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Monet & Oscar: The Essence of Light
Joe Byrd
Byrd debuts with a historical novel centered around Oscar Bonhomme, an American soldier who opts to stay in the Northern France village of Giverny after the first world war. He has his reasons: Oscar’s father is one of the French Impressionist painters—that’s the only thing that his mother back in San Francisco has told him—and he sets out in search of him. When he lands a job working in Claude Monet’s world famous garden at Giverny, Oscar’s fate becomes tangled with that of the great painter, eventually leading to his discovery of his father’s identity.

Drawing on a lifetime of research, Byrd offers an intimate glimpse into the life of Monet, delving into vivid historical details of the painter’s life, such as the importance of Monet’s pond to his paintings; his relationship with his wife and children; his dwindling eyesight in later years; and his cranky yet endearing personality. The prose is invitingly lyrical, with evocative descriptions of natural settings that reflect the inspiration behind Monet’s greatest works: “He looked to be painting the essence of the light that moved on the surface of the pond,” Byrd writes. Byrd intricately weaves fiction and history, presenting an array of characters, including historical figures, that will hook readers as well as enticing romantic threads that generate some suspense with the question of who Oscar might forge a future with–and whether he’ll be the kind of father he never had.

At times, though, the romantic storyline feels stretched, veering toward the sentimental, with prose occasionally straining for effect, and Byrd’s overreliance on fortuity leads to enough coincidences to strain credulity. Still, Monet and Oscar is a gripping read that captures attention—and boasts an abundance of historical figures for audiences to follow. Lovers of history, art, and the history of art will devour this entertaining and informative story.

Takeaway: An entertaining and informative story perfect for historical fiction readers with a love for art

Great for fans of: Stephanie Cowell’s Claude and Camille, Robin Oliveira’s I Always Loved You.

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

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A Dragon of Turicum: Heirs of Regula: Book 1
C. R. BRACHER
Bracher’s debut coming-of-age fantasy adventure pits a close-minded elite clinging to tradition against a brash young man who must battle a dragon to get people to change. Hopes are high for King Alfred’s seventeen-year-old son Eldred, who is stuck training as a squire. He is expected to pass the rigorous trials and attain the Night Mother goddess’ blessing—called the Bond, the psychic connection between warriors who fight in unison—before his eighteenth birthday. Because his instructors see no glimmer of Bond in him, his only option is to become the household steward for his uncle and see his cousin become Alfred’s heir. When he’s accused of planning to cheat in the trials, an enraged Alfred assigns him a deadly new task—travel to Turicum, the land of the outcast Wretcheds, to dispatch a deadly dragon. Eldred’s savvy enough to note that the knights Alfred sends with him are all in Alfred’s disfavor, meaning he is not expected to come back alive.

Bracher crafts a rich mythology of medieval life, cultural differences, and a message of tolerance, expertly weaving social commentary and thoughtful characterization, addressing the harm of discrimination in various forms. The elite attribute Eldred’s inability to Bond to his mixed race. Meanwhile, the Wretched are denigrated as being simple and barbaric, yet Eldred discovers, on his mission, that they have advanced science and medicine, and a special link to the Night Mother and the three magical stones set in Eldred’s skin.

The first book in the Heirs of Regula series, A Dragon of Turicum offers a rugged world, vivid descriptions of combat, imaginative religion, magic, and cultures like the Wretcheds, and the welcome message that heroes can have many roles. Developing all that comes at some expense to plot momentum, but readers of epic fantasy will be engrossed with both Eldred’s fearless determination to prove himself and his broader world.

Takeaway: Fantasy fans will enjoy this brash young hero battling a dragon, testing his abilities, and finding his place.

Great for fans of: Melanie Rawn, David Farland.

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

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The Quest for Psyche
Beth Greenberg
Greenberg delivers a winning balance of mythology, romance, and heat in the final installment of the Cupid’s Fall series. Cupid, the God of Love, has been shoved off Mount Olympus by his own mother, Aphrodite, with the express purpose to “fix Love” on Earth. Still reeling from his fall, Cupid tries to navigate unfamiliar territory as a god surrounded by mortals while searching for his own Right Love, Psyche, so he can successfully return home and resume his immortal life. Unfortunately for Cupid, Aphrodite has made the hunt nearly impossible and wrought with several romantic deceptions to throw him off track. When he finally stumbles onto Psyche, Cupid realizes it will take a great deal of hard work and more than a little luck to earn her trust.

Between Aphrodite’s unfair tactics and the comic histrionics of her counterparts on Mount Olympus, Greenberg has crafted an immersive and entertaining saga. Romance readers open to playful mythology will be invested in both Cupid’s tale and the affairs of the other gods, who spend the majority of their time spying on Earth and meddling in its pre-destined affairs as a form of distraction from their otherwise boring, pleasure-seeking lives. Cupid initially comes across as a touch empty and superficial, but with time and some serious character development, he transfigures into an earnest hero (and readers will get a kick out of his Earth-based therapy sessions that Greenberg uses to spur and reveal his personal transformation).

The slow burn between Psyche, a soul that “has been recycled a hundred times over” and is currently inhabiting therapist’s Mariposa Rey body, and her star-crossed lover Cupid will please romance fans–their passion develops gradually, but Greenberg devotes plenty of time to exploring their eternal bond, cementing the story’s intimacy factor. Readers will be satisfied when everything comes together in a euphoric ending.

Takeaway: In this modern, romantic spin on myth, Cupid must navigate Earth as a fallen god in search of his eternal love, Psyche.

Great for fans of: Peter S. Beagle’s Summerlong, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad.

