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The Living Wound
Shämir Káli Griffin
In this intimate, sometimes searing collection, Griffin threads the personal, political, and universal while digging into his own experiences as a gay man of Black and Native American ancestry. Emphasizing a theme of resilience—he writes “I was 14 when he kicked me out, /For honesty and open in coming out”—and striving to “bridge vast cultural disparity,” Griffin’s frank, sometimes blunt verses expose wounds, denounce prejudice, and find hope in the work of building community. “He reached out to the new world,/ One he helped create unable to find a place,” he writes in “A Boy,” a poem whose poignant central figure, cast out and eventually “drained” even of tears, proves “Unable to save himself, only others.”

The portrait that emerges over these clear, inviting poems is of a man dedicated to creating a better world than the one he had to endure. Griffin draws powerful connections between everyday life and the brutality of history in poems like “Cooking,” in which the “fine perfection” and “rich flavor” of food that draws on family legacy is the root of deeper truths: “From enslaved African to Choctaw ancestry, / Soul food has danced alongside genealogy,” he writes, noting that “Flames of hate boiled the roux of miscegenation.” “Cooking” concludes, though, in a celebration of ancestry, of the sense of handed-down recipes guiding him now, and of how act of preparing and sharing food links past and present.

The nourishment of connection also proves a recurring theme, often suggesting a balm for cruelty and prejudice. (The “wound” of the title is living, after all.) “Poetic Love” imagines “a garden that nourishes two as one,” just as “A Hug” contemplates a moment of “brief, beautiful, and fleeting” connection from a stranger. “So please just hold me as I am, a second longer,” Griffin writes, in a late poem that could serve as a capstone for this accessible, emotionally direct collection that should resonate with any reader of personal yet highly relatable free verse.

Takeaway: Accessible, emotionally direct poems centered on the urgent power of human connection.

Great for fans of: Rickey Laurentiis, Danez Smith.

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

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Surrection
Will Martin
Martin’s debut historical fiction blends a coming-of-age story with Civil War drama. In 1856, fourteen-year-old Missouri-born Jabez Cooper learns two skills from his father: blacksmithing and a hatred for anti-slavery, pro-Union interlopers at the Kansas border. Once his father dies, Jabez joins the pro-Confederate Bushwhackers, a band of brutal men hellbent on destroying abolitionists, whether soldiers or just civilians. Over the course of nine years, Jabez witnesses massacres and now yearns to escape the violence, but the ruthless leader Bloody Bill Anderson kills anyone who dissents. After bonding with a thoughtful Union hostage soldier and aiding his escape, Jabez defects, only to live in hiding as Anderson tracks him down.

History buffs will appreciate Martin’s vivid accounts of notorious American antiheroes like John Brown, Jesse James, and William Quantrill. Poetic detail breathes life into the skirmishes: “Three men on horseback trailed bolts of calico behind them in a cascading stream of color as they raced through the main street.” As a character, Jabez’s role is to bear witness to violence, and save for his moral indecision he’s not especially compelling, especially as shifts in viewpoints over a half-dozen characters distance us from his plight. Nonetheless, these multiple perspectives and strong period dialogue paint a thorough picture of the secessionist struggle.

What this book does best is expose the depraved tactics of fighters on both the Union and Confederate sides: Bushwhackers dressed in Union uniforms earn a farmer’s trust before murdering him; men take part in revenge-driven ambushes; hostage-taking is rampant, and more. The Bushwhackers’ pro-Union counterparts, the antislavery Jayhawkers, may be on the right side of history but prove no more pure. Jabez’s story of being captive among sociopaths in a bloody war of attrition stirs sympathy for all involved, both victims and indoctrinated perpetrators. American history fiction fans will value Martin’s transporting look at an era of terror.

Takeaway: A vivid dramatization of the turbulent “Bleeding Kansas” period of American strife that will fascinate history buffs.

Great for fans of: Daniel Woodrell’s Ride with the Devil, Jim R. Woolard’s When the Missouri Ran Red.

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

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Preacher Raises the Dead (Evan Wycliff #3): An Evan Wycliff Mystery
Gerald Everett Jones
The third entry in Jones' thoughtful Evan Wycliff mystery series follows the itinerant preacher and part-time detective Wycliff as he stumbles into surprising fame and a full-time job as a preacher in a small Midwestern town, thanks to his reputation, won in Preacher Fakes a Miracle, as a faith healer–a rep Wycliff resists, to little avail. Wycliff has his hands full with his new wife, Loretta, and his old nemesis, Stuart Shackleton, a sinister banker who helps Wycliff in his hour of need but has ulterior motives. When Loretta slips into a coma after a car accident, Wycliff gets wrapped up in desperate machinations, though, for all the scheming and secrets, the mystery that most urgently powers Jones' ruminative novel proves to be the nature of human consciousness.

This time, Wycliff proves a somewhat passive protagonist. His scrupulous honesty makes him a perfect mark for Shackleton, who uses Wycliff to aid his congressional campaign, even getting the renowned preacher to baptize him for a secret viral video. Shackleton builds a superchurch for Wycliff, funds Loretta's recovery, and even expands the preacher’s reach into television, all for mysterious reasons. Wycliff, meanwhile, knows that “plagues come in sevens” and faces losing everything he cares about, as he struggles with the ethics of taking money from someone he knows is unworthy, especially when others are depending on that money.

Contemplative, character-rich, and written with insight and power, Preacher Raises the Dead edges toward literary fiction, meditating on belief, consciousness, and guilt, while attentive to the lived-in detail of small-town life. The story’s first half largely deals with the emotional fall-out of the previous book, meaning its nuances and emotional impact will most resonate with readers already familiar with the series, though Wycliff's moral rigor and unflagging humanity made for an unusual and engaging hero, especially as he rebuilds in the climax.

Takeaway: This cerebral, philosophical mystery focuses on hard choices made by complex characters.

Great for fans of: Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter, Brad Reynolds’s Cruel Sanctuary.

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

Last Worst Hope
Lee Hunt
This surefooted fantasy epic from the tireless Hunt (author of The Dynamicist Trilogy) boasts a grabber of a hook. Evil has already (mostly) triumphed, with the wizard Nehring Ardgour and his hellspawn prevailing over much of the world. As the ancient nation of Engevelen—"now little more than a few small islands of humanity surrounded by a rough sea of demons and monsters”—faces its darkest hour, Farrah Harbinger, Engevelen’s greatest wizard, discovers that an even greater threat looms over them all: “The one true devil,” who aspires to nothing more than, as Farrah puts it, “[transforming]our world into the hell it arises from.” A weapon, a quest, and possible parlay with Nehring Ardgour might help turn the tide, but the world is low on heroes.

Enter Hunt’s lteam of scrappy survivors, not the best of the best, or even the best of what’s left. Instead, as the squire Aveline thinks, they’re “all that was left.” From the jump, the stakes feel desperately high in this standalone, set in the world of Hunt’s Dynamicist Trilogy, and the pacing is swift for a complex and vividly detailed epic fantasy. Last Worst Hope has the urgent energy of the final book in a trilogy, as uneasy allies must face their doubt and trauma, and learn to trust each other and themselves, all while Hell (literally) breaks loose.

Last Worst Hope reads well on its own, though it’s steeped in lore Hunt established in earlier books. This time, he proves adept at bringing readers up to speed on his world’s magic, factions, and history; his scenes of politicking and tactical deliberation prove as engaging as the faceoffs with demons. What makes this story stand out, though, is Hunt’s memorable character work, as desperate rookies like Val, a commander new to commanding, or Mick, a dog-loving old salt who just might have the makings of a knight, must dig deep and step up—and possibly wield a blade “made of promises and hope.”

Takeaway: A superior epic fantasy, driven by strong characterization and a sense of utter desperation.

Great for fans of: Brandon Sanderson, John Gwynne.

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

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Remote Work Technology: Keeping Your Small Business Thriving From Anywhere
Henry Kurkowski
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the switch for many businesses to remote work changed the nature of office culture, interactions, and in some cases the work itself. In this comprehensive guide, Kurkowski lays out a clear, practical framework on the transition to remote work for small and medium sized businesses, laying out in each chapter tips, studies, and best practices for what’s most effective when making the decision to allow employees to work from home. Kurkowski gives his target audience—business owners and managers—a detailed rundown of what to expect when making the move from in-office work, from up-to-date analysis of administration and systems options to recommendations of specific apps and technologies, to examining what it takes to keep employees engaged (“Educate your team on the wisdom of taking better breaks”), with step-by-step insights and persuasive data on what has worked for other companies.

Drawing on profiles of businesses, plus Kurkowski’s own experience and research, this business-owner's playbook emphasizes how to maintain productivity while employees work from home without face-to-face in-office interaction and guidance. While he offers a clear-eyed look at controversies like the distinction between monitoring employees and surveillance, Kurkowski focuses on the possibilities and opportunities the shift can represent, suggesting that many businesses fall into routine, and that this change means, in some instances, letting go of the need to micromanage as well as an opportunity to update and innovate practices and technology.

While Remote Work Technology is a great tool to aid businesses open to changes in structure and systems, it’s also rich with advice for employees making the work-from-home, especially on pressing topics like staying productive (“regular and scheduled work hours … [allow]for better segregation of the responsibilities of work and home”), eliminating distractions, and organizing their time while at home. With encouragement and clarity, this book helps business owners and employees navigate this new norm.

Takeaway: A comprehensive guide for business owners and employees faced with the transition to remote work.

Great for fans of: Peter Cappelli’s The Future of the Office, Darryl W. Lyons’s Small Business, Big Pressure.

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

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Artscapes
Lee Woodman
Woodman’s (Lifescapes) fourth book of poetry explores the ekphrastic, eloquently translating works of art to the page. Covering various media, from Mark Rothko paintings to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Woodman shares distinctive stories about each selected piece of art. In the poem “Vanquor,” she contemplates the out-of-body experience that can occur when getting lost in art: “Warhol slips into the Chairman’s left sleeve/ Bodies morph,/Merge as portrait, breathe in unison/ […] Three as one.” Meanwhile, “A Life Unravels with the Day” concocts a sober tale of an ill-fated cousin slowly being consumed by cancer—“her hair grows thin/she pulls the clumps,/as shedding begins.”

Woodman tends toward free verse, but each selection is as unique as the different works being explored. She approaches each with appreciation and compassion, such as her personification of Rothko’s Untitled, 1955, angry that it should remain nameless as that is no way to treat a friend— “ochre-brown, black mouth screaming.// The shout so loud, it blurs the lips,/ a forehead turns dark red in fury.” Woodman’s tone is often bittersweet or tinged with sadness while she illuminates the fleeting nature of some of her subjects, lamenting that not even seemingly sacred statues are immune to change in “Too Young To Understand”: “He’s condemned to storage/ Weakened in isolation/Bronze shoulders worn by touches/ Messages lost in his lungs.”

Woodman often weaves complex metaphors throughout the poems, though at times they edge into the complicated, making it a challenge to untangle them. Despite some meandering, she concocts vivid stories that invite readers into each piece and its history and impact, even bringing to life women inspired by ancient cave paintings. Though the imagery can be reductive—Chagall’s Paris through the Windows is boiled down to “swaths of vermilion, streaks of royal blue, icy white shafts”—this collection is full of memorable symbolism, thought-provoking insight, and deep engagement with the power of art.

Takeaway: A heartfelt exploration of great works of art that imparts a new layer to each storied work.

Great for fans of: Paisley Rekdal’s When It Is Over It Will Be Over, Sarah L. Thomson’s Imagine a Place.

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

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The ForestGirls, with the World Always
Sissel Waage
Waage’s tender, gorgeously illustrated picture debut for children celebrates our vital and powerful relationship with trees. Told through the eyes of young girls from around the world, the story starts with the nature-loving youngsters sitting under trees and gazing up at their branches–but then “The girls grew. The trees grew. Upward and outward.” They progress to climbing the trees, then to planting them, and finally to helping care for and heal forests around the world. Though they live far apart, the girls are united in their actions, a theme that Waage illuminates with a poetic refrain: “On their own, together. With the world, always.”

The highlight of this enchanting book is Ana-Maria Cosma’s dreamy watercolor illustrations. The colorful, soft-edged pictures show girls from a variety of countries and the trees they love: a lombi tree in the Republic of Congo, a banyan tree in India, an acacia tree in Australia, and a redwood in the United States. The smiling, culturally diverse characters are depicted lounging on branches, planting seedlings, and running and playing together, and the whimsical pictures seem to exist in the fuzzy space just between imagination and reality. Younger readers will be amused by the playful details–like the frolicsome squirrel making an appearance on several pages.

Waage, an environmental scientist, demonstrates her love for the natural world in spare, impactful prose. This quick, delightful read will pique the same curiosity in kids and adults, offering many opportunities to ask questions and do further research on different trees and the countries where they thrive. With its enduring message and exquisite illustrations, this story will help young readers understand the many ways trees protect us–and why we need to help protect them.

Takeaway: Waage’s tender, gorgeous picture book celebrates our vital relationship with trees through the eyes of young girls from around the world.

Great for fans of: Lola M. Schaefer’s Because of an Acorn, Peter Brown’s The Curious Garden.

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

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What Lurks in the Shadows
S.C. Shannon
Shannon’s debut, an apocalyptic YA thriller with elements of horror, science-fiction, and romance, follows 20-year-old Grace Baker as she faces the end of the world as they know it in a cabin in the woods. The story starts in Los Angeles, not far from the present day, as a series of summer blackouts that the authorities either can’t or won’t explain roll across the country. As people start to panic, Grace and her family make their way to their remote cabin outside of Lake Tahoe, where everything is pretty normal––except for no power––until the monsters come. Between zombie-like humans and invisible monsters, Grace has her work cut out for them, just trying to survive, much less save the world. Everything seems impossible until Nick Gates, a friend from “before,” shows up. Will they be able to solve this mystery together––before one of them is killed?

Shannon delivers a mystery-thriller that’s gory and scary but suitable for teens, focused at heart on two individuals experiencing––for all they know––the end of everything. Shannon presents the story in two timelines, allowing readers to track Grace’s character before and after the monsters appear. The main characters feel well-thought out and full, and the dialogue is often strong. However, the side characters, usually villains, lack depth and tend to end up dead quickly.

The choice to call the zombie-like humans “savages”––which Grace notes is not “politically correct” before concluding “there is no other way to describe them”––will prove unacceptable to some readers and demonstrates a missed opportunity to imagine something more fresh. Those creatures ultimately don’t prove crucial to the overall plot, which turns instead on secret military experiments, the conscience of Grace’s own father, and a hopeful revelation when past and present twine together. But what lingers are the scenes of wilderness and apocalypse survival, the relationship with Nick, and the terror of not knowing how bad it all will get.

Takeaway: A YA apocalypse with monsters, romance, military secrets, and the horror and adventure of surviving.

Great for fans of: P. A. Glaspy’s When the Power is Gone, Emma H. Frost’s Into the Dark.

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

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Strong Connections: Stories of Resilience from the Far Reaches of the Mobile Phone Revolution
Rosa Wang
A globe-trotting memoir of tech innovation and philanthropic zeal, Strong Connections encourages the next generation of activist entrepreneurs to close the digital divide for marginalized women around the world. Wang’s absorbing debut also offers an exemplary model for midlife reinvention while functioning as a guide for pivoting with purpose. After a career in investment banking, Wang became an “accidental technologist,” with a mission to use digital tools to help women in extreme poverty establish financial independence. Her undertaking acknowledges systemic inequities (including in education and marital autonomy) while providing these women the fundamentals of self-determination, starting with helping them to establish their own bank accounts.

Strong Connections unfolds as Wang’s journey of discovery, from the “light-bulb moment” in a game preserve when a Maasai man pulled a cell phone from his traditional clothing, to becoming the global director of digital financial services for Opportunity International, a Christian ecumenical nonprofit. She details trips to Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania, as well as several rural states in India, during a period when mobile phone usage had reached even far off-the-grid rural communities. How could global connectivity be tapped to help women living with both economic hardship and gender discrimination? Wang’s brand of advocacy is clear-eyed and action-oriented, chipping away at entrenched, exclusionary systems with financial solutions that address both individual needs and the greater good.

Tech and business readers will gain insights into client-based principles of problem-solving, and readers looking for a meaningful career change will find inspiration in Wang’s challenging and rewarding shift to microfinance. Her descriptions of growing up in Meridian, Mississippi, as the child of Taiwanese immigrants could be the basis of an intriguing follow-up memoir, which could further illuminate Wang’s paradoxical sensibility, equal parts tough resolve and active kindness. Strong Connections adds the warmth of humanity to the cold calculations of technology, and champions the intrinsic value of women helping other women with equanimity, compassion and respect.

Takeaway: Both an inspiring personal journey and history of financial innovation and bolstering the autonomy of women around the world.

Great for fans of: Mary Ellen Iskenderian’s There’s Nothing Micro About a Billion Women, Alana Karen’s The Adventures of Women in Tech, and Malene Rix’s Negotiating with Yourself.

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

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Treating Food Allergies with Modern Medicine
Elizabeth Muller, Elizabeth Hawkins, PhD, MPH, Sanjeev Jain, MD, PhD
This helpful and extensive guide compiles information from current studies, recent medical trials, and personal experience to provide a well-rounded and highly accessible account of current trends and treatments for what they term a new “epidemic.” Coming from a medical doctor, a clinical psychologist, and a parent of children with severe allergies, Treating Food Allergies with Modern Medicine walks readers through options for treating allergies. Offering up-to-date medical expertise and clear-eyed reports from real life, this practical resource offers clear options and advice for caregivers and anyone facing the challenges of food allergies.

The authors bring a personal touch to the material, threading medical knowledge with pragmatic accounts of family journeys through food allergen treatment planning. The majority of the book is written from the perspective of Elizabeth Muller, a parent of children with extensive food allergies, while her co-authors offer authoritative explanations and guidance, covering both the expected medical information and the emotional and behavioral impacts of living with food allergies. Explanations or types of treatment are quite specific, even about costs, though at times they can be demanding to read. A basic understanding of allergy treatment will be helpful for readers, as some insider language is not always clearly defined, although introductory advice about treatments to avoid and whether to choose a private practice for treatment are welcome, informative, and written in clear and inviting language.

Readers will find encouragement and solidarity within these pages. The authors make clear how complex and emotionally taxing it is to live with food allergies, and they acknowledge that research and treatment can be tedious and demanding. The authors are clear that this book is a companion to professional treatment rather than a substitute, and readers facing a choice of treatments will find themselves equipped with the competency to talk with their doctors about broader plans and the confidence to ask hard questions.

Takeaway: A practical, helpful resource offering straight-talk and facts about treating food allergies.

Great for fans of: Ruchi Gupta’s Food Without Fear, Scott H. Sichere’s Food Allergies.

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

Jestin Kase and the Masters of Dragon Metal
Jason M White
White tangles Babylonian mythology around a smart-aleck orphan in this whimsical urban fantasy. After burning down his foster home, 15-year-old Jestin Kase is alone and confused on the streets of Chicago. During his previous stint in juvenile detention, he learned that some humans are “soulless pawn[s] of chaos” in thrall to demons, a revelation that’s confirmed when Jestin meets Gideon, an unnerving figure who helps him fight off wolf-like creatures. Along with his partner Father Caleb, Gideon enlists Jestin in their battle to defeat the Three Great Schools of Magic—organizations originally charged with keeping the Great Dark evil at bay but that have succumbed to corruption and are now perverting magic.

The only thing that can stop the darkness from taking over: twelve magic-channeling relics made of Dragon Metals. Gideon trains Jestin to wield the Medal of Sun relic, along with other teenagers, each with a relic of their own, who will all play integral roles in the war against the Great Dark. White’s ambitious mythology involves a menagerie of characters, demons, and relics, enough so that it’s a challenge at times to fight off confusion, but the action is plentiful, and the magical battles spark with cinematic energy and imagination.

White’s epic adventure is sure to please young adult readers who can relate to the teenage protagonists overcoming adversity to serve a common good: “The goal is to build a strong enough network to take down the Three Great Schools, [and] free magic back into the world.” Jestin is a likable character, confident and competent, who works well on a team even when he can’t quite believe the surprising turns, like the alley cat he adopts transforming into a combat-savvy panther. The Babylonian mythology is a pleasant change from genre conventions, and readers will cheer on the uncanny youth in their goal of saving magic from the forces of evil.

Takeaway: YA fantasy fans will enjoy this epic of good and evil’s action-packed and unique Babylonian mythology.

Great for fans of: Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, Claire Legrand’s Furyborn.

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

I'm Right Here: 10 Ways to Get Help for Hoarding and Chronic Disorganization
Jill B. Yesko
Yesko, a professional organizer with a background in social work, debuts with a compact guide to ten approaches to fixing chronic disorganization–and what’s colloquially called “hoarding.” With a careful approach and positive outlook, and drawing a sharp distinction between situational and chronic disorganization, she addresses both readers who may struggle with this condition that can be painful to face, and the professionals who help the disorganized, and who may be the first “to meet with those in crisis.” Clear, concise chapters address what to expect when hiring a professional organizer, be it an individual, team, ADHD specialist, or coach, virtually or in person. Later, she dedicates ample space to providing readers with helpful resources, including classes, clutter support groups, informational books, and television shows.

