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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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The Seed of Corruption
A.I. Fabler
Fabler follows up AGENDA 2060: The Future as It Happens with a suspense novel tracing an elaborate art heist through the jungles of Vietnam. Anton Faraday, a British wildlife painter, is desperate to hunt down a forger who has recreated one of his signature pieces. He crosses paths with a freelance journalist, Caroline Brinkley who is searching for her adopted Vietnamese brother. In 2004, with the SARS epidemic rearing its ugly head, Anton and Caroline find themselves navigating an underbelly of corruption, leading Anton to confront, ultimately, the demons of his own past.

Fabler crafts an intriguing tale, edging more toward the literary than the suspenseful, with polished prose touched with poetry. Readers will appreciate the tensions that simmer between Anton and Caroline. Anton is a familiar fish-out-of-water hero whose philosophizing–snapping photos in country, he muses about how his “life’s journey had not begun when he was born; it would not begin until he consciously started it”–at times diminishes the narrative’s momentum. Faber tempers these musings with acerbic comments about contemporary art, which feel more natural: “I suppose if Damien Hirst can get a million pounds for a sliced pig in formaldehyde,” one character notes, “you could try a set of conjoined embryos in a womb of blood-red polycarbonate.”

Fabler makes clear throughout that his hero feels unmoored in Vietnam, sympathetic to the tragic history of it and neighboring Cambodia but overwhelmed by its foreignness. One early passage describes Vietnam as “infecting” Fabler and builds to this jolting declaration, evocative of Heart of Darkness: “The enigmatic face of Asia is often presumed to mask profundity, yet in his experiences to date, it only masked a single-minded pursuit of money.” The novel that follows challenges and interrogates that perspective, with engaging elements of suspense and incisive passages about the making and selling of art, though even deep into Faraday’s journey Fabler risks alienating readers with essentialist phrasing like “the absurd logic of madness that plagued Vietnam.”

Takeaway: This literary thriller sends a wildlife artist into Vietnam in search of a forger.

Great for fans of: Robert Owen Butler’s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Marian Palaia’s The Given World.

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

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When the Soul Calls: True Stories of Deep Healing and Transformation Through the Wisdom of the Heart and Soul
Silvana Maria Pagani
Dedicated to transformative healing at the level of the soul, this expansive volume surveys the craft and many accounts of specific results of what Pagani identifies as “soul healing,” starting from the premise that we all already possess the capacity to heal ourselves—and that Pagani’s task, as a “facilitator and Soul counselor,” is to guide individuals in giving “space” for the “Divine to do its work.” The nature of that guidance: revealing to individuals how to take “self-responsibility for the manifestation of what ailed us and healing it,” whether that ailment be physical, mental, or spiritual. Drawing on her long experience as a healer, including her work at New Mexico’s HeartPath Retreat, where she’s the founder and director, Pagani digs deep into general practices of soul healing a variety of ailments, then a selection of specific ones (depression, the healing of childhood wounds) with detailed case studies.

Those techniques and case studies address expected topics like disease, mental illness, addiction, and overcoming trauma, arguing that “disease points to separation from God, separation from the Source” and urging readers to re-connect to “the divine essence of the self,” an essence that our “drugged society” too often sunders, especially in times of crisis. Readers already steeped in Samsara, auras, the alignment of chakras, and the idea that “we are spiritual beings temporarily inhabiting a body” will find Pagani’s treatment thorough and illuminating; meanwhile, the book’s many case studies and testimonials, as well as Pagani’s accounts of her own journey, invite in the uninitiated.

Those case studies are frank, sometimes earthy, connected to the complexity of contemporary existence and to the effort that a healing process demands. They stand as Pagani’s most convincing material, demonstrating a correlation between the process of connecting with the Divine and positive health and wellness effects. Still, claims that photos can reveal entities that possess us and cause ailments like addiction or that lymphatic cancer means “a deep secret is eating away at one’s core” are unlikely to persuade the skeptical.

