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Public Opinion
Nathan Pettijohn
Herbert, a hacker and a social media "fixer," does business with sleazy Hollywood figures, loses himself in a legal and moral swamp, and falls in love with an adult film star in this fast-moving tale. He starts by working to destroy the reputation of a man who cheated his friend and stays on to help powerful director Titus with some personal problems. Meanwhile, his love affair with Ruby keeps him off balance: he tries to manage a life with a woman whose years in porn may have left her damaged, even as his greed sucks him into increasingly serious crimes, including conspiracy and murder.

Pettijohn (Travels with Hafa) deftly displays Hollywood glitter flanked by the seamy side of a world whose denizens have too much money and a grotesque sense of entitlement, made evident in scenes like the "big shots" visiting a New Orleans massage parlor and discussing whether sexual services are available. The bland prose in these scenarios exposes their commodification of sex: "We’re going to get massages and hand jobs, then go back to my place for dinner and poker." Some readers may find the graphic sex—alongside some horrific violence—overwhelming, but there's no doubt those elements effectively color this noirish tale.

Pettijohn’s main character focus is on Herbert and Ruby, and the balancing act between Ruby’s sordid career and her high ideals is handled beautifully. She doesn't lie to Herbert, continuing to act while becoming more deeply involved with him—something he has trouble with, but this isn't Pretty Woman, and Pettijohn takes this couple down a path as dark as it is believable, as Herbert copes with the lows in their doomed relationship in some seriously inappropriate ways while his crimes escalate. Their haunting end, centered on her naiveté and his weakness, serves as an eloquent reminder that desperation is more commonplace than we think.

Takeaway: A dark and glittering tale that exposes Hollywood’s sordid underbelly.

Great for fans of: Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust; Martin Turnbull’s Twisted Boulevard.

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

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RISK: A Thriller
Kathleen Morris
Morris (The Lily Of The West) crafts a thriller that's equal parts romance, character study, and white-knuckle road chase. Jack and Grace, struggling country music singers stuck in a never-ending cycle of dive bars and dead-end gigs, are on tour in the American Southwest when Grace discovers, and takes, a backpack stuffed with close to a million dollars in cash, abandoned in a bathroom stall. The money, a result of a drug deal gone wrong, kickstarts a breakneck chase that leaves behind a trail of bodies and bad decisions – with Jack and Grace caught in the middle.

Morris's focus on character development and skillful rendering of backstories adds a level of richness to an otherwise uncomplicated plot. Ruthless cartel boss Luis brokers the seemingly routine drug deal with hired assassins Roberto and Chang, allowing his enslaved mistress, Angel, to attend, never suspecting her loyalty may not be absolute – and when the deal turns deadly, giving Angel and Chang a chance for freedom, they make off with the money and drugs, in search of a different life. While a furious Luis sets out to hunt down Angel and Chang, Jack and Grace are caught in the crosshairs of their own deadly pursuit, as they try to escape with the stolen money.

The couples are artfully depicted as two sides of the same coin: desperate, unyielding, and willing to do anything in order to outrun their misery. Readers will find themselves sympathizing with all four of the main players, even as they choose gruesome actions to survive, and no one escapes without blood on their hands. The characters are equal parts tough and clever, without coming across as superhuman, and the final confrontation will satisfy even the most astute reader. Morris sacrifices some tension for excessively lurid violence, but fans will relish the journey.

Takeaway: A character-driven road thriller with a touch of romance.

Great for fans of: Stan Parish’s Love and Theft; Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger.

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

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Eventually, They All Fall
Jenna Marcus
"Ever since I can remember, I have had the uncanny, useless ability to perceive other people’s imaginings," declares Domino Garrison, a sarcastic 15-year-old with an extraordinary gift that causes him to fully experience others’ fantasies. Marcus (Breathe Deep & Swim) takes readers on an entertaining journey as Domino starts dipping into his powers and learning some of the consequences they produce in his life. With an absentee father and an addict for a mother, Domino has only his friends, Lucy and Griswold, and his boss, Miles, to help fix the messes his talents create - all while trying to discern reality from his imaginings.

At times a bit glib and dark, Marcus has penned a sharp-witted character with uniquely fantastical abilities in Domino, and it will be easy for readers to get pulled into the story as they glimpse the world through his eyes. Despite never really catching a break, Domino continues to regroup and keeps moving forward, problem solving and seeking solutions throughout the novel with the aid of his friends. With Lucy as a love interest, Miles acting as a mentor of sorts, and Griswold being an oddball just like Domino, Marcus has crafted an absorbing cast of main players to keep the story engaging. As the novel develops, more and more truths are revealed, alongside several plot twists that will surprise younger readers.

From a trash-dwelling, fire breathing dragon—the hallucination of a corner drug addict—to the rabbit militia Griswold is continuously imagining, fantasy fans will relish this enticing, attention-grabbing read. The curveballs, constantly moving storyline, and darker elements will keep adult readers intrigued as well, and although there is a conclusion to this particular saga in Domino's world, Marcus hints that this will not be the last readers will see of Domino and his friends.

Takeaway: A fast-paced fantasy thrill ride featuring a teenager with singular powers.

Great for fans of: Nancy Springer’s The Hex Witch of Seldom; Andrea J. Buchanan’s Gift.

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

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Following the Bouncing Ball: A Fragmented American Life
Rabon Saip
This lyrical memoir from Saip centers on his transformation from a “fatherless child” in rural Georgia to an enlightened senior advocating for conscious aging. Raised primarily in the segregated South—against a backdrop of poverty and Christian revival meetings—Saip likens his early years to living in the 19th century, recalling that his first exposure to indoor plumbing came when his stepfather moved the family to California. His childhood diagnosis of a debilitating eye condition becomes a lifelong battle that shapes many of his choices, but Saip’s curiosity and determination to experience life to the fullest are evident throughout his touching debut.

Organized more as short stories with a deeply philosophical thread weaving them together, this memoir is both expressive (not surprising, given Saip’s background writing poetry) and absorbing. He paints adolescence in wistful hues, describing the freedom he was given to roam the county—and compares his desire to leave home and discover the world on his own terms to a hallmark rite of passage. Saip also acknowledges his passion for dangerous activities as a young man—“We danced barefoot on a knife edge between life and death and didn’t seem to suffer a scratch”—and candidly explores the origins, and consequences, of his addiction problems as a youth.

Readers will be captivated by Saip’s extraordinary stories: he shares a cryptic meeting with John Steinbeck, recounts his time spent with “a kamikaze mechanic who was usually loaded on Methedrine,” and describes a host of colorful characters who will leave lasting impressions. His philosophical musings are the backbone to nearly every experience, and the influence of maturing as a young adult in the 1960s manifests in his drive for harmonious living and belief that self-worth should be independent of societal norms. Fans of thoughtful American memoirs will be left contemplating life itself and all its meanings.

Takeaway: This eloquent memoir invites readers on a journey of self-discovery and conscious aging.

Great for fans of: Suze Rotolo’s A Freewheelin’ Time, Peter Coyote’s Sleeping Where I Fall.

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

Secrets In The Mirror
Leslie Kain
Social worker Kain debuts with a thrilling coming-of-age story that follows mirror twins Gavin and Devon DiMasi as their relationship builds from an innocent, maturing rivalry into a psychological page-turner. Although close when young, as the twins age through college and early careers, Gavin begins to realize he desperately needs distance from Devon, who is unofficially diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) after their 16th birthday – despite Devon’s status as the golden child and the family’s refusal to accept his diagnosis. That doesn’t stop their concern when his behaviors escalate, and they eventually come to the consensus that he is “mentally ill. Sociopathic. There are times he’s even psychopathic.”

Kain carries readers along this intense ride with a piercing narrative that highlights the multi-layered effects of physical and emotional trauma, and the boys’ relationship ultimately morphs into a dangerous and crime-filled reality by the time Gavin leaves his home on the East Coast and heads to Hawaii to start a new marriage and rebuild his life. Gavin’s nightmare gets exponentially worse with time, aided by the twins’ abusive father, and Devon’s life goal appears “like he’s headed over a cliff and trying to take [Gavin] with him.” This is a story that grows darker on every page, as the DiMasis become embroiled in mob turf wars and work to evade the ghosts of their past, and readers will find themselves asking not if, but when, that past will catch up to them – and what part of Gavin’s life Devon will ruin next.

