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The People We Wanted to Forget
Michael G. Harpold
Harpold’s memoir of his time as a civilian adviser during the Vietnam War, and later working for the Border Management Agency, is sometimes meandering but deeply humane. Embedded with the South Vietnamese National Police Field Force in a militarily strategic province, he was tasked with training the NPPF to root out Viet Cong infiltrators without involving the U.S. military. He encountered atrocities and corruption, drove back the enemy, and developed deep friendships. Several years later, he led efforts to bring war refugees to the United States, beginning with a dramatic incident wherein he saved the lives of several people on a refugee boat. His quick thinking resulted in significant policy change.

Harpold’s extraordinary stories about living in the small town of Tam Ky explore the intersection of his civilian status and military training, and he uses maps and photographs to vividly enhance the narrative and help the reader follow along. His personal accounts of courage, hospitality and corruption are a highlight, but the end of his tour puts an abrupt end to these tales. Mundane stateside notes regarding dealing with bureaucracy and going on family vacations are a stark counterpoint to the memoir’s more dramatic aspects. But when Harpold travels to Thailand in an attempt to save the lives of Vietnamese refugees and begin righting the wrongs of American abandonment, the narrative crackles with tense excitement.

Often enlightening, this account also sometimes veers off into narrative dead ends and irrelevant anecdotes, such as extended meditations on meals. No matter his role, Harpold’s morality and compassion are evident; he has lived by his conscience at every point, even to the point of defying orders. Harpold’s memoir is at its best when he writes about navigating moral hurdles in a setting that defied easy choices. Anyone drawn to unconventional wartime stories will find this a satisfying work from a compassionate civilian perspective.

Takeaway: Readers interested in an American civilian’s firsthand account of the Vietnam War and a compassionate, reasoned take on immigration policy will be drawn to Harpold’s detailed memoir.

Great for fans of Nick Turse’s Kill Anything That Moves, Truong Nhu Tang’s A Viet Cong Memoir, Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie.

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

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Queen's Gambit
Bradley Harper
Harper’s riveting second Victorian crime novel follows Margaret Harkness, the cross-dressing, whip-smart novelist introduced in 2018’s A Knife in the Fog, as she chases down Herman Ott, a Russian-turned-German anarchist determined to kill Harkness, whom he mistakenly believes is responsible for his wife’s death. Harkness and her newfound acquaintances, Scotland Yard Inspector James Ethington and his would-be detective daughter, Elizabeth, hunt Ott through the streets of 1897 London after realizing he plans to assassinate Queen Victoria at her upcoming Diamond Jubilee ceremony.

Readers will enjoy following the slow unraveling of the web as Margaret and the Ethingtons circle around Ott. There are many characters—some only gracing one or two chapters—and though the shifts in focus can be confusing, they ultimately help to paint a wide, detailed picture of the setting. Margaret and James’s budding feelings for each other are a delightful escape from the darkness of Ott’s intentions, but the best relationship of all is between Margaret and Elizabeth. The 15-year-old lost her mother two years prior and is clearly searching for a non-male role model, which she finds in Margaret. The two women complement each other, with Margaret’s blunt, no-nonsense attitude and independence inspiring Elizabeth to speak her mind. The dialogue can feel a little clunky, but the language fits with the formalities of Victorian London.

One of the most delightful elements is Harper’s inclusion of colorful people from history, whose lives he outlines in short bios in the back of the book. Margaret liaises with Professor Joseph Bell (the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes), Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mark Twain; she also encounters Archduke Franz Ferdinand and, of course, Queen Victoria. She herself is based on the radical writer Margaret Harkness, who used the pen name John Law. Any crime fan or Victorian era history buff will find this a satisfying saga of female empowerment and adventure.

Takeaway: This suspenseful story will delight Victorian crime readers with strong female leads and a satisfying chase through 1897 London’s foggy streets.

Great for fans of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, Anne Perry, Arthur Conan Doyle.

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

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Zero One
Nicholas Nicolaides
Nicolaides’s timely dystopian tech-noir debut paints a sweeping portrait of a society on the brink. An unnamed virus is bringing devastation around the globe. Law enforcement drones, programmed for public safety, have begun killing people whose elevated temperatures mark them as ill and therefore dangerous. Amid the chaos, the mysterious T.G. management team, whose members are known only by their nationalities, attempts to release the long-awaited next chapter of the VR game called The Game to its fanatical devotees. The Belgian member of T.G. and others are tasked with finding some drones that have gone rogue and learning what happened to them. And ordinary people grieve their losses and struggle to come to terms with the changes in their world.

Readers will be immersed in the setting as they follow a wide variety of characters. Some of them, such as Kimiko Okumura, a young Japanese girl in virus-riddled London, are well crafted; Kimiko’s family tragedy pulls powerfully at the heartstrings. Other characters are lacking that depth, or are only loosely connected to the plot. The Belgian is gratuitously oversexed, and teen gamer Chiaki is a sadly shallow caricature of a child refusing to grow up. As the story shifts from one character and arc to another, momentum frequently stutters, and the abrupt ending leaves many things unresolved.

The novel is overburdened by a staggering amount of detail, but during the times when the narrative is flowing and focused, that detail has the remarkable effect of drawing readers deeply into the story. A fascinating, thought-provoking interplay of various industries and quasifuturistic technologies creates a multidimensional reading experience. The book also has very pleasing aesthetics, with striking illustrations and design elements. Readers looking for a tour of a peculiar future will enjoy falling through Nicolaides’s looking-glass.

Takeaway: This expansive tech-noir novel will reward readers who favor a bird’s-eye view of a dystopian setting and the variety of ordinary lives within it.

Great for fans of Charlie Jane Anders’s The City in the Middle of the Night, Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon.

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

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What Is a Green Roof?
Vicki Sando
In this lively and educational debut picture book, New York City schoolteacher Sando familiarizes young readers with the concept of green roofs—rooftops covered with living, growing plants—and their social and ecological benefits. Weaving technical vocabulary into an approachable prose style (aided by a two-page glossary), Sando explains the materials and structures of all kinds of green roofs. Lehar’s clear and colorful digital illustrations provide a lighthearted and contemporary juxtaposition to the sometimes scientifically dense text. Informative inset diagrams further explain scientific concepts such as compression and tension in relatable, easy-to-follow terms.

After a brief digression about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and medieval Scandinavia, present-day New York City’s architecture is the focal point. This would be a limiting choice if it weren’t for the abundance of green roof examples within the city, including post offices, apartment buildings, and schools. Lehar’s illustrations include New Yorkers of many ages, sizes, races, genders, and even species, with cameos from one of Central Park’s red-tailed hawks and a pizza-toting rat. The bold, eye-catching designs both provide visual stimulation and convey a sense of action to underscore the work’s message about the benefits of green roofs.

Though Sando and Lehar collaboratively paint a portrait of a brighter, healthier, happier green-roofed city, the last page of the book, which is meant to be a call to action, comes across more as a wistful hope that someday green roofs might become more widespread. The glossary and three websites are the only pointers to further investigation, and no sources are given for the book’s factual content, leaving curious readers wanting more. Best suited to classroom use, this beautifully illustrated book will encourage children and adults to think about what’s right overhead.

Takeaway: Urban schoolteachers will love using this primer on green roofs to start conversations with young students about built environments and ecosystems.

Great for fans of Peter Brown’s The Curious Garden, Sam Boughton’s The Extraordinary Gardener.

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

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The Necessity of Finance
Dr. Anthony M. Criniti IV
The subtitle of Criniti’s financial primer aptly forecasts the methodology of this precise and steady guide to financial science foundations. The emphasis is on establishing firm, clear definitions of all key terms, upon which it’s possible to build a sound understanding of a science that Criniti posits is “improperly defined from one textbook to the next.” To his credit, Criniti acknowledges that reading this book “may not make you a millionaire.” Instead, it’s intentionally designed to clarify the basics of finance itself.

Criniti persuasively argues that finance has often been ambiguously defined and taught by instructors lacking even a clear and consistent understanding of what their field is, especially in relation to its sister science, economics. The central distinction that Criniti draws is that economics is the science of wealth management for nations, while finance is the science of managing wealth for individuals, groups, or organizations. In lucid, inviting prose, he illuminates this difference, even coining the term financialist for a thinker who (like himself) has been trained in the science of finance.

Criniti’s approach is to guide readers by building up from first principles: introducing each idea, demonstrating its veracity, and drawing vital distinctions between one concept and others. For example, he will not let readers mistake speculation or gambling for investing. He refines his definitions as he goes, honoring readers’ trust and intelligence by showing his work. Lay readers and budding financialists will appreciate the clear and straightforward explanations of saving, risk and return, formulations of the time value of money, and other topics essential for financial literacy. Criniti’s painstaking approach stands as a welcome corrective to the flood of finance self-help books that promise readers shortcuts to wealth, making this an excellent guide for anyone looking to understand the core concepts of personal finance.

Takeaway: This guide illuminates the basics of personal finance for readers who prefer a solid grounding in crisp facts without any self-help hype.

Great for fans of James Gwartney, Richard L. Stroup, and Dwight R. Lee’s Common Sense Economics; Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics.

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

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The Most Important Lessons in Economics and Finance
Dr. Anthony M. Criniti IV
Criniti’s incisive, cogently argued, thoroughly researched third book on the science of finance (after The Survival of the Richest) contains 218 precepts about wealth management derived from the author’s experience as a financial planner and professor of finance. This is Criniti’s most accessible title, offering the practical advice about wealth management that readers of financial self-help books crave. True to form, Criniti balances his smart, concrete advice (“If you are a beggar or a thief only one time, then you may be labeled it for life”) with challenging ideas about wealth as a tool of survival and the dangers of allowing a zeal for fiscal acquisition to overshadow all other concerns.

Criniti, as always, thinks deeply. His principles (such as principle 119, “Guarantees do not exist in investing”) are sober and time-tested, selected to guide readers toward long-term security rather than a quick payday. He encourages a mindful approach, warning in principle 61, “The pursuit of making money can become an addiction that generally increases with wealth.” He even encourages skepticism of books like this one: “Never fully trust anything that you read in a financial self-help book without substantial research and/or confirming experience,” says principle 151.

“Substantial research” and “confirming experience” define Criniti’s approach. He eschews the promotion of fads and schemes in favor of helping readers establish a bedrock understanding of the laws of finance. Echoing Criniti’s ambitious The Survival of the Richest, several passages strike notes of social responsibility. “The more you indulge in the luxuries of extreme wealth, the more you risk misunderstanding the reality of the masses,” he writes. Devoid of grand promises but bursting with hard-earned wisdom, Criniti’s essential guide will help any reader—starting with any amount of funds—make more thoughtful, sensible, and ethical financial decisions.

Takeaway: Anyone interested in personal or business finance will benefit from these insightful principles of wealth management and financial planning.

Great for fans of Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s Your Money or Your Life, John C. Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.

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

The Survival of the Richest
Dr. Anthony M. Criniti IV
Criniti’s provocative, multidisciplinary magnum opus, an expansion on ideas introduced in The Necessity of Finance, challenges the ethos of selfish individualism that prevails in the popular business press. As in his previous book, Criniti asserts that the science of finance is the science of survival for an individual or organization. Here he probes and expands that thesis, making the case that the urge he calls “survivalism,” rooted in Darwin’s evolutionary biology and in Herbert Spencer’s concept of “the survival of the fittest,” is intimately bound with finance and economics. Survivalism accounts for the human drive to achieve prosperity, which he defines as “the progressive state after successful survival that occurs through an accumulation of wealth.” He argues that this evolutionary yearning for prosperity carries with it a responsibility to ensure the whole planet enjoys the same.

The wealthy, Criniti notes, enjoy more options for survival, but that means nothing if the planet as a whole fails to survive. He contends that survivalism must not simply be an individual pursuit and calls for readers to “wake up” and recognize humankind’s collective responsibility “to protect our planet and all of its life-forms” and stave off the sixth mass extinction that has already begun. He draws upon the work of philosophers, evolutionary biologists, and even Chris “American Sniper” Kyle to make his pressing case.

Criniti sets himself apart from other personal finance writers with his thorough, rigorous crafting of arguments. He examines each piece of evidence meticulously, guiding readers through his thought process step by step. Criniti will never settle for a received idea or a shorthand definition; he breaks all key terms down to their essence, building his assertions on firm foundations. This honest, challenging book will encourage wealth-focused readers to reexamine the idea that selfish success is possible in a fundamentally interconnected world.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a grand unified theory of personal and collective prosperity will be deeply impressed by this cogently argued thesis.

Great for fans of Arthur E. Gandolfi, Anna Sachko Gandolfi, and David P. Barash’s Economics as an Evolutionary Science: From Utility to Fitness; Jared Diamond.

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

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Geese are Never Swans
Created By Kobe Bryant, Written by Eva Clark
With empathy and vigor, writer Clark, working from a concept developed by the late basketball star Bryant, crafts a welcome update to the narrative of a troubled teen finding meaning in sports. When college swimming star Danny Bennett dies by suicide, his 16-year-old brother, Gus, is caught in a maelstrom of rage, sorrow, and relief. Having lived in his brother’s shadow for years, Gus is saddled with self-doubt, ambition that sometimes drives him to push himself too hard, and a strained relationship with his mother. After Danny’s death, Gus is determined to show he can be an even better swimmer than his brother was. Landing himself a spot on the team of Coach Marks, the coveted trainer who worked with Danny, Gus pushes himself—both physically and mentally—to a breaking point.

Gus’s story is as sharply efficient as a swimmer’s strokes, brutal and serious where it counts. His self-aware narration lays bare his pitch-perfect teen tough attitude (“The only thing worse than having to talk about my feelings is listening to someone else pretend to understand them”) as well as his capacity for profound depth of feeling and insight into both sports and human nature (“Parents don’t like to face hard truths about the kids they love”). Readers will cheer him on as he learns to stop fighting himself and the people who are trying to help him.

The story belongs to Gus and only Gus; very little time is spent on description, and side characters exist to illuminate his personality and give him something to want or push against. Readers won’t mind spending so much time in his head, as the authors handle his complicated emotions with care and aplomb and keep the action moving through short, brisk chapters and vivid sensory descriptions. Like Gus, this punchy young adult novel is a winner.

Takeaway: Teen athletes longing to be seen as more than their trophies will cherish this young man’s journey of athletic success and personal healing.

Great for fans of Kwame Alexander’s Crossover series, Mike Lupica.

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

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99 Truths
Lori Lacefield
This unfocused but enjoyable series launch from Lacefield (The Fifth Juror) introduces tenacious FBI profiler Frankie Johnson. After bungling an important investigation, Frankie gets a second chance, consulting with Charlotte, N.C., police on a gruesome case: the rape and murder of 25-year-old Lianna Wakefield-Bradenton, the district attorney’s daughter. Frankie, assigned to psychoanalyze the sadistic killer, and lead detective Deke Deaton question Lianna’s husband, Stewart, and her lover, Joe Archuletta, but each maintains he is being framed, and neither fits Frankie’s profile. Meanwhile, Deke’s prior relationship with Lianna, his hatred for her husband, and his desire for Frankie threaten to jeopardize the investigation, while the murder of a possible witness only muddies the waters.

Lacefield’s work shines when Frankie is in the spotlight. She peppers interviews with tidbits about body language, interrogation style, and personality types, appealing to those who like ample psychology in their detective fiction. When Frankie’s narrative takes a back seat (including an underdeveloped side plot involving Frankie’s partner pursuing a fraudulent investor), the plot falters. Frankie is a smart character with a well-developed origin story. She’s a mixed-race woman in law enforcement in the American South, an identity that deserves more exploration than it gets, and Lacefield handles race clumsily at times; for example, a period when Frankie wore “loud colors” and hoop earrings is described as her “African-American days.”

The story is at its most engrossing when the reader is one step behind the detective. Lacefield tips her hand too early, particularly in chapters focusing on characters other than Frankie. Still, even though some readers may guess the ending beforehand, the climax is fast-paced and enjoyable. This book will appeal to those who are as interested in the why of the crime as in the who.

Takeaway: Adult readers who like tough, female detectives and in-depth criminal psychology will enjoy this cat-and-moise thriller.

Great for fans of Lisa Gardner’s FBI Profiler series, Karin Slaughter’s Triptych.

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

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PLAYING DOCTOR--Part One: Medical School
John Lawrence
Lawrence’s debut memoir beckons its readers to trail alongside him as he perceptively and often humorously observes his years as a medical student at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In this first volume of four, Lawrence illustrates his diffident launch into the inroads of caregiving and medicine. What follows is an examination of duty, learning, sacrifice, and a horrific work-life imbalance. Lawrence commences his training with devastating imposter syndrome that paradoxically undermines his ability to do his work. His intense self-doubt and some distressing bike accidents grievously bookend his professional milestones. One consequently finds him right in the middle of a cutthroat race and yet on the sidelines for most of his training years.

With a self-deprecating lens, Lawrence reflects upon his lessons and a few redemptions. His professional misadventures are cushioned with pervasive humor and an impressive knack for storytelling. Anecdotes litter the pages, sustained with admirable pacing, and despite the dense jargon, the writing is clear and comprehensible. Lawrence skillfully dwells on his intense, action-oriented episodes. The only significant flaw is the denouement, which includes a rushed retelling of his graduation and turns sermonic. This disappointing finish dilutes the strengths of the narrative and leaves a detached aftertaste.

Lawrence’s account is an exciting motley of descriptive, buoyant, and well-paced stories. It is a competent chronicle fortified with wit, actively positioned levity, and digestible medical recounts. Though not consciously didactic, the memoir does find itself in moralistic waters from time to time, but its missteps are few. This is an original and swift tale, supported by accessible and congenial writing. Readers both inside and outside of the medical profession will find it enjoyable and often edifying.

Takeaway: This vivid memoir of a doctor-in-making is soaked in deadpan humor and will appeal to med students and medical-memoir readers.

Great for fans of Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta’s Tears of Salt: A Doctor’s Story, Henry Jay Przybylo’s Counting Backwards: A Doctor’s Notes on Anesthesia, Elizabeth Ford’s Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Prison Ward.

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

Newton's Cradle
Robert Valdin
Valdin’s tangled debut novel explores the mystery and intrigue in corporate espionage. In 1995 Los Angeles, Duncan Riley, CEO of Cyloscape Industries, barters a groundbreaking energy deal with Chinese investors. Unexpectedly, the company’s board of directors does not approve the deal and instead embarks on a takeover of Cyloscape, with a goal to oust Riley as CEO. One of Riley’s employees, Terence Whitfield, is blackmailed into breaking into Riley’s safe to find damning documents that would support the takeover bid. Whitfield also finds plans for Newton’s Cradle, a revolutionary cold fusion technology that could threaten the future of the oil industry. Riley does not know who to trust as he struggles to maintain control of his company and starts receiving threatening phone calls, leading to a shocking confrontation with an enemy seeking revenge.

Valdin’s fast-paced narrative is rich with plenty of twists and turns, highlighting betrayals and revealing the ever-changing loyalties and ruthlessness of corporate transactions. The depth of characterizations adds to the suspense, and the web of deceit is complex and immersive, requiring the reader to pay careful attention to the plot. The intricacies of takeover bids, blackmail, and allegiance to the highest bidder add realism to this immersive novel.

Though most of the characters have engaged in dubious behaviors and aren’t inherently sympathetic, Valdin expertly explores their backstories, providing reasons for some of their actions and adding a touch of humanity to their merciless endeavors seeking personal glory and financial security. Most riveting are the dual narratives embracing the mystery behind the threats and the struggle for corporate power alongside the downward spiral of Riley’s personal and professional life. This tense and intriguing thriller will keep readers eagerly turning pages.

Takeaway: Quests for vengeance, power, and wealth make this magnetic story perfect for fans of legal and corporate thrillers.

Great for fans of David Baldacci’s Total Control, John Sandford’s Shock Wave, John Grisham.

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

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Double Crossed
Anthony Anthamatten
Anthamatten delivers a fast-paced, sometimes funny and satirical action story about survival against all odds. Justin "JC" Carter is the product of a teenage pregnancy, effectively abandoned by both of his parents. Stenson Beckett witnessed his abusive father murder his mother and is now on the run from his past. JC and Stenson struggle through their adolescent years as runaways before settling in New Orleans, where their paths ultimately cross. After JC derails a lucrative deal Stenson had set up, a battle starts between the two men. The struggles the characters have faced make them worthy adversaries.