Takeaway: A soul healer’s inviting magnum opus argues, with case studies, that healing begins with connecting to the Divine.

Great for fans of: Keith Sherwood’s The Art of Spiritual Healing, Caroline Myss’s Anatomy of the Spirit.

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

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Phantoms of Ruthaer: Chronicles of Damage, Inc., Book 1
Jason & Stormy McDonald
The McDonalds’ engagingly pulpy debut, a party-based fantasy novel as eager to get to the adventure as your latest tabletop RPG session, finds a squad of bounty hunters facing a seemingly simple mission that, like all the hooks that kick off such a story, soon proves more complex and dangerous—and, in this case, so personal that it might tear the party apart. The heroes are Damage, Inc., a motley band of toughs in it for their own benefit. In a world of vampires and demons, dragons and trolls, gruff leader Hector, a scimitar wielding warrior, refuses to take any non-paying jobs, but Aislinn, the team’s healer and tracker, insists on sailing to her hometown, Ruthaer, after an old lighthouse keeper sends her a message about disappearances and some sorcerously odd weather.

Reluctantly, Damage, Inc., set out to investigate, encountering graverobbing, fog-choked boneyards, ancient relics, ghosts raging against the light, and other surprises all dramatized by the McDonalds with clear relish—moments like an apparent act of kindness from a murderous dærganfae challenge the expectations of characters and readers. The world of the Confederation of Nations is engaging, boasting traditional fantasy elements and a welcome diversity, and the action is fresh and vigorous, honoring the not-quite-heroes’ array of abilities and approaches. The stakes are high, despite the prevailing spirit of fun.

A surfeit of modifiers at times slows the line-to-line storytelling, but this first volume of the Chronicles of Damage, Inc. series is otherwise an engaging treat for fans of party-based fantasy adventure. Setting it apart is the McDonalds’ crack characterization, the way Damage, Inc., works and bickers as a group, cracking jokes without ever going too meta. ("‘Is it bad luck to kill a monk?’ Dave asked, breaking the silence.”) Hector, Aislinn, the archer/swordsman Dave Blood, the empath Hummingbird—heroes or not, readers will cheer them on.

Takeaway: This vigorously entertaining fantasy debut pits lovable bounty hunters against the undead.

Great for fans of: Nicholas Eames, Lee Gaiteri’s Below..

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

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Dad Is My Best Friend
Kerice Robinson
Angela is close to her mom and gets along well with kids on the playground, but, as the title suggests, it’s her dad who’s actually her best friend. In this heartwarming tribute to family bonds, inspired by the author’s relationship with her own father, readers follow Angela and her dad as they hang out and exercise together, riding bikes, running a race, and doing push-ups. Kavion Robinson’s warm, nostalgia-tinged illustrations convey the magic and power in simple, everyday opportunities for parents to connect with kids, and this story’s portrayal of a loving father-daughter attachment is sure to resonate with families.

Although readers only get to see Angela and her dad engaged in a short list of activities, the sense of camaraderie and affection is unmistakable—whether she is riding on his shoulders or celebrating the winner of their many races, Angela is always depicted with a smile during their time together, and young readers will certainly appreciate the opportunity to glimpse everyday parent-child moments rendered in such a positive light. Even the story’s extended push-up scene, where Angela climbs onto her father’s back and they count off push-ups together, gives kids and parents a chance to challenge themselves to try the same fun activity.

Kerice Robinson (I Am Full of Thanks) dedicates this story to her earliest memory of her father “working out by the front door” of their home, revealing the emotional basis for the exercise theme that RObinson employs to remind readers that making lasting memories is easy—and that bonding doesn’t have to involve an expensive outing, but can be as simple as riding a bike together. In a fast-paced world, everyone can use a reminder to slow down, and Dad Is My Best Friend’s inviting illustrations and emphasis on fleeting moments of connection is spot on.

Takeaway: This tender father-daughter story celebrates the power of simple connections.

Great for fans of: Gregory E. Lang’s Why a Daughter Needs a Dad, Sean Williams’s Girl Dad.

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

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Voices Whisper: Second Book in the Voices Series
Linda Lee Graham
The second book in Graham’s historical “Voices” series, Voices Whisper is a continuation of the stories of the three friends Liam Brock, David Graham, and Elisabeth Hale who, in Graham’s words, are “together by chance, bound by choice.” In 18th century Philadelphia, Liam attempts to chart his course in the burgeoning new American republic, though his path is plagued with obstacles, some personal, others circumstantial. But his biggest problem might turn out to be romantic, with Liam forced into deciding what he really wants from life.

The series offers both romance and history. Readers are plunged into the marriage of David and Elisabeth, replete with its controversies and culminations. At the same time, there is Liam, plowing through one love affair after another—until the arrival of Elisabeth’s friend, Rhiannon Ross, who seems to halt his otherwise plummeting trajectory. Meanwhile, Graham digs into her milieu, touching on events like the debt crisis spawned by the War of Independence or digging into the reasons for Alexander Hamilton granting Philadelphia the status of the new nation’s temporary capital.

As in the first book, Graham has done a remarkable job balancing an engaging plot line, complete with romantic suspense and several steamy scenes, with a vivid recreation of a fascinating era of the American past. The dialogue and detail are convincing but still relatable today; that’s in large part thanks to her intricately crafted characters, immigrants turned American strivers who feel alive on the page as they build new lives in a New World. While this entry has been written to stand alone, with Graham taking pains to offer context for characters and events, readers who have not read the first book might find some plot points confusing. Lovers of historical fiction will like this book, which is as entertaining as it is illuminating.

Takeaway: This story of life and love in 18th century Philadelphia is as entertaining as it is illuminating.

Great for fans of: Julia Quinn’s When He Was Wicked, David O. Stewart’s The New Land.

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

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DNA, or The Book of Brad: A comic novel about finding family.
Monica Bauer
This quick and funny novel from playwright Bauer explores family dynamics, sapphic relationships, and finding where you truly belong. Rose Pettigrew is a young Black lawyer who has never known her biological parents or where she truly came from. Growing up, Rose promised her adoptive mother that she would never seek out her birth parents until after her adoptive mother was dead and gone, but once her adoptive mother develops early onset Alzheimer's, Rose goes back on her word and takes a DNA test. It turns out that Rose's biological father is a semi-famous rabbi, the author of multiple self-help books–and, unfortunately, now passed, having met his untimely death right before the test results came back.

Bauer deftly tells a fast-moving story with crisp comic dialogue, but its heart is in its three- dimensional, highly likable characters. Rose is in a serious relationship with Paula, a heart surgeon. As Rose gets acquainted with her grandfather, Rabbi Shmuel Cohen, and her biological brother, Jacob, she’s helped by Paula, who is Jewish, in navigating the challenges of integrating into this newfound family. Rabbi Brad, too, plays a prominent role, and readers discover him through excerpts of his many self-help books featured at the beginning of each chapter, and through the eyes of the family that he left behind. “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a masochist and 1 being Oprah, what did your Dad, Rabbi Brad, teach you about guilt?” Paula asks Jacob. His answer is complex and surprising.

This novel will please fans of comic family dramas as, for all its sharply observed cultural specifics, it finds universals within its themes of family ties and self-discovery. Mixing comedy with heart, Bauer’s story will resonate with those who, even in their adult life, feel themselves still searching for a place among family, a feeling of belonging and being home.

Takeaway: A sharp, funny story of DNA surprises and finding your place in a new family and culture.

Great for fans of: Jessica Strawser’s A Million Reasons Why, Marra B. Gad’s The Color of Love.

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

Click here for more about DNA, or The Book of Brad
Project Management in the Hybrid Workplace
Phil Simon
In this inviting, clear-eyed business management guide, tech authority and business podcaster Simon (Reimagining Collaboration) urges readers to reevaluate the way project-based work and product launches are executed in remote and hybrid work environments. Written for product developers, service providers, students, and seasoned project managers, Simon provides “essential guidance for managing projects … in remote and hybrid work-places,” which are becoming increasingly popular thanks to a galvanized workforce that is reluctant to return to pre-pandemic work conditions. Simon does not expect that trend to reverse, and he lays out practical advice to of-the-moment questions facing managers like “What happens when a high-inflationary environment collides with woke employees and an unprecedented rise in remote/hybrid work?”

After a list of important figures and a brief yet insightful introduction, Simon dives into the circumstances responsible for creating an American workforce no longer interested in reverting back to a traditional office setting before delving into the unique challenges of hybrid work environments, such as collaboration overload, communication delays, varying levels of digital literacy, plus the exacerbating effects remote work has on our cognitive biases. Simon’s thorough and persuasive, offering that data (often in engaging graphics) to bacon up his straight talk. The most significant information is found in the third and final section of the guide, with each chapter dedicated to a specific prescription or guideline to ensure the success of projects managed for a remote team, including “Perform a Project Premortem” and “Institutionalize Clear Employee Writing.”

Simon lays out his guidelines for success on managing projects following the principle-based approach of Google’s management team, which emphasizes simplicity above a code of stringent, detailed rules. Using several research studies and labor statistics to back his assertions, Simon doesn’t introduce new methodologies but instructs readers on how to best alter their approach, techniques, and processes to better fit remote workplaces, while addressing the additional constraints both employers and employees face when working outside of a traditional nine-to-five setting.

Takeaway: A clear-eyed call to reevaluate project-based team projects in the days of remote work.

Great for fans of: Kory Kogon’s Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager, David Pachter’s Remote Leadership: How to Accelerate Achievement and Create a Community in a Work-from-Home World.

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

Best Friends Forever: A Puppy's Tale
Portia Y. Clare
A young girl learns the depths of love—and loss—in Clare’s heartwarming debut. Scoopie has just turned four when she learns her parents are getting her the gift she’s always wanted–her very first puppy. Packing their car full of new dog goodies, the family heads out to pick up Scoopie’s present, a dachshund she names Sandy. (Scoopie also promptly declares that Sandy looks “like a hot dog.”) Scoopie and Sandy are immediately best friends and spend their time playing, fetching, and sharing food–until one day the family takes Sandy on an airplane flight and her ride in the luggage compartment triggers a seizure.

Unlike many feel-good pet tales, this one comes with a painful life lesson: Despite medical treatment and the family’s deep love, Sandy eventually dies from complications of epilepsy. However, Scoopie is able to soak up many fun experiences with her puppy before she passes away, and Clare is attentive to the difficulties of explaining pet illness to younger readers. Readers will learn what a seizure is and why it’s important to be sensitive to animals (or people) who are experiencing them, and although Sandy’s outcome is heartbreaking, it’s handled with grace. Scoopie takes time to grieve the loss of her puppy, and when she feels ready, she asks for another dog–this time a miniature schnauzer named Omar.

The most important part of this story is its gentle treatment of grief. Scoopie circles back to her memories of Sandy while learning to love again, recognizing the similarities and differences between the two dogs as she introduces Omar to Sandy at her gravesite, a meeting that Clare aptly describes as “a family reunion.” Alderson’s muted illustrations provide a fittingly hushed atmosphere, and although it covers delicate territory, this emotional story will strike a chord for any reader who has endured the loss of a beloved pet.

Takeaway:A young girl experiences the loss of her first pet in this emotional story.

Great for fans of: Patrice Karst’s The Invisible Leash, Adrian Raeside’s The Rainbow Bridge.

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

Click here for more about Best Friends Forever: A Puppy's Tale
Cemetery Reflections
Jane Hopkins
Striking and elegiac, Hopkins’s exploration of American cemeteries contemplates, through arresting photographs taken at over 200 cemeteries in the Eastern United States and Canada, North American traditions of memorialization, grief, and solace. Her shots of headstones, sculptures, stained glass, mausoleums, and other markers to the dead, often freshened up by flowers brought by the living, invite the same kind of quietly awed, contemplative response that a reader might feel strolling a cemetery in real life: this is an encounter with time itself, with the force of elements and the perseverance of stone and memory, with the question of what of us will endure.

Hopkins demonstrates a keen eye for crumbling stone, the interplay of memorial markers and the abundant life of the surrounding trees and foliage, and the impulse to impose order on the messiness of life and death through graveyard symmetry. (She also deftly arranges the images so that their corresponding qualities enrich each other on the page.) The individual carvings and headstones remain fascinating throughout, especially the oldest, with their skulls and death’s heads suggesting how much closer death felt in ages past, the markers’ messages still clear even when their faces are faded by centuries. Occasional surprises offer jolts of recognition of our own era: a freshly dug grave, not yet filled, or a pair of stone rabbit garden figurines, their cutesy tackiness suddenly endowed with greater significance.

Supplementing the photos are short, well-chosen excerpts from a poetry anthology from the 1890s, plus selections from authors like Louisa May Alcott and Leo Tolstoy—who, while always edifying to read, isn’t exactly an authority on American ways of dying. But he speaks to the larger truth that powers Hopkins’s work, and any healthy fascination with places of remembrance: each of these markers represents a life and all that entails. There’s beauty, wisdom, and peace in this collection.

Takeaway: This striking collection of cemetery photography sheds light on the American way of memorialization.

Great for fans of: Yolanda Zappaterra’s Cities of the Dead, Lorraine Evans’s Burying the Dead.

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

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Alice and Jack Hike the Grand Canyon
Amy Graves and Pam Schweitzer
Hiking the Grand Canyon is a family tradition for daughter and mother co-writers Graves and Schweitzer, and their first picture book captures both the disciplined preparation the journey demands and the wonder of the experience. When her parents announce that they’ve obtained a permit to camp in Grand Canyon National Park during spring break, Alice begins to read about this amazing natural wonder and joins younger brother Jack on practice hikes. It’s like training for the Olympics, Alice declares, as her family spends four months prepping for the trip, which involves hiking down paths carved into the canyon–and an even more strenuous, uphill climb out.

Told from Alice’s perspective, this family trip is a grand adventure that unfolds as a series of important tasks. She approaches each one with relish, from choosing the best waterproof hiking boots to leading her family into Phantom Ranch, their canyon floor base camp. Her enthusiasm is tempered only by a fear of heights, and illustrator McKenzie Robinson skillfully captures Alice’s trepidation taking a practice walk across a narrow rope bridge over a ravine. When she faces the daunting Silver Suspension Bridge with the roaring Colorado River below, the girl’s determined posture projects her resolve.

Robinson is a childhood friend of Graves, and their collaboration illuminates a young girl discovering how much she can learn and achieve. Characters are drawn with more detail than the natural world, which is rendered in bold, expressive strokes of soft color, making the canyon walls more inviting than imposing and reinforcing Graves and Schweitzer’s encouraging tone. Only one percent of visitors travel down into the Grand Canyon, and Alice’s family serves as a model for parents and kids eager to experience this astounding environment –and for those who aren’t afraid of the hard work. Through Alice’s immersive Grand Canyon journey, readers will learn how satisfying a challenge can be.

Takeaway: An inspiring account of a Grand Canyon adventure, emphasizing practical prep and sheer wonder.

Great for fans of: Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon, Alison Farrell’s The Hike, and Jennifer K. Mann’s The Camping Trip.