Kain’s passion for mental health advocacy is evident throughout and comes alive with her development of Devon’s personality and the devastating effects it has on loved ones, and at the book’s heart is her aim to give readers a glimpse into the mind of severe mental illness. The material may seem extreme, but audiences will relish the tension in this psychological twister.

Takeaway: A psychological thriller illuminating the effects of severe mental illness.

Great for fans of: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

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

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Canned Hunt: A Nick Tanner Crime Thriller
Kerry K. Cox
Cox’s second installment in his Nick Tanner mystery series (after Money Bear) entices from the very first page, as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agent Nick Tanner heads for the mountains of Utah to investigate the death of a fellow agent. Nick poses undercover as a writer while he makes inquiries: a writer interested in hunting, given the late agent’s probes into suspicious animal hide shipping across state lines. When Nick meets hunting guide Howard Nash, he lands a spot on a cougar hunt, but all is not as it seems—the hunt, true to the title, is “canned,” with the animal being purposefully injured beforehand, and Nick soon discovers he’s in over his head.

Provocative characters abound in this intense mystery, not least among them brothers Vernon and Lafayette Rice, one a local sheriff and the other a preacher leading a white nationalist congregation, and when Nick continues his previous work investigating illegal sales of rare butterflies, the Rice brothers start to suspect he’s not the hunter he’s pretending to be. The danger quickly intensifies when Nick’s pet bobcat, Ray Charles, goes missing, and Nick’s undercover ease as a big game hunter starts to conflict with his professional hunches.

Cox’s experience volunteering with wildlife rescue groups lends authenticity to the canned hunt concept, and he aptly highlights the unique dangers faced by animal protection agencies - dangers that set them apart from other law enforcement personnel, particularly when confronting people engaged in illegal hunting behaviors. Readers will appreciate Cox’s expertly crafted characters, and Nick’s humanity while protecting animals and simultaneously investigating those who seek to harm them is skillfully rendered. Though most of the loose ends are satisfyingly tied up by the story’s conclusion, Cox hints at additional secrets that will keep readers eagerly anticipating the next in the series.

Takeaway: An intensely satisfying mix of danger and rich characterizations.

Great for fans of: A Hunt for Justice by Lucinda Delaney Schroeder and Warden Force: Night Rider and Other True Game Warden Adventures: Episodes 1-13 by Terry Hodges

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

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Meet Me Halfway
Lilian T. James
Filled with the perfect blend of heart, heat, and hope, James’s (Untainted) first in the new Meet Me Halfway series is an intense contemporary romance. Madison Hartland has had her share of challenges—pregnant at 16, divorced and trying to escape an abusive ex-husband by 25—and working three jobs while finishing school to make a better life for her eight-year-old son, Jamie, is starting to take its toll. Madison’s too busy fending off sexual assaults and mean girl parents to have time for men and dating, until Garrett, the gorgeous man next door, enters their lives—just as she and Jamie have settled into their new home in North Carolina.

What follows is a raw, relatable story for readers who prefer their romance a little more on the realistic side. Madison’s past is addressed starkly and simply, without any of the softening of edges or overblown drama commonly seen, and James hits the challenging topic of domestic violence head on. Rather than hand-wave the help Madison’s received in the past from family and friends, the story follows through on how she accepts, and refuses, support from a variety of sources, including from Layla, her childhood best friend and new roommate. Working in tandem with the heavier subject matter are the lighter sides of life and laughter as Madison finds joy in what many take for granted, such as spending time with Jamie.

While the plot focuses heavily on Madison’s journey of self-discovery and motherhood, James teases with morsels of what makes the dark, mysterious Garrett tick. His character is a dominant male without being abusive, thoughtful without patronizing, and nowhere near too-good-to-be-true. The snippet scene at the end delivers a highly satisfying view of events from his perspective, though the narrative ultimately bypasses much of his backstory. Readers will live vicariously through Madison’s trials and tribulations and demand more of this gripping romance.

Takeaway: A realistic romance following a single woman trying to balance love with motherhood.

Great for fans of: Joanna Wylde’s Silver Bastard; D.D. Ayres’s Irresistible Force.

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

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Mundanity
Jonathan Carreau
In this ambitious debut, Carreau (The Conflict For Tomorrow) crafts a satiric tale of social-political intrigue set in the town of Mundanity on the planet of Dert, an alien world that functions in ways not too dissimilar to Earth. When Vince Patelo, a young green-skinned man lands a well paid job in Mundanity, he learns that living on his own in a completely new town is not easy. Patelo soon finds himself navigating financial hurdles, social inequality and broken systems fuelled by political apathy in order to survive in the town of Mundanity.

Carreu’s novel holds up a mirror to our highly polarized world. In Mundanity, people are treated differently because of their skin color. Cops are rewarded for “slaughtering violet skinned Sinopians,” activists are pejoratively labeled as “Warriors of Justice” by “traditionalists,” and corporations funnel money into political campaigns to secure their own interests. Amidst all this, Patelo and his friends band together to garner support for mayoral candidate Ike Olatunji, a purple-skinned woman from an immigrant family, who is contesting against Clancy Sullivan–a green-skinned (which in this case is the Mundanity majority) former stand up comic, a “traditionalist” who espouses controversial views on equal rights and social justice. (“First off, there is no such thing as transgenderism”, he says in a debate.)

The novel lays out for itself the challenging task of evoking wonder by building a distinctly alien world, while also engaging with familiar themes, to mirror the socio-political reality of contemporary times. Science-fiction devotees will likely find Carreau is not consistent in achieving this balance, often burdening the narrative with details of the political context at the expense of world building. Still, in the instances where he does achieve this balance, the novel delivers an engaging narrative, filled with complex and colorful characters inhabiting a strange new world. Readers will be left eager to know more about this alien planet and its inhabitants.

Takeaway: This ambitious novel mirrors our contemporary politics on an alien world.

Great for fans of: Nick Mamatas, Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing a Donkey's Eye.

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

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Snoozer Quinn: Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar Pioneer
Dan Sumner & Katy Hobgood Ray
Both an inviting introduction and an as-definitive-as-possible accounting, this examination of the work of the legendary—and rarely recorded—fingerstyle jazz guitarist Ed “Snoozer” Quinn lays out the biographical facts and extant musical output of this elusive Louisiana native who in the early days of jazz blended a country-blues sensibility with the swing and “hot” sounds coming out of New Orleans. Offering photographs, original interviews, and a host of archival materials, musical collaborators and co-authors Ray, who wrote the biographical portions, and Sumner, who transcribed eight Quinn recordings and offers clarifying commentary, separate fact from myth. They trace Quinn’s life and art from his upbringing, in the first decade of the 20th century, in the lumber town Bogalusa, Louisiana, to his prime years spent accompanying greats like Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, to his death of tuberculosis in 1949, and his legacy and influence afterwards.

Their welcome attention to technique sets this compact volume apart from appreciations by non-experts. Testimonials from Quinn’s contemporaries, plus notables like Les Paul and Leo Kottke (who said in 1987 “Snoozer was playing what a lot of us today are trying to play, which is a finer approach to the guitar, but with all of the available harmony”), illuminate his rise to success in the most popular band of the 1920s, Paul Whiteman’s, and his subsequent “retreat” from the national scene at the start of the Depression.

The story of Quinn’s great, late-period recordings is poignant and tragic: in 1948, the cornetist Johnny Wiggs, a friend and bandmate, brought a recorder when visiting Quinn in the TB ward. The resulting duets form the bulk of Quinn’s available oeuvre. “I cannot imagine that the sounds we hear on the recordings reflect Snoozer at the height of his powers,” notes Sumner, a noted guitarist himself. The transcriptions and commentary offer welcome new insight.

Takeaway: A compact yet definitive examination of the life and art of an elusive guitar great.

Great for fans of: Richard M. Sudhalter’s Lost Chords?, Howard Morgen’s Concepts: Arranging for Fingerstyle Guitar.

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

Boondocks: Survive the Doom, Book 1
Jaydeep Shah
Spanning 5,000 years and both present day India and an Underworld ruled by a lion-riding, knife-handed undead king, Shah’s ambitious, action-packed, supernatural epic bursts with churels, daayans, rakshasas and other witches and demon-like creatures, here cataloged under the subtitle’s unfortunately vague designation “Asian Evils.” Don’t misread that term: in Shah’s telling, the term refers to the ancient daityas (or demons) awoken in Black Magic rituals by the wizard Dansh, chief among them the blood-sucking, village-destroying churel witch Dali. Apocalyptic action ensues as cities burn and the king of the Underworld marshals his forces for an invasion of Earth. Standing against it: Rahul and Elisa, a cosmopolitan couple whose tour of the Great Indian Desert has gotten off course.

