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All People Are Beautiful
Vincent Kelly
With a cheerfully shifting rhythmic style and colorful, exaggerated illustrations, Kelly’s (The Awesome Things I Love), a life lesson book for young readers, bursts with delight for both children and caregivers. Focusing on differences between people rather than the commonalities readers might expect, Kelly’s sweet story looks at the narrator’s wide variety of friends and their disparate hobbies and backgrounds, while declaring that the things that make individuals unique are precisely what makes them interesting. The bright, engaging pictures, which cover a diverse panoply of races and phenotypes, are as eye-catching and educational as the text.

One of the book’s highlights comes close to the end. As the text references different languages spoken by a wide variety of people, the pictures reflect that with representative translations of the word “hello.” The introduction of these diverse concepts and international flair offers an excellent educational opportunity regarding the expansion of horizons. Repetition of the title also helps to drive the message home. While the largely simple and straightforward vocabulary and easy style make for perfect bedtime reading, the unpredictable rhythm and unexpected cadence changes (“We come from different countries and places, have different faces, and represent all races, but all people are beautiful”) may trip readers up.

The inventive, dynamic illustrative techniques appeal throughout the book. There are points, however, where the images convey stereotypical representations (such as kids of the world dressed to represent their individual homelands) that may prove problematic for some audiences. Though simplistic, the theme will likely prove most appropriate for children at the higher end of the age range, given the slight complexity of certain concepts, including languages and cultural norms. Activities at the end of the book offer an additional avenue for young readers and their caregivers to interact and develop cultural appreciation and form the foundations of a lifelong appreciation of how differences deserve celebration.

Takeaway: A delightful, vibrant picture book that urges kids to embrace what makes us each unique.

Great for fans of: Alexandra Penfold’s All are Welcome, Jess Hong’s Lovely.

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

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3,001 Arabian Days: A Memoir: Growing up in an American oil camp in Saudi Arabia (1953-1962)
Rick Snedeker
In this vivid memoir, Snedeker (Holy Smoke) recounts his childhood as a U.S. citizen living in Saudi Arabia. In 1953, Snedeker’s father relocated their five-person family to Dhahran, joining a growing community of Aramco employees. There, Snedeker and his siblings experienced an idyllic childhood, combining the best parts of suburban America with exposure to an exciting locale and culture. As an adult, Snedeker feels drawn to Saudi Arabia, and finds that many so-called “Aramco brats” feel the same way. When he moves back to the Dhahran area as an adult, he is surprised by what has changed since his youth—and what has remained exactly the same.

Snedeker offers evocative descriptions of Saudi Arabia, the Aramco neighborhood, and the cast of colorful expats populating the town. He examines his childhood with a measured hand, psychoanalyzing his relationship with his parents and assessing the ways his Saudi upbringing affects him as an adult. The prose is detailed; Snedeker proves expert at finding the interesting in the mundane. By focusing on the specifics of his upbringing (shooting straw wrappers at a diner ceiling, the acquisition of a new family blender, the setup of an alleyway kickball court), he presents a compelling vision of a bygone era, each anecdote alive with feeling.

Snedeker has lived in Saudi Arabia three separate times over the course of his life, though he primarily concentrates on his childhood years. This emphasis allows for a vivid and thorough depiction of that era, but it narrows the focus. Snedeker occasionally touches on intriguing cultural issues—such as the presence of servants in the Aramco camp, the changes in religious acceptance in Saudi Arabia, or post-9/11 relations—only to move quickly on. Still, as a snapshot of a particular moment in time, experienced through the eyes of a young American and also his engaging adult self, it’s a resounding success.

Takeaway: This detailed memoir, following a young American’s childhood in Saudi Arabia, is perfect for those interested in cross-cultural 1950s history.

Great for fans of: Tim Barger’s Arabian Son, Ahmed Abodehman’s The Belt.

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

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The Dead Don't Drink at Lafitte's: Sam Quinn, book 2
Seana Kelly
Kelly’s action-packed second volume in her Sam Quinn series (after The Slaughtered Lamb Bookstore and Bar) takes Sam and her vampire boyfriend, Clive, to New Orleans to face more mysteries and danger--and discover more about her powers. San Francisco bookshop proprietor Sam, still adjusting to her werewolf and magic abilities, finds herself confronted by a ghost who warns that Clive, the master of San Francisco’s vampires, is in danger: A group of vampires recently arrived from the Crescent City aren’t there for a friendly visit. After a battle, Sam heads to New Orleans with Clive and his two closest in command to finish the battle. There she learns there’s much more to her family history than she knows making her powerfully unique.

Kelly’s continued development of characters and friendships from the previous book is a highlight, while the new friends introduced here, like the gorgon Stheno, bring abundant laughter. Meanwhile, perfectly vile new enemies will make readers’ skin crawl, especially the ancient vampire, St. Germain. Kelly’s vivid storytelling and immersive detail will draw readers into New Orleans, while her skill at capturing her cast’s hearts ensures that every emotion, injury, and struggle they face resonates.

The Sam Quinn series centers on a beautiful, loving relationship that strays from the trope of the tough vampire who saves an abused woman. In Kelly’s hands, the abused woman heals in her way, gaining her own strength, while the tough vampire is supportive only in the ways that she needs. Kelly has excelled at the difficult task of making this follow-up as exciting for new readers as it will be for those who enjoyed the first book. Both picking up where the story left off, and inviting readers to feel the essential core of each relationship, The Dead Don’t Drink at Lafitte’s offers precisely what readers look for in the second book of a series.

Takeaway: Urban fantasy fans looking for deep relationships, a strong female lead, and a great mystery will be quickly absorbed into Sam’s evolving adventure.

Great for fans of: Dannika Dark’s Keystone, Chloe Neill’s Wicked Hour.

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

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Whirl Away Girl
Tricia Johnson
Johnson’s debut collection documents her journey of discovering, identifying, and coming to terms with a chronic illness through honest, imagistic poems, arranged into four sections whose titles outline her experience: “Symptomatic,” “Treatments,” “Distress,” and “Emergence.” Johnson powerfully illuminates the challenges of living with chronic illness through a detailed and varied poetic voice. Proclaiming “I am not lupus / It is part of me / It is with me / It is not the whole of what defines me,” she offers readers a roadmap to healing and fearless words of wisdom while also claiming a space to express her own frustration and pain.

In the first two sections, Johnson pens frenetic and even choppy lines, suggesting the anxiety of identifying an illness and figuring out a course of action. She personifies sickness and fatigue as antagonists barking orders at her: “Sit NOW! / Lay down NOW!” The poems in “Symptomatic” and “Treatments” contain minimal punctuation, pulling readers into the “lupus fog” right along with the poet. Many of these selections lament her uncomfortable situation, which can be taxing for empathetic readers, but Johnson always balances out the struggle with rousing affirmations of her own humanity and worth: “ME / This beautiful creation with thoughts of futures and dreams / ME / This creative woman who loves passionately.” In the last section, Johnson’s rediscovery of a zest for life shines through in her lush, longer lines, a standout being “Bloom”—“Reach out new / Hold tight bloom / Wind gust, take flight / Fingers of curls leading / Watching lemon cocktail purple flower / New growth driven in the thickness of summer.”

These poems bare her mind and heart. Johnson admits her fear of asking for help towards the beginning—”Don’t want to worry / Anyone including me”—but by sharing her experiences, and by emphasizing her humanity rather than her diagnosis, she offers welcome comfort.

Takeaway: Poetically minded readers will love Johnson’s lush, fearless verse about her life with lupus.

Great for fans of: Anne Sexton, James Strazza, Danez Smith.

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

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A Guy's Guide to Throat Cancer: Do's and Don'ts for Recovery
Ed Rossman
With a raw and upfront approach, cancer survivor Rossman (40+ New Revenue Sources for Libraries and Nonprofits) shares his journey through treatment for stage 4B oropharyngeal cancer. His opening mantra—“When cancer kicks you in the —, have it kick you forward”—starts this candid memoir off with a bang and exemplifies his upbeat, can-do attitude even in the face of a life-threatening disease. Rossman balances exhaustive details of his chemotherapy and radiation trials with uplifting touches of Christian faith and an influx of frank humor: “I would hate to have the radiation gun overheat! No Star Trek phasers on overload needed here!” By giving readers an inside view of his CaringBridge entries during the course of treatment, and expounding further on related experiences, he offers a grueling, behind-the-scenes ride that fortunately ends in triumph.

Rossman connects by eschewing privacy and formality. He unflinchingly exposes the brutal side of treatment, from being able to “feel the burn” in his taste buds and salivary glands to his almost full time use of a feeding tube, but fights the temptation to feel sorry for himself (“Jesus didn’t indulge in pity on Calvary”). He strikes a welcome balance between encouragement and reality, all while offering practical advice to help readers facing their own cancer battles ease their physical, mental, and emotional suffering–including an array of coping skills that gave him hope on the darkest days.

Rossman offers real nuggets of wisdom, such as employing “this week” as a refrain to stay in the present, and a sobering “[I] don’t think I’ve ever been surrounded by so much sickness and death” on his last day of chemotherapy. Readers whose lives are touched by cancer will appreciate the entertainment factor as much as the valuable lessons Rossman delivers in this direct, engaging chronicle.

Takeaway: A thoroughly detailed chronicle of throat cancer treatment balanced with touching positivity and candid humor.

Great for fans of: Lysa TerKeurst’s It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way, Chris Geiger’s The Cancer Survivors Club.

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

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How To Judge A Book By Its Lover
Jessica Jiji
Delusions and daydreaming drive this over-the-top comic romance set in New York City. Dog walker Laurel Linden lives with her head in the clouds, constantly fantasizing about the sophisticated life she’ll have one day—with the perfect art critic boyfriend and the publishing contract just waiting for her—if only someone would recognize her genius. At her lowest point, she meets a woman named Vanessa who, like a fairy godmother, shows her how to get everything she’s ever dreamed of, launching Laurel on a crusade for her fantasy life.

Jiji’s (Sweet Dates in Basra) protagonist starts the novel as extremely self-involved: She walks out on a blind date because he’s bald, manipulates her way into both a publishing contract and a boyfriend, and secretly nurtures feelings of smug superiority toward her writing group. When a brutally honest editor tells her in no uncertain terms that her book is a mess and will be critically panned, it’s Laurel’s ego, not her conscience, that convinces her to ask for a release from the contract—and she still manages to spin it so that the publishers pay her for cancelling. On the flip side, as Laurel gets everything she’s ever wanted, she suddenly realizes that she doesn’t have a need for any of it, dumping the art critic in favor of the blind date she’d snubbed, breaking her book contract to become a celebrity gossip writer, and ditching Vanessa after realizing that she’s not Vanessa’s only “project.”

Romance readers will likely be frustrated with the novel’s structure and the focus on Laurel’s life and career—and the fact that she doesn’t interact with her ultimate love interest until halfway through the narrative. Chemistry between the characters is lacking, and Laurel’s ongoing exploitation of everyone around her proves unappealing and farfetched. Still, fans of lighthearted women’s fiction will enjoy the antics of this comically overconfident heroine.

Takeaway: This comic romance asks what happens when a deeply self-involved New York City woman finally gets a shot at having it all.

Great for fans of: Becky Monson’s The Accidental Text, Alina Jacobs’s In Her Candy Jar.

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

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Yanks Behind the Lines: How the Commission for Relief in Belgium Saved Millions from Starvation During World War I
Jeffrey B. Miller
Jeffrey Miller (WWI Crusaders) delivers a gripping account of how private individuals in a U.S.-led effort saved millions from starvation during the First World War. When Belgium and areas of Northern France were unable to feed themselves under German occupation, the nongovernmental Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), led by a young Herbert Hoover, toiled alongside the local Comité National de Secours et d’Alimentation (Comité National), the German government, the Allied powers, and several neutral countries to feed the hungry. Miller stays laser-focused on the diplomatic and logistical challenges of such a massive food operation without getting bogged down in minutia or details about the war, save when it directly relates to his topic, such as unrestricted submarine warfare or the background events of the Zimmermann telegram.

The story is full of drama that Miller sketches well, particularly tensions between the CRB and Comité National, and between Hoover and everyone else. In the initial rush of donations to Belgium, Hoover fought to ensure CRB was in control of relief. Miller’s dedication to facts rather than speculation means he leaves it to readers to wonder about how much of Hoover’s motivation in these disputes was humanitarian and how much was arrogance. (Miller quotes an expert who touts Hoover’s “ingenuity in persuading or bullying the various Powers” to get international actors to compromise.) The self-giving spirit of the CRB delegates, mostly young volunteers spread throughout Belgium, shines through Miller’s narrative, however, especially in the anecdote of a delegate arrested by German authorities under false pretenses.