The emphasis on outside help makes clear that chronic disorganization is not something it’s easy to navigate alone. The split-focus, though, at times makes the guide less inviting for everyday readers than it could be: She refers to clients in the third-person–“They may say to themselves, ‘I know I have this great potential, but I’m not achieving it’”–and frequently relies on acronyms, which can pile up. Readers searching for specific examples may find this to be a more generalized guide, but Yesko does dip down to a micro level when describing supportive organizations and classes.

Yesko’s strength lies in the variety of resources she introduces for readers, and despite its short length, I’m Right Here will be a valuable reference tool, one that can be read straight through. Some sections will resonate with readers who have struggled with chronic disorganization, especially an account of her experience on the TV show Hoarders—“The level of items in the house had gone down but was still three feet deep”—but Yesko’s non-confrontational, reassuring approach will help them gain fresh perspectives and motivation. A practical appendix breaks down specialist certifications and measurement scales to round out the guide.

Takeaway: A brief, well-organized guide offering resources for professional organizers and readers struggling with chronic disorganization.

Great for fans of: Dana K. White’s Decluttering at the Speed of Life, Genevieve Parker Hill’s Minimalist Living.

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

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Malkah Job - Part Two - Éminence Grise
Vasilissa Wladowsky
The second volume in Wladowsky’s steamy, globe-trotting, messianic espionage epic opens with a domestic spy entanglement as beguiling as it is perverse. Leda, the ex-ballerina spy known as “Ice,” has been wounded in her quest to spring her long-missing, now-imprisoned spy husband, the father of her children. That quest, in the first book, had found her pregnant, in romances with powerful men, and distant from her actual family. Now her convalescence finds her seemingly in love with the billionaire John Doe, whom she calls “daddy,” and whose own son is eager to steal a kiss from, as he puts it, “the mother of my future brother?” For Leda, being all things to all these men is part of the job of protecting the family she can’t personally be with.

Setting Wladowsky’s depiction of intimate spycraft apart is the passion that the “insatiable” Leda brings herself to feel for men she manipulates. Leda’s in so deep that there’s suspense in the question of whether she’s lost the plot altogether, though she sees in John the resources to secure her children’s safety. Complicating all this is that Leda has been appearing in visions—and a rabbi believes she could be the Moshiach, the messiah destined to save the Jewish people.

That’s heady stuff for a sex-and-spies thriller. This second volume centers on this complex dynamic, with Leda and John making intense, inventive love in Dubrovnik, New York, Paris, and other far-flung locales, as Leda notes that their “addiction” to each other “can only be solved by a bullet”—and that, no matter what her mission might be, “she’s “more willing to kill herself than him.” More a continuation than a sequel—it opens with chapter 86, right where the first book ended—this follow-up is a more assured, engaging read, as it examines Leda’s fascinating entanglements with greater clarity and more compelling detail than in the faster-paced first book—though the epic length and bold sexuality will challenge some readers

Takeaway: This intimate espionage thriller sequel digs deep into an Israeli spy’s impassioned affair—and possible prophetic fate.

Great for fans of: Lauren Sanders’s The Book of Love and Hate, Jonnie Schnytzer’s The Way Back.

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

Stormsilver
Raven McGory
McGory’s debut, the first in her Second Dawn of the Dragon God series, incorporates demons, deities, ghosts, wolves, reapers and a sprite into a contemporary fantasy story blending mystery, romance, and a welcome comic spirit. At its heart is a dragon named Young and Arella, a slightly absent-minded and reckless woman living with her half-brother Theo and his werewolf clan. As punishment for an unfortunate incident that wiped out an island full of people, Young has been living his life with only the memories of the last thirty years when, in his human form, he meets Arella, after she accidentally picks up his celestial blade, Stormsilver, while it’s in the form of a coin. Refusing to return it, Arella–who at first assumes that Young is hitting on her–soon coerces the dragon to train her with the sword so that she can protect her brother’s clan from other wolf packs.

As the pair’s relationship evolves, McGory’s inventive, tangled storyline does, too, introducing the ghosts of Luciana and Oslo, grim reaper Will, frog princess Rumi, equine demons Zeba and Pona, and more. This variety of characters, perspectives, and plot threads offer amusements, especially for readers who crave more than a fantasy romance, but they also at times bog down the narrative momentum. Though it takes some work to track the story’s different threads, fans of high-spirited contemporary fantasy will appreciate the attention McGory pays to the dynamics between her cast, especially between Young and Arella, who grow increasingly intimate while facing threats from those closest to them.

Despite being full of characters who are either dealing with death or the nuances of immortality, the story stays largely light-hearted, with much entertaining banter between the players. The novel is long, but as the first in its series it introduces a promising world and builds to some satisfying cliffhangers, with plenty of action and romance.

Takeaway: Fantasy lovers will find much to enjoy in this contemporary series starter featuring a dragon, a sword, ghosts, and an unlikely romance.

Great for fans of: Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, Darynda Jones’s Charley Davidson series.

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

Click here for more about Stormsilver
Coligo: Book #1, The UNITAS Series
Lee S. Hannon
This promising debut, a science-fiction thriller set in “The City” after an android “Resurgence” has upended society, beguiles from the start with its layered mysteries, both about the state of the world, especially its politics and pharmaceutical companies, as well as a series of murders—and the particular dilemmas facing characters like Julie Walsh, who has developed a gene therapy breakthrough in the fight against “complex mental and psychological illnesses.” What readers will quickly glean: The Resurgence found androids in revolt against humanity; afterwards, they won representation and selected an android known as The Supreme who serves as a counterpart to the governor, Colin O’Connor. Both O’Connor and the cooly logical Supreme support Julie in her research, despite misgivings from her university mentor, and she’s brought onboard at the COLI*GO biotech company.

While Julie, a striver, is eager to get to work, readers will understand that she’s caught up in the machinations of powers she doesn’t yet understand, especially when Governor O’Connor’s interest turns personal. Hannon weaves other intriguing threads, such as ritual murders across the unnamed City (presumably future Boston), and The Supreme’s support of another researcher’s experiments in time travel. Meanwhile, Jones, an android acquaintance of Julie’s, trains to be a detective and eventually links the murders to COLI*GO. Hannon’s brisk storytelling makes all this clear and enticing, especially human/android politics and the culture of biotech companies.

Hannon deftly handles the complexities of Coligo’s story, though its admirable ambitions—especially the abundance of details demanded by its interlocking mysteries and conspiracies, plus its politics, advanced technology, and fascinating considerations of android intelligence—draw emphasis away from the characters, whose actions and development often feel summarized rather than fully dramatized. Despite a surfeit of adverbs, the prose at its best echoes the clipped stylishness of noir tales. But it’s the plotting and world that shines. While Coligo kicks off a series, its conclusion satisfies.

Takeaway: An ambitious noir-tinged future-city mystery of androids, politics, and biotech.

Great for fans of: Adam Christopher’s Made to Kill, China Mieville’s The City and the City.

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

Click here for more about Coligo
Post Traumatic: The Graphic Novel Series
Pete Fitz
Fitz and Perkins explore supernatural powers in the second World War in this heady, complex graphic novel. In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack and urged on by dreams of his dead father, Dagan Harris enlists, leaving behind his wife and young son. He is captured and suffers at a Japanese POW camp, where his long suppressed rage–and superhuman strength–surfaces during a revolt. Meanwhile, Dagan’s father’s soul is trapped by Horus, an immortal being who has been pulling strings all over the world while inhabiting a rotting body. News of the POW revolt led by a man whose eyes turn black worries Horus. Following the war, visions of ghosts leave Dagan little peace, as the story winds towards possible answers.

Fitz blends alternate history, demonic horror, and superhero origin story into a transfixing mélange that is, at times, a challenge to keep up with. His worldbuilding hints at broader imagined details likely to be explored in future volumes, like Dagan’s ability to kill remotely or his aunt Dinah’s blank states; the storytelling requires close attention to catch details. Side characters and later additions would benefit from clearer motivations, but the surprises are interesting–such as the connection between Horus and Christopher Columbus–and the action and bizarre happenings keep readers engaged.

Perkins’s artwork is crisp and richly detailed, suggesting at times a cross between the Hernandez brothers and Charles Burns. Even ghosts and demons retain a naturalistic feel with little stylization, and the use of repeat pages for flashbacks adds to the potent sense of disorientation. Color could have helped clarify some moments, as fluids, weaponized lightning, and other elements can be hard to discern in black and white, but the art and story build on each other in productive, enjoyable ways, drawing readers into nightmarish scenes. The trippy, intriguing Post-Traumatic will whet appetites of fans of grownup graphic novels and promises plenty of avenues for more exploration.

Takeaway: Complex mythology and honed artwork offer a unique graphic novel set against an alternate WWII.

Great for fans of: Über, Locke & Key.

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

Click here for more about Post Traumatic

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