The novel begins with JC and Stenson’s background and upbringing, but the rest of the story focuses on their battle of wits with each other. Both have strong personalities that develop despite the events they endure, rather than being rooted in their experiences. Almost everyone who shows either young man an ounce of kindness is murdered or abandons them, and characters are often removed from the plot by way of murder when they no longer serve a story purpose.

The backstories for both JC and Stenson are well written, setting the scene for their trials and triumphs as adults. The way Anthamatten showcases their childhood misery is dramatic and dark, but there are flashes of humor, and the story gradually lightens. JC and Stenson’s violent upbringings and surroundings don’t make them into naturally violent men, and they hesitate to use force against each other, illustrating that a bad beginning in life does not dictate a bad ending. Fans of contemporary fiction or satire will appreciate this narrative of two tough survivors striving to find a measure of joy, success, and safety in a dangerous world.

Takeaway: This novel of young men striving to overcome their violent pasts will entertain readers who appreciate a mix of action and comedy with dark undertones.

Great for fans of Eric Jerome Dickey, Carl Weber.

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

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BLIND PONY
Samantha P Hart
Hart’s powerful debut, a gritty memoir rife with graphic details of abuse and triumph over it, will break hearts. Hart, born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, was sexually abused by her maternal grandfather. Finally no longer able to tolerate the abuse, 14-year-old Hart ran away to Phoenix to live with her father, Wild Bill. Far from a safe harbor, Hart soon learned that Bill was as deeply flawed as other members of her family. Showing an impressive amount of moxie, she landed a series of jobs and pulled up stakes to move to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. Times remained tough—an abusive lover caused her to have a miscarriage, and two marriages ended—but there were joyful moments too, especially the birth of her daughter, Vignette.

Readers will be flabbergasted by Hart’s tenacious survival instincts. From the cradle, the cards were against her; disturbingly and spitefully, her mother named her Pam after her father’s mistress, and her vindictive father put sugar in her gas tank to foil her move to Los Angeles. But despite being dealt a losing hand in the parental game, she quickly sized up what she needed to do to survive, including selling softcore porn to European magazines and pretending to be old enough to waitress in restaurants serving alcoholic beverages. A lesser spirit would have given up early on, but Hart admirably soldiered forward.

Hart’s incredible resilience and courage will captivate anyone who reads her words. Her rise to top roles in the advertising game and in Hollywood is nothing short of an amazing reinvention, and her perseverance eventually led to a life-changing friendship and new love. Unforgettable and raw, Hart’s deeply honest musings will ring true to all abuse survivors and those who want to understand what it’s like to walk through fire.

Takeaway: Hart’s frank narrative of surviving domestic abuse may be rough going for her fellow survivors, but it will awe anyone seeking a memoir of determined self-invention.

Great for fans of Mackenzie Phillips’s High on Arrival, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina.

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

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I hate my brother
Branislav Bojcic
Bojčić’s dramatic war novel is rooted in the gut-wrenching events of the Bosnian War. Serb Gvozden Mišić lives in Yugoslavia with his wife, Yadranka, and daughter, Anna. He naively believes Yugoslavia will continue to prosper as a unified country after President Josip Broz Tito’s death. Soon, war breaks out, and Gvozden serves in the military with a mission to secure villages against traitors. Before Gvozden leaves to fulfill his commitment to his country, he asks his Muslim neighbor Senad to look after his family. The Serbs in charge seek to kill Muslims and Croats in order to create a pure Serbian Yugoslavia, but Gvozden simply wants to return home and protect his wife and daughter.

Gvozden’s intense experiences as a soldier transform him from a level-headed farmer and devoted family man to a primal brute. The story depicts shocking acts, including the rape of Muslim women by rogue soldiers in Gvozden’s unit. The graphic violence captures the horrifying nature of war, and beneath the bloodshed lie philosophical questions: Are monsters born or created? If God exists, why does He allow evil? Bojčić doesn’t try to provide answers, instead leaving readers to grapple with the repercussions of violence on those who commit it as well as those it victimizes.