Particularly helpful are period photographs and Miller’s statistical charts, helping readers stay oriented and personalizing the humanitarians who founded the first international nongovernmental organization. History buffs will be eager to learn the struggles of the Belgian and northern French during the war as well as the courage and fortitude of those who sacrificed to feed the desperate.

Takeaway: This compelling chronicle will grip history buffs while opening their eyes to a little known but vitally important humanitarian mission.

Great for fans of: John Keegan’s The First World War, Tom Scott-Smith’s On an Empty Stomach: Two Hundred Years of Hunger Relief.

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

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CODEX: The Origin of Thought
Amerigo Consta
With an epic, fantastical feel, Consta’s fact-heavy spiritual thriller reimagines not only the founding of Damascus, Syria, but the birth of humanity itself. The adventure begins almost 11,500 years before recorded history with the travails of a young nomad named Aram as he receives sacred items and orders related to the evolution of the species. From there, Consta follows history as it gets reshaped, with an emphasis on the Roman Empire, particularly Emperor Traianus, and onward to luminaries such as Constantine and Leonardo da Vinci. Drawing readers along a path that blends enlightenment principles with hints of science fantasy, Consta sets his account of the founding and evolution of a holy order.

The intricately detailed plot relies on a whirlwind mixture of historical facts and footnotes, both based in recorded texts and Consta’s own world-building. Slice-of-life snapshots of notable figures throughout history offers a tantalizing glimpse into what life may have been like, and Consta follows ideas from one era to another through devices like the diary of Apollodorus, a point-of-view character, later being read by Attila the Hun, who gets depicted converting to “the monotheistic God that unifies all humans on Earth.” While his passion for his subject is clear, Consta’s prose often edges toward the academic, offering recitations of details rather than a fully realized narrative, with side trips that rampage through various religious traditions.

More engaged with ideas than storytelling, the novel suffers from a lack of internal consistency and is crafted on a foundation of heavy chunks of information with little in the way of character development or realistic reactions to situations. The subtleties of politics are ignored in favor of literary expedience, and historical inaccuracies will pull readers out of the story. Readers of a technical bent with an eye for history and alternative theories regarding human origins may find this a fascinating, if dense, read.

Takeaway: This novel’s dense alternate take on human origins and spirituality favors fantastic history over storytelling.

Great for fans of: Barbara Frale’s The Templars: The Secret History Revealed, Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! Trilogy.

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

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Haiku for the Road
Stephen Holton
Holton, an Episcopal priest, has crafted a funny, thought-provoking, and deeply spiritual collection of haiku, the Japanese form of poetry that is limited to 17 syllables. In an introduction, he recounts his realization that during his morning prayers, the thoughts he was having could be placed, “like puzzle pieces” into the form of haiku. Holton has grouped his haiku into three general types. First, “morning prayer haiku,” are thoughts that evolved out of his devotions; “snapshot haiku” frame “words together like a photograph”; and, on the lighter side, the “donut haiku” are little treats for himself and his readers about things that delighted him. This collection, presented in reverse chronological order, is something like a scrapbook of those thoughts going back in time.

Holton has wisely labeled each haiku with its type, and the variety of approaches and subjects gives each page of two or three poems an easy flow. He heads each section with a photo that offers either a sense of the everyday nature of his life or of extraordinary events like racial justice protests. Additional photos could have added more of this flavor and broken up some longer sections more effectively.

With the haiku form’s requisite economy, the poetry reflects many engaging topics, like Hoton’s mixed religious ancestry and desire for ecumenical unity. He also gleefully expresses his love of food and drink as well as his gratitude for his city's communities. The haiku are just as likely to contemplate the coronavirus (Social distancing: / flowers six inches apart / but still in God's earth.”) as they are to refer directly to God (“God offers us love / when all we have is anger. / We can use both.”) or his beloved spouse (“A bewildered world. / But I can still kiss my wife, / so ... what's the problem?”). Holton's emotional openness gives his verse a warmth, wit, and spiritual appeal that a wide audience could enjoy.

Takeaway: Readers interested in clever and often moving haiku related to spirituality and everyday life will delight in this observational poetry.

Great for fans of: Daphne Washington's A Christian’s Book Of Haiku, Hosea Williams Jr.'s By A Prophet.