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

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Madre: The Nun Who Was Mother to the Orphans of Honduras
Kathy Martin O’Neil
In this vivid debut biography, O’Neil celebrates Honduras’s legendary nun, Sister María Rosa Leggol, who revolutionized care for the nation’s most vulnerable population. With sparky aphorisms and insatiable perseverance, the religious maverick founded the Society of the Friends of Children (SAN), an organization that shelters children in innovative style: her insight and shrewd networking enabled the construction of villages where children could grow up in simulated homes rather than dismal orphanages. O’Neil recounts Sister María’s formative years, successes, setbacks, and potential for sainthood, interspersed with over a dozen profiles of individuals who contributed to Sister María’s causes for more than five decades.

Throughout numerous mission trips volunteering for SAN, O’Neil grew personally familiar with Sister María, enabling her heartfelt and clear-eyed observations. The biography’s opening anecdote reveals Sister María’s salient characteristic of audacity: in 1966, the nun ran onto an airport tarmac, halted a plane from taking off, and obtained a wealthy board member’s signature on a vital document. Similarly amusing and inspiring tales paint Sister María’s stubborn and affectionate personality, and photographs complement the narrative, bringing the woman’s poise, humor, and feistiness to life. That spirit is evidenced by Sister María’s own words: “I am not the saint you think; I am a rebellious old lady!”

O’Neil’s settings transport readers to the heart of Honduras, both in its beauty and devastating poverty. The biography alludes to violence and assassinations, and O’Neil explains hardship forthrightly, yet the story as told here is heartening, appropriate for young adult readers and older alike. Throughout the narrative, the emphasis is on Sister María’s solutions and her determination—a force that neither natural disasters nor an expanding organization’s red tape were able to dim. This thoughtful, well-researched recounting of Sister María’s life and work invokes her passion while providing a compelling blueprint for those who yearn to better our world.

Takeaway: The inspiring story of a Honduran nun who fought for change for the most vulnerable.

Great for fans of: Kathryn Spink’s Mother Teresa, Elvia Alvarado’s Don't Be Afraid, Gringo.

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

Click here for more about Madre
Homeland
Robert H Keprta
Robert Keprta (Superlative Selling) tells an engaging historical tale of freedom, danger, and the complexities of birthright and citizenship in this compact, compelling narrative. Frank, who emigrated from the Austria-Hungary Empire at the age of ten, decides to visit his birthplace as an adult in the early twentieth century. Upon his return, he is captured and forcibly enlisted in the army. Drawing strength from his steady faith in God, he is eventually able to escape and undertakes a long, perilous journey back to the United States–this time as a stowaway with no passport. Without papers, he is imprisoned at Ellis Island until his wife, Bosinia, can come and verify his identity, finally allowing him back to rebuild his life in the U.S.

This story, drawn from actual incidents, is fast paced and exciting, although at times the text is bogged down by minor errors and long chapters without breaks. Frank’s faith is a clear support to him throughout his dangerous experience, and Keprta skillfully illustrates that the homeland of the novel’s title is not Frank’s new life in Texas, or the old country in Europe–rather, it is eternity in heaven. Some readers may wish for a map to detail Frank’s travels, or personal photographs to make the story more intimate, as this mixture of memoir and fiction straddles more than one genre.

Despite the story being a quick read, it never lacks for excitement. The sections dealing with the experience of Frank’s wife are gripping, and the narration of Frank’s time in Europe is well-detailed and visceral. Readers will sympathize with Frank’s desire to see his birth home, even as they recognize the inevitable danger awaiting him. Once he is forcibly conscripted, readers will cheer for him to escape and be relieved when Frank and Bosinia are safely reunited at last.

Takeaway: An exciting historical story of danger, triumph, and migration, based in the Christian faith.

Great for fans of: Airey Neave’s They Have Their Exits, Jonathan F. Vance’s The True Story of the Great Escape.

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

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Seasons Under the Juniper Tree: A Daily Devotional
Tricia Kirchmeyer
Keyed to hard times–“the brokenness, the injustice, the gut-wrenching events, the insecurities” that everyone faces— Kirchmeyer’s inviting Christian devotional has been crafted to remind believers that God “accepts us, never leaves us, shelters us, and saves us,” even in moments of crisis. Under the Juniper Tree draws inspiration from the biblical tale of the prophet Elijah, resting in the shade of the titular tree, beseeching God to take his life but instead being urged to rise and eat by an angel. Kirchmeyer thinks of the tree as a shelter, a “scrappy, durable evergreen “that can protect us through every season of life.”

In warm, encouraging prose, the daily devotionals dig into the tale of Elijah and other figures from scripture, giving a week’s worth of devotional essays each to Micah, Esther, Paul, Daniel, and many more, exploring the ancient mysteries and lessons and applying them to contemporary hardships. “Now sit for a moment in Job’s boil-covered, heartbroken place,” she writes, before reminding readers “The only thing that keeps our hearts and minds sane and functioning when the bottom drops out of our world is experiencing God personally.” Holiday weeks are devoted to contemplation of the meaning and message of holy days, but still address everyday concerns. In Easter week, for example, Kirchmeyer addresses common insecurities about our “looks, brains, and purpose” before declaring “Believing we’re worthless is calling God a liar.”

That emphasis on the very human tendency to feel low and defeated, to doubt yourself, and to worry about what others might be thinking sets this nurturing guide apart from the devotional pack. In an introduction, Kirchmeyer notes that she originally wrote the project for an audience of kids in the foster system before realizing that the feelings, fears, and pains she was addressing were shared by many others. The result is an empathetic and welcoming work crafted to heal and inspire believers all year long.

Takeaway: An empathetic daily devotional for Christians facing feelings of loneliness and insecurity.

Great for fans of: 365 Devotions for Depression & Anxiety, Ryan Casey Waller’s Depression, Anxiety, and Other Things We Don't Want to Talk About.

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

Once in a Lifetime
Suzanne Mattaboni
Mattaboni’s debut is the story of one epic summer in 1984, when Philadelphia artist, server, and punk-rock striver Jess bunks up with her closest friends Trina, Audrey, and Kimmer in New Hope, where just about anything goes. The girls are wholly committed to the punk life and each other while facing the obstacles of young adults living on their own–a less than respectable apartment, summer jobs, love triangles, and personal crises. Even though the friends face some heady issues, Mattaboni opts for keeping the subject matter mostly lighthearted, circling around the ups and downs of relationships amid subtle themes of self-discovery, all tied to an era-specific punk, new wave, and post-punk soundtrack.

Mattaboni masters the complications and daily nuances of female friendship while emphasizing the women’s dreams and opportunities in a vibrant cultural moment, especially Jess’s desire to go to London and create art. Music and art rule Jess’s life. As narrator, she relishes “deep plucks of Tina Weymouth’s bass line” and how the “screen-printed lines” of a Joy Division T-shirt seem to “undulate like a mountain range” across a man’s chest. She takes a waitressing job at Capresi’s Continental Restaurant, and Kimmer joins her there for a string of adventures, while roommates Trina and Audrey work in the more upscale eatery La Chambre Rose, where a jealous co-worker and a love triangle threaten their friendship–and Jess gets caught in a love triangle of her own when she falls for an appealing guitarist while on break from longtime boyfriend.

Jess’s love for art spills forth onto her apartment walls and colors the background of her everyday experiences. Readers fascinated by the era and its culture will enjoy the throwback elements, but the quirky humor, the emphasis on art and women’s relationships, and the story’s burning questions –will these friendships survive the summer?–offer much more than that.

Takeaway: A woman’s coming-of-age summer in the post-punk 1980’s, with close friends and hard decisions.

Great for fans of: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Malibu Rising, Suzanne Kamata’s Screaming Divas.

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

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