Shah’s love for Indian mythology and folklore shines throughout, and the hordes of “evils” his tale unleashes prove vivid and frightening, the Rakashi with Viking swords, the pishachas playing drums as their footsteps shake the Earth, the shaitans who are “masters of leading people on the wrong path.” The action is lavish, and the stakes are high, as the everyday heroes—aided by villagers and eventually a buddy soldier and cop team right out of a Bollywood epic—face an invasion that will play out over the course of a series.

Readers should expect portals and caves, tunnel escapes, villains whose conferences update us on their plans, and surprise moments where music proves as powerful as guns; those familiar with the ancient epics and contemporary blockbusters that inspire Shah—Dansh is described as “a stranger with a harrowing physique and a burned face, just like how the horror movies presented villains” will appreciate the scope and sincerity. Key to the appeal of Bollywood action and this novel is a poker-faced solemnity no matter how over-the-top the escapades get: “It was as if Mother Nature was sobbing in consternation at humanity’s uncertain future,” Shah writes, describing the world’s reaction to the evils’ attack.

Takeaway: This vigorous supernatural adventure pits ancient evils against a couple in contemporary India.

Great for fans of: Imran Kureshi, Sudipto Das.

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

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A Prospect of London
Julie L'Enfant
In L’Enfant’s (The Dancers of Sycamore Street) academic comedy of manners, Caroline Landry, assistant professor of English at a Louisiana university, travels to London in 1980 on a research grant. Accompanied by a group of colorful colleagues, she has three weeks to spend at the British Library tracking down an obscure American author with a possible connection to the Bloomsbury set of the 1920s. Adrift in her career, Caroline needs to publish soon or lose her chance for tenure, but she’s less interested in research than in absorbing London culture—and staying on high alert for sightings of a mesmerizing former professor.

A string of coincidences constitutes a loose plot that eventually leads Caroline out of London to Emerald Glover, the mysterious novelist whose work could secure her academic reputation. Through first-person narration, Caroline reveals herself as a naïve Anglophile prone to speaking in exclamations, continually expressing astonishment that her colleagues don’t share her rapture about London—but her knowledge of the city stems primarily from a brief sojourn as an undergraduate and a devotion to Masterpiece Theatre. L’Enfant makes clear her characters’ bias throughout the novel, particularly with Caroline’s nonchalant judgments about “brown scholars" and her understanding of a friend’s “sensible distrust of foreigners,” and when combined with the anti-Semitic outbursts of a supporting character, these sentiments may challenge some readers’ patience.

Skeptics will be pleased to see Caroline achieving some maturity in the final chapters, as she realizes the professor she’s dreamt about for eight years isn’t all that dashing and that London is just one speck in a big world—though she shares this growth through meandering, travelogue-style observations that foster some disconnection between the story’s events. A high point in the novel is L'Enfant’s skewering of academics and their pursuits, creating laugh-out-loud moments amid this otherwise scholarly read.

Takeaway: An amusing story centered on a young professor’s hunt for an obscure novelist.

Great for fans of: David Lodge and Jessica Francis Kane

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

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Remote, Not Distant: Design a Company Culture That Will Help You Thrive in a Hybrid Workplace
Gustavo Razzetti
“The Great Resignation is turning into the Great Reshuffle. People are not just leaving the workforce but also reconfiguring their relationship with work,” Razzetti (Stretch Your Team) writes in this energizing reshaping of contemporary workplaces. Offering readers down-to-earth, refreshing advice on what he terms “culture design,” a process of structuring company culture around the needs of its employees rather than focusing solely on profitability, Razzetti breaks down crucial steps for businesses to adapt to the demand for remote work while continuing to ensure industry longevity—and he accomplishes that feat with efficiency and vision.

Razzetti is persuasive in his exhortation that the workplace has undergone a fundamental shift that must be respected and accommodated: “The hybrid workplace is here to stay,” he declares, arguing that organizations must shift their focus from rewarding employee input to recognizing goals and results—and he makes the bold claim that “When done correctly, remote work increases productivity and work enjoyment.” To that end, Razzetti outlines actionable steps for companies to forge stable and connected remote cultures, including changing feedback from a manager-fixes-flaws mindset to a collaborative process, creating powerful company rituals to generate a sense of inclusion, instilling trust between colleagues, and more.

Highlights include hands-on activities to implement Razzetti’s guidance, ranging from clever organizational icebreakers that promise to enhance belonging, to a “culture reset canvas” worksheet that will help companies redefine hybrid workplace cultures. QR codes to download and personalize the guide’s exercises keep the material relevant, and Razzetti’s employee-minded focus will appeal to a progressive workforce. For those concerned about the potential downside to remote workplaces, he also problem solves how to keep employees engaged, offers insights on psychological safety to bring awareness to employee vulnerability, and even touches on safe camera guidelines for video interactions during remote meetings. This is a friendly and discerning call-to-action for all levels of the workforce.

Takeaway: An easy-to-grasp guide on building successful remote workplaces.

Great for fans of: Chris Dyer and Kim Shepherd’s Remote Work; Alida Miranda-Wolff’s Cultures of Belonging.

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

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Going Deeper With The Twelve Steps: Following The Spirit of The Steps
Rene Lafaut, MSc.
Lafaut (To Be Broken Into Freedom) delivers an intriguing spiritual analysis of the 12 Step Program for addiction treatment in this compact guide, offering readers constructive ways to meet their needs and establish sobriety. He highlights how to apply spiritual principles to recovery—such as developing a “healthy two-way relationship with God” alongside increasing the practice of heartfelt prayer—and outlines actions for readers to turn personal weaknesses into strengths. Lafaut advocates strongly for the 12 Step approach but lays out his own interpretation of these steps based on Christian principles, writing that “Faith focused people go farther than those who are purely knowledge focused.”

Though his writing can be abstract at times, Lafaut consistently circles back to the importance of a close dependence on God in order to break free from addiction, and much of his text focuses on the need for forgiveness of self and others. He breaks down challenging concepts by sharing his own experiences and emphasizing the spiritual roots behind addictive behaviors—including unresolved anger, pride, and guilt—and Christian readers will appreciate his first hand approach to overcoming addiction. Particularly helpful are the suggested prayer outlines Lafaut includes and his attention to dismantling confusing religious terms.

Christian readers struggling with addiction will find plenty to think about, and Lafaut dedicates ample space to summarizing his own spiritual explanation of each of the 12 Steps (some steps he spends more time on than others, including step nine, when he explores how to make amends “with God’s help”). For those who are unfamiliar with the 12 Step Program, Lafaut lists every step in its original form and offers additional resources in the backmatter. His unconditional regard for readers will be a welcome approach, and his caution against judging others is refreshing—as is his encouragement that “Overcoming all our challenges doesn’t happen overnight.”

Takeaway: A spiritual interpretation of the 12 Step model for addiction recovery.

Great for fans of: G. Sharpe’s God & the 12 Steps; Friends in Recovery’s The Twelve Steps for Christians.

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

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NOWHERE TO LAND
Teretha Houston
Houston straps readers into a high-stakes thrill ride complete with complex characters and a terrifying monster. Onboard the Combi passenger and freight aircraft lurks a genetically engineered apex predator with a taste for blood. As the dead bodies pile up, air marshal Quentin Kane races into action, desperate to save lives, but the creature is only one problem on this flight from hell. The plane malfunctions over the Atlantic, leaving commercial pilot Eden Stone in charge of pulling a miracle out of the sky. One mistake will cause the plane to plummet into the ocean. As the time runs out, Eden and Quentin must work together to save passengers and survive.

Houston brilliantly weaves Eden’s past fears and trauma into the action, forcing the protagonist to come face-to-face with buried secrets. As a former Navy pilot, Eden understands pressure-cooker situations, but a single moment from her military career causes her self-esteem to tumble into a tailspin. She must figure out how to push past the darkness in her mind, while Quentin’s insecurities rush to the surface as he struggles to reconcile a past tragedy himself if they are going to outwit the clawed monster hunting down passengers.

With a deadly storm on the horizon, fuel running out, and a ravenous creature on the loose, the pulse-racing action will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Be aware blood and gore speckles the pages, but at the heart of this gnarly thriller are sympathetic characters with complicated pasts trying to survive an unthinkable horror. Houston’s witty descriptions (“Reality hit him like a bucket of ice water splashed in his face and then having the bucket crown him a good one too”) add a layer of playfulness to the writing style, building a fun, lightening the tense mood. Action and horror fans looking for a creature-based thriller with well-rounded characters will enjoy this read.

Takeaway: Fans of creature-horror and fast-paced action will rave over this dazzling thriller.

Great for fans of: Hunter Shea, William Meikle’s Infestation.

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

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Percivious Origins
JJ & AJ Cook
The haunting but uplifting second installment of the Cooks’ epic science fiction trilogy, after Percivious: Insomnia offers an account of the XYZ race, Earth’s original intelligent species, who existed 280 million years before humans. When the XYZ discover a destructive asteroid 500 kilometers wide is hurtling toward the planet they call Orbyss, they have just 10 years to plan their escape. Council leader Anae, with the help of her son Grynn and astronautical engineer prodigy Vash, faces a terrifying decision: they must design and build the giant Helix ship to carry 100,000 colonists to a new planet, Orbyss II, on a dangerous interstellar journey that will take twenty years.

Evolved from whales, the XYZ have developed telepathic communication, and with advanced technology based on carbon fiber, they are a compassionate race who live in harmony, in accordance with Percivious, “the ultimate in altruism being at the center of their existence.” Before escaping Orbyss, they bury a capsule filled with the DNA of their species deep in the ocean floor, in the event they are destroyed en route to their new planet. Strong female protagonists lead the survivors through their many doubts, fears, and accomplishments, while never losing focus on their vital mission. Grynn, who experiences unimaginable tragedy, grows up despondent and pessimistic, while his female counterpart Vash takes over the stressful reins of command.

Sophisticated interactions between characters, detailed descriptions of intergenerational life aboard ship, and edge-of-your-seat predicaments and action add layers of depth and dimension that readers will savor. When the XYZ arrive at Orbyss II—a tidally locked planet with only a 500-kilometer habitable strip at its center—the solar system reveals a devastating secret, and the resilient population must make a difficult choice. The poignant portrayals of the survivors and their burdens will keep readers on the edge of their seats in this science-fiction triumph.

Takeaway: A knockout science fiction epic of apocalypse, survival, and ingenuity.

Great for fans of: James Rosone’s Into the Calm, Jasper T. Scott’s Planet B.

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

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The Cat's Paw Murders
Frank Gertcher
“I will evolve from sleuth to spy,” the hero declares at the start of this winning continental mystery. Gertcher’s fourth entry in the Caroline Case series finds the now globe-trotting Caroline Jones and her husband, Hannibal, still in France in the early 1930s, tasked by the Deuxiéme Bureau with keeping tabs, as espionage agents, on the fascist movements rising in Italy and Germany—all while Caroline continues doing what she has always done best, from the Wabash Valley to European capitols: solving murders. The game’s afoot as early as the couple’s espionage training, when another prospective agent turns up dead. The case—and the others spinning out from it—eventually suggests that the nascent Nazi movement already has secured more power and reach than anyone expects.

The scope of Gertcher’s series has expanded, with Caroline’s cases now connected to globe-shaking events, but her sprightly, sparkling narrative voice remains a pleasure, and for all the winds of war gathered around her the tale remains agreeably breezy. That’s true even as Caroline handles encounters with Göring and Goebbels, endures Nazi squad combat in Germany, and faces the horrors of Mussolini’s colonization of Northern Africa. While crisply engaging, the tone never diminishes the real-world urgency of the material; Caroline proves as skilled with ammo clips as she is with clues.

The travelogue plotting keeps the events fresh, even as the variety of locales and missions lend this outing a serialized feeling. Holding it all together, though, is the paranoia that powers so many espionage tales: as she travels to Berlin, Vienna, Mogadishu and elsewhere, striving to untangle a particularly knotted set of webs involving assassinations, slavery, and the 20th century’s greatest monsters, who can Caroline trust? Wielding a Walther when necessary, the sleuth turned spy scrambles to stay a step ahead, saving lives and cracking cases but not always pulling off a perfect victory, as she slowly comes to understand the bigger threat: the shadow of Hitler.

Takeaway: A sleuth turns spy and faces the fascist threat in this engaging 1930s mystery thriller.

Great for fans of: Philip Kerr, Len Deighton.

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

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