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

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The Unseen Path
Zlaikha S. Sadozai
In this sequel to The Unseen Blossom, soulmates Lamar and Princess Zuli are reunited in their native Kabul after returning from a mystical journey in another realm. Although they don’t at first remember each other, they soon fall back in love, tied together by their shared experiences. Despite mutual adoration, complications impede their perfect union-- Lamar, though of noble birth, is a shoemaker, and considered unworthy of a princess’s hand. And with the Russians preparing to invade Afghanistan, the royal family contemplates an escape plan. Still, not even military occupation can keep the two lovers apart, as they attempt to survive in war-torn Kabul with the hope of someday being together.

Readers who have not read the earlier installments in this series will find it difficult to fully understand the narrative. Lamar and Zuli’s backstory is never fully detailed, and despite references to the earlier books’ fantasy realms, mythical creatures, and magical gardens, traditional fantasy elements are only intermittently featured here. The story primarily takes place in the real world, although it touches upon the otherworldly, with a strong focus on Lamar and Zuli’s cosmic love (their relationship is part of something bigger than themselves).

The prose itself is poetic, with the richness and mystery of religious verse, and the novel brims with optimism, even in the most difficult of situations. Separated from the rest of her family and forced to disguise herself on the streets of Kabul, Zuli finds purpose working as a volunteer nurse, while Lamar is accepted by his local baker and begins working illegally as a teacher. The characters, who frequently quote Rumi and reference poetry and spirituality, are buoyed by their love of country, their love of each other, and their faith. These characters are too unflawed for realistic fiction, but The Unseen Path’s allegorical approach celebrates community, love, and spiritual living.

Takeaway: This poetic novel combining fantasy, history, and romance will please spiritual-minded readers and their soulmates.

Great for fans of: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil.

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

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The Language of Corpses
Tamara Linse
Set in a far-flung galaxy in the far-off future, Linse’s (Deep Down Things) poignant space opera about identity creates an immersive universe that readers can get lost in. Misfit turned cybercriminal Jazari, who hears voices in her head that don’t come from her personal computer, is recruited by Zosi, a rich mobster from the Bsam creche, to bring down a politician on her home planet of Cecrops. She finds love with her co-worker, Dang, another misfit who wants to be a lobbyist. When the mission goes awry and loyalties are broken, Jazari must head out into the vast network of planets to find herself. Eala, a woman who takes care of alien creatures called taktaks on the planet Corvus, is thrust into the middle of an alien war when she is called upon to be a human emissary for the taktak, Tahbi. The entity ZD777 wakes alone on a frozen asteroid its memories lost. When these three lives collide, Jazari, Eala, and ZD777 uncover the secrets to their pasts and the future of the galaxy.

In Linse’s brave new world, instantaneous space travel is made possible through exchanging one’s body for another. Drawing on her background as a computer scientist, she plays with the possibilities of such technologies in elaborate detail. Although these descriptions border on verbose, seasoned speculative fiction readers will appreciate her playfulness and commitment to thinking through the ramifications of her inventions, right down to the pronouns for her “essents”.

Likewise, Linse’s characters are bold and fully realized. Jazari’s quest to find herself and her heated romance with Dang will resonate with readers. Eala’s environmentalist streak and her relationships with the alien taktaks give her undeniable charm, ZD777’s harrowing personal quest to uncover its past is touching and engaging, with surprising scenes like a computer teaching it to master concepts like names and categories. Fans of gritty, character-driven science fiction will find much to love in Linse’s work.

Takeaway: Driven by character and fascinating speculative technology, this space opera will please fans of thoughtful SF.

Great for fans of: Ann Leckie and Charles Stross.

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

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My Last Name
Eric Schumacher
Schumacher’s touching novella centers around the events of the last day of Charlotte Barnes’ life. Charlotte – Lottie as she is known – lives in an assisted living facility. She suffers from memory loss and, as she notes, “seem[s] to receive more assistance and do less living these days.” Lottie goes through brief moments of lucidity and longer periods of confusion as she spends the day going from her bed to her chair window and back again. As she does, she drifts through memories of her life, including the deaths of her husbands and child. Throughout the day, she is drawn back to the present by her caregivers before she peacefully dies in her sleep.

Lottie’s thoughts and experiences are front-and-center, which is a welcome change from many narratives about old age and memory loss that often focus on the experiences of children, spouses, and caregivers. Schumacher’s first-person narration adeptly shifts from Lottie’s moments of lucidity to her memories to her moments of confusion, all without losing the reader. Schumacher also brings commendable empathy to Lottie’s character. When we do get the perspectives of the caregivers–such as Sarah, who has tea dates with Lottie and clearly holds a place in her heart for her–it serves to further highlight Lottie’s feelings of confusion and isolation while effectively reminding readers of how the world perceives her.

On occasion, Schumacher recounts lists of facts from Lottie’s past, dwelling on names and dates rather than inviting readers to inhabit a moment. The sparse prose is mostly effective (“Only two men had ever kissed me, two men that I loved and who loved me”), but many of Lottie’s memories are set in the first decades of the 20th century with few period details to anchor them. Still, this quick read packs a lot of life--and a strong emotional punch--in just a few pages.

Takeaway: This tender novella will satisfy readers eager to look back at the end of a quiet life lived with dignity.

Great for fans of: Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

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

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In Women We Trust
Naim Haroon Sakhia
Attorney Sakhia’s tense English debut novel draws attention to the societal inequities in a small Pakistani town when a servant's son is found in a compromising position with a landowner’s daughter. In Hayatabad, Pakistan, landowner Sardar Timur Barlas exerts his power as he plans to inflict punishment on Gul, son of housekeeper Zara Bibi, when Gul is discovered in a kitchen pantry in an improper embrace with Sardar’s daughter, Farah. Mullah Aziz, imam of the largest town mosque, is appointed to select members for the Panchayat, an unofficial tribunal responsible for deciding Gul’s guilt or innocence. Zara Bibi’s only hope to see Gul avoid the punishment of castration is to sacrifice her daughter, Badri, whom Sardar wants to be “given” to his men for three nights. Zara Bibi faces a decision that no mother should be forced to make--and if she doesn’t choose which child will suffer, Sardar will decide for her. As the Panchayat convenes, Mullah Aziz’s acquaintance, Turab, a journalist, documents the trial and questions the truth behind the accusations against Gul.

Sakhia deftly explores the injustices faced by those in subservient positions in Pakistan, vividly exposing brutality and corruption. The novel also highlights the disparate treatment of women as Sardar’s and Mullah Aziz’s wives must be deferential to their husbands' decisions, and Badri suffers a vicious assault.

Sakhia focuses on disparate characters, revealing how Badri dreams of her grandmother Mimi Jan while she is in pain, and Mullah Aziz’s arrogance in controlling those who come to his mosque. These narratives initially appear unrelated, slowing the flow of the novel’s opening, but Sakhia adeptly connects them, rewarding patient readers. This in-depth study of life in a small town in Pakistan, the first installment in a series, richly outlines class and gender inequities while embracing believable, well-developed characters and a cliffhanger conclusion.

Takeaway:This intense novel of power in a Pakastani village reveals urgent truths and will keep readers turning the pages.

Great for fans of: Sejal Badani’s The Storyteller’s Secret, Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field.

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

Click here for more about In Women We Trust
We Are Akan: Our People and Our Kingdom in the Rainforest - Ghana, 1807 -
Dorothy Brown Soper
Offering up a historical adventure featuring African culture and the Akan tribe in the Asante Kingdom, Soper’s debut middle reader follows the circuitous lives of three young boys: Kwame, the chief's son; Kwaku, the chief’s heir; and Baako, a slave hoping to earn his freedom. Friends from a young age, though individually different and on divergent paths, the boys experience life lessons together and find themselves in dire situations that they must escape. Peppered with beautiful illustrations, and offering history and knowledge of the Akan clans, Soper weaves a powerful coming of age story set against a rich display of African culture.

Engaging characters will keep young readers involved, and Soper’s use of the native tongue, Twi, lends authenticity to the story as We Are Akan touches on the history of the Akan tribe leading up to and during the Atlantic Slave Trade and the voyages that originally carried African people to North America. Opening chapters deliver a crash course on the class system, the commerce industry, and the daily lives of the Akan people, with absorbing specifics like the spearing of a cobra and the “smoked fish that he carried wrapped in a leaf on top of a flat rock.”

At the end of the book, Soper includes a more thorough “Introduction to the Akan People,” covering, among other topics, their deep-seated extended family structure and formidable army. For readers not already well-versed in the Akan culture, this might have proven more helpful at the start. James Cloutier’s illustrations offer snapshots of daily Akan life, including acts such as pounding fufu (a well-known African dish) and the “Descent of the Golden Stool,” a festival ritual honoring Akan legend.This story’s action-packed, educational style will resonate with readers of all ages looking to gain knowledge of African history and charm those seeking a narrative that features diverse history and characters.

Takeaway: This richly historical African adventure will entertain and inform young readers and their parents.

Great for fans of: Kwame Mbalia's Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky, Beverley Naidoo’s Burn My Heart.

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

Click here for more about We Are Akan
The Art and Science of Real Wealth: Earn Real Wealth
Dhyan Appachu Bollachettira
Appachu draws on his experience as a real estate investor and speculator to give practical and philosophical advice in this guide to acquiring wealth. Appachu focuses on the poor planning, lack of discipline, and unethical investment practices that can hinder the accumulation of real wealth. As he recounts the mistakes he made as a novice investor, he makes this book’s central idea clear: He wants to enable readers to “manage money wisely” and to earn a consistent income while achieving the security of Moksha, the “freedom from the permanent influence of Karma.” Rather than offer shortcuts to wealth, he argues that the “world’s greatest investors succeeded only because of logic, reason, patience, and discipline.”

Appachu doesn’t shy from harsh criticism of “today’s casino capitalist stock markets”, Wall Street, or what he calls “con acts in the finance” industry such as mutual funds and the “Buy and Hold” strategies promoted by hedge fund owners and investment managers. He follows up this criticism with detailed market predictions and investment advice based on personal experiences and research of historical economic downturns and stock market crashes. Appachu offers striking--sometimes dire--claims about the financial futures of India, Singapore, the U.S., and several European markets. Charts and links to outside resources scattered throughout the guide add credibility to the author’s forecasts.

At times the book reads as a memoir. Appachu’s memories of past investments are presented as a cautionary tale, but his sometimes harsh language may give some readers pause: “By this time the Zyprexa had completely raped my mind and body. I was introduced to the horrors of fraud gutter pseudo ‘science’ of Psychiatry." The book takes a light spiritual turn with Appachu giving advice on high risk and dividend investing, while providing insight based on Hindu teachings and the principle of Dharma. With strong assertions and thought-provoking language, this guide sheds light on both financial and spiritual wealth.

Takeaway: Financial gurus and professionals will enjoy these strong opinions on investing and the future of finance.

Great for fans of: Richard Teitelbaum’s The Most Dangerous Trade, Sebastian Mallaby’s More Money Than God.

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

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A NEW NOW: Your Guide to Mastering Wisdom Daily, Achieving Equilibrium, and Empowering Your Nobler Self
Michael Goddart
Goddart’s (In Search of Lost Lives) detailed and extensive spiritual roadmap lays out many possible routes to a greater knowledge of self. Grounded in Eastern spiritual traditions like reincarnation, this guide instructs readers in the cultivation of spiritual growth and connecting to the “infinite, inexhaustible aquifer” of divine knowledge the author argues lies in each of us. Goddart claims that by developing this wisdom we can live each moment fully, always working toward a unique, self-determined purpose in life. Achieving this demands maintaining equilibrium, or a calm, positive state of openness free from the selfish desires of ego and the childish demands of the “lower mind.”

Readers will likely find Goddart’s bulky treatise as thought-provoking as it is overwhelming. Though he carefully defines the many concepts he introduces, their quantity, complexity, and occasionally overlapping meanings (as with “higher self,” “spiritual self,” “nobler self,” and “conscience”) leave readers with plenty to keep track of. Goddart’s division of the book’s primary concept—wisdom—into 33 varieties is thorough but difficult to absorb. He often further divides these subsections— in “The Wisdom of Simplicity,” he itemizes three different ways to achieve this type of wisdom. But though he inundates readers with occasionally repetitive information, Goddart’s multifaceted, analytical writing style also offers a variety of entry points to engage with his ideas.

Goddart’s relationship with the reader emerges as the true strength of the book. Far from presenting himself as a lofty guru, he acts as a warm, welcoming guide, encouraging readers to look within themselves for the wisdom and guidance they need to live their best lives—telling them that “You are potentially, if not already, the greatest authority on who you are and what’s best for you.” Goddart’s supportive companionship balances out the book’s often technical approach and will offer comfort to readers who are struggling with self-doubt on their spiritual journeys.

Takeaway: Goddart’s rigorous but inviting take on self-improvement will challenge open-minded, motivated readers— and provide a reassuring boost.

Great for fans of: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, Judith Marshall’s Past Lives, Present Stories.

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

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