Bojčić’s experience as a Yugoslavian and a political refugee in the United States lends authority to the setting and subject. The characters and themes transcend the occasional translation and editing errors to create an intense, fast-paced journey guaranteed to haunt readers. This arresting drama draws back the curtain of war and focuses on the metamorphosis of men under the extreme stress of combat. Bojčić’s emotional and gripping portrayal of war will stick with history enthusiasts long after the final sentence.

Takeaway: Fans of war, military, and historical fiction will be enthralled by Bojčić’s heart-twisting depiction of the Bosnian War.

Great for fans of Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, Zlatko Dizdarević’s Sarajevo: A War Journal, Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father.

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

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The Science of Defying Gravity
LINDA A REED
Reed’s second middle grade novel, an upbeat tale meant to encourage girls in STEM, explores the joys of scientific discovery. Fifth grader Cassie Williams dreams of going to Space Camp, her initial step toward becoming the first movie director in space. Unfortunately, her ticket to Space Camp relies on getting a good grade in science—her worst subject! With her father recently laid off, Cassie needs to make the best science fair project ever if she wants to win a scholarship and keep any hope of getting to space.

Though the science of Cassie’s paper airplane project is solid, the narrative often gets dragged down by details, such as an entire chapter of Cassie writing a lab report. The illustrations range from whimsically charming to bland. Cassie’s personal journey is full of false starts; problems with friends and her moviemaking ambitions are never really fleshed out, and though Cassie is an effective vehicle for conveying academic information, she’s not always a compelling protagonist. Her classroom setting also feels a bit dated, and at times the plot stretches credulity. However, even when the story falters, the detail is interesting enough to keep the attention of science-minded young readers.

Cassie’s journey is full of empowering female role models, including a woman engineer, and bonus material includes links to the Society of Women Engineers. Children who have a hard time grasping scientific principles may find this book more understandable than a textbook, while children who love science will be pleased with the amount of factual information and the experiments that can be done at home. The novel would work well as a classroom tool, pairing narrative with ideas for hands-on experiences, and will encourage young scientists—especially girls—to believe that their dreams are within their reach.

Takeaway: Tweens who enjoy making, building, and learning will get the most from this book about what it takes to become a scientist.

Great for fans of Asia Citro’s Zoey and Sassafras series, Linda Sue Park’s Project Mulberry.

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

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Bittersweet Memories: The Life Story of an Immigrant Daughter
Barbara Hussmann Long
Long, a German American immigrant, shares the story of her parents’ broken marriage, her brother’s alcoholism, and her own challenges finding happiness and peace against the backdrop of WWII’s lasting shadow. Long is a natural storyteller, and though she joins many others in addressing the trauma experienced in WWII, her memoir provides an unusual perspective: a member of a white, upper-middle-class family living through the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and immigrating to America. Framed as an effort to come to terms with the unexpected death of Long’s estranged father, this book covers divorce, mental illness, faith, and family through a combination of storytelling and personal reflections.

At times, Long’s stories feel straight out of a war drama. An anecdote about her mother having a friendly chat with Ulrich Graf, Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard and friend, strikes a chilling note (and contrasts with Long’s mother's later vehement anti-Nazi sentiments). The book is full of similar larger-than-life moments, including a humorous encounter with the von Trapp Family Singers (of Sound of Music fame) and a tale of Long’s mother sneaking into the 1936 Olympics. The family’s personal challenges are no less intense. Long is sometimes dismissive of her brother, viewing him as giving in to mental illness and substance abuse; readers may wish she’d put more effort into reflecting on how his coping mechanisms mirrored her frantic quest for external sources of inspiration and approval.

Long’s central message is that nothing surpasses the power of positive thinking, especially when healing from trauma. Citing Pollyanna, Norman Vincent Peale, and music from the last few decades, Long celebrates her positive attitude, which she believes drove her personal and professional successes: becoming a top-notch salesperson, finding a spiritual home in Unitarian Universalism, and raising her family. Readers will find themselves quoting Long’s many aphorisms long after they finish this moving memoir.

Takeaway: This emotional memoir will resonate with readers interested in first-person-accounts of life in Nazi Germany, immigration in wartime, and family strife.

Great for fans of Irmgard A. Hunt’s On Hitler’s Mountain, Wolfgang Samuel’s German Boy.

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

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