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

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Where is the Sun?
Tamar Johnson
Pandemic life is hard on everyone, but it is perhaps most confusing for children, who can sense the frustration that surrounds them but lack the ability to contextualize it. In Johnson’s heartwarming picture book for young children, a little girl named Lea heads out one morning to run errands with her mother only to find the city shrouded in gloomy gray drizzle. She asks where the sun has gone, and her mother suggests that it’s hiding–and that Lea could look for it as they go about their day. At each of their stops, Lea makes welcome discoveries: “gleams of light and color” in a favorite neighborhood restaurant, the smiling eyes of a local florist, and a ray of sun in a park, where she manages to have fun despite the weather.

The message, of course, is deeper than Lea being disappointed that it’s raining–it’s about finding optimism in difficult times, which will speak as much to adults as it does to kids. When Lea and her mom stop at the flower shop, Lea notices that “these days Ms. Henrietta didn’t smile very often,” which serves as a heartbreaking reminder that even the youngest kids know when things aren’t right. It also shows Johnson’s deep respect for her audience, as Lea has the power to observe the sadness in someone she cares about and do what she can to “bring back the sunshine,” even if only for a moment.

Johnson’s illustrations follow wide-eyed Lea and her mother as they walk from place to place. Each scene starts in varying shades of gray, but after Lea observes the goodness in others and infuses each situation with her own brand of enthusiasm, the pictures are full of vibrant colors. Johnson doesn’t need to explicitly mention the pandemic–the book ends with Lea and a friend holding a sign thanking health care workers outside a hospital, making this a touching message of hope for a challenging era.

Takeaway: Johnson’s heartwarming picture book follows a little girl as she looks for the sun on a rainy day–and hope in a time of uncertainty.

Great for fans of: Patrick Guest’s Windows, Smriti Prasadam-Halls’s Rain Before Rainbows.

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

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Pawprints On Our Hearts: How A Few Incredible Dogs Changed One Life Forever
Kerk Murray
Murray offers a moving examination of personal trauma and deep bonds with animals in this exceptional debut. Sharing painful experiences from his past, Murray details how the dogs in his life helped pull him through and heal, starting with the adoption of a dog named Chelsea when Murray was a young teen. Chelsea, rescued at ten years old from an abusive situation, came at the perfect time for Murray—and while she learned to trust humans again, she gave Murray the friendship he needed just as she taught him about compassion, patience, and unconditional love. Another addition to Murray’s family during his senior year of high school, a puppy named Lexi, would end up saving his life more than once.

In warm, eloquent prose, Murray shares his dark moments as a teen and young adult while telling a beautiful story of love and forgiveness through his relationships with loyal pets. Murray frankly describes his depression as a teen, after being forced to make a difficult choice that he wasn’t sure he could live with, and his subsequent drug and alcohol abuse—until Lexi literally saved his life. Murray allows readers a glimpse of his pain and bad choices but also illuminates the revelation of unconditional love he experienced time and again through the eyes of his dogs.

After sharing his unique bond with the dogs in his life, Murray turns his attention to the recent present, where he realizes his successful career is not his true calling. When he comes across another dog in desperate need of rescuing, Murray shares a touching story of re-homing that inspired him to change professions and dedicate himself to helping other animals. Animal lovers will feel connected to Murray’s almost spiritual awakening and admire his devotion to following his heart, even in the face of tremendous sacrifice. This touching memoir overflows with intense emotion.

Takeaway: A touching memoir of a boy whose life is saved by love of dogs–and grows up to return the favor.

Great for fans of: Jean Gill’s Someone To Look Up To, Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk.

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

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Retaliation of The Cursed: A Historical Investigation of The Origins of Worship, World Religion, Mythology, Paganism, Astrology and Atheism, and Their Contributions Leading to Modern Hinduism
Stephen Arthur Martin Jr
Martin’s ambitious survey extrapolates the possibility of an “original universal belief system” from the complexly intertwined foundations of major religions and mythologies. Digging deep into common personages and events across cultures and belief systems—serpents, a great flood, the fascinating overlap between Zoroaster and the biblical Daniel, or between the trinity of Christianity and of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brāhma—makes an original and intriguing case, with an emphasis on the possibility that the divisions between religions come from rulers and priests who “acquire a monopoly over religion and claim to hold exclusive access to God.” Despite such interventions, though, Martin posits that aspects of that original universal belief system linger in different faiths today–while other elements have been tossed out or misinterpreted.

From Mesopotamia to Abraham to the “Great Spirit” of Native American lore, from Pagan beliefs to Jainism and shared doctrines of reincarnation and rebirth, Retaliation of the Cursed finds common ground across time and cultures, linking the gods of Mount Olympus to Hindu deities on mountaintops and examining the role of the zodiac and constellations in belief throughout history. Presenting this history in clear, approachable chapters, Martin finds believers in revolt (Siddhārtha Gautama, Mahavira, Confucius, Lao-Tse ) against the “corruption and greed” that distanced believers from “knowledge of true worship.”

Martin’s approach finds him vaulting across centuries and cultures, drawing on religious texts, literature, archeology, and other disciplines, picking apart beliefs present and past. At times the text is speculative, but invitingly so—his excitement at the material and the possibilities is infectious, even as he decries the “corruption” of that original universal faith. His surges of thought can at times can be a challenge to keep up with, and he occasionally leaps too quickly from one idea to the next. Still, his conclusion, in which he calls for a classic leap of faith, follows naturally from the investigation that precedes it.

Takeaway: An impassioned treatise arguing that an ancient universal belief system ties together disparate religious beliefs.

Great for fans of: Huston Smith’s Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World's Religions, E.J. Michael Witzel’s The Origins of the World’s Mythologies.

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

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The Demogra-Fate Hypothesis: