deradicalized.

Great for fans of: Patricia Campbell Heart and Alvin Moscow’s Every Secret Thing, Bill Ayers’s Fugitive Days, Hari Kunzru’s My Revolutions.

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

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What the Hell is an Economy?
eric johnson
Johnson characterizes his painstaking economic debut as “the journey of an engineer’s self-education in finance and economics.” In the tradition of Physics for Poets, Johnson’s investigation and explanation of an often misunderstood science is targeted toward non-majors, in this case the show-your-work stalwarts of the STEM world. With dispassionate rigor, Johnson explains the fundamental rules that have shaped global economies, with the goal of ascertaining how the U.S. government could prevent future humanitarian crises like that surrounding Covid-19: by creating societal wealth, not just wealth for individuals but also well-maintained infrastructure, high-quality education, minimal debt, low unemployment, and fully funded pensions.

Engineers are trained to build models that work, and Johnson continues in this vein by testing established economic principles with his own examples and hypotheticals, followed by showing his work and revealing the reasons behind his presented solutions. In one example, he determines that short-term treasury debt is the optimal mode for banks’ repurchase agreements. Johnson’s prose is often straightforward—a just-the-facts presentation only occasionally leavened by humor—though he does amusingly use the root word “corpus” to compare corporations to zombies and draws some economic conclusions from the board game Settlers of Catan. Energetic, cartoonlike illustrations by Cormac Power add interest, too, beginning each chapter with depictions of such things as Blind Justice weighing Medusa’s detached head, helicopters dropping cash, and Darth Vader.

Johnson spares few words in his considerations of centralized versus decentralized economic management (he suggests a balance) and the fascinating role that faith plays in economies. His approach offers readers little hand-holding: he introduces a topic, analyzes it in the space of a few lines or with some math, and then presents his conclusions before moving on. This book is less a primer than it is an extended, sometimes dazzling proof, making the persuasive case that our economy could do more for us all while simultaneously warning against excessive centralization.

Takeaway: An engineer argues that economies can serve their participants better in this dense introduction to economics.

Great for fans of: Roger E. A. Farmer’s How the Economy Works, Niall M. Fraser and Elizabeth M. Jewkes’s Engineering Economics: Financial Decision Making For Engineers.

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

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YOU BE YOU
Richard Brehm
Brehm’s children’s debut immerses readers in a stunning mélange of color and prose illustrating a girl’s journey of self-discovery. The second-person narration explains that, on the appointed day, “Old Master Paint awaits you” in “a whispery house at the edge of the wild.” The Master leads the girl to a room, where he leaves her alone in front of the huge, glowing “Great Canvas of Life,” which is “daunting” and “so very very…white.” She struggles to decide what to fill it with, fighting the master’s disapproval and her own uncertainty, until her breakthrough materializes—and she takes control to design a beautiful life.

A loose, inconsistent rhyme scheme may trip up some readers, but the story will captivate them. Readers will empathize with the girl’s self-doubt and mistakes (“In frustration and despair, you tear a hole in the canvas” that allows monsters in) and cheer for her when she realizes she can make her own choices about her life canvas. Rogério Coelho’s extraordinary illustrations spin a web of enchantment around Brehm’s story, bursting with vibrant color and movement and enhancing the sense of magic.

The book’s promotion of both acceptance and daring (“Why, this is your life you’re painting… Dream large, head high!/Nothing can hold you back.”) will resonate with children and adults. Readers of all ages will be swept away in this bewitching allegory about building a meaningful life.

Takeaway: Readers of any age will be enchanted by this kaleidoscopic journey of self-exploration and discovery.

Great for fans of: Eileen Spinelli’s Someday, Nancy Tillman’s The Crown on Your Head.

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

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Embrace That Girl: A Love Story With The Girl In The Mirror
Cris Ramos Greene
In this debut memoir, Ramos Greene recounts her search for direction in her early 20s. In Miami, Ramos Greene flounders after college, “during the Great Depression of our time,” becoming rapidly disillusioned with her entry-level job and earning the nickname “Ms. QLC” (“quarter-life crisis”) from her friends. She struggles with her ethnic identity, labeling herself “other” on application forms even as her Cuban-born parents argue their Spanish heritage makes them “100% white.” Spurred by her “craving to be wanted,” she moves from soulmates to one-night stands in a “parade of suitors.” She applies to MFA programs and consults a fortune teller, seeking purpose, but for the moment considers that “maybe it's okay to be in the questions.”

As the subtitle indicates, Ramos Greene’s memoir intimately engages her relationship with her body, containing confessions like “I’ve never felt beautiful.” The narrative is also bursting with vivid bodily jokes and descriptions, as illustrated in its very first sentence starkly describing “pee on the [bathroom] floor.” During a breakup, Ramos Greene depicts herself as not just sad, but “dry heaving.” Her body humor serves to highlight her account’s thematic concerns—questions about her identity and future whose answers, she suspects, lie “on the other side of my comfort.”

Ramos Greene’s memoir dramatizes experiences common to many millennials and members of Generation Z in snappy, heartfelt fashion. In smooth and competent prose and dialogue peppered with Spanish expressions and endearments, she reminds readers that, amid the stagnation and sadness, it is okay to be uncertain, because after all, “growth is a complicated thing.” Readers looking for catharsis and hilarious relatability will enjoy Ramos Greene’s depiction of her quest for stability.

Takeaway: This well-crafted postcollege memoir will appeal to young readers and those looking for insightful humor on the journey to self-acceptance.

Great for fans of: Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today.

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

Click here for more about Embrace That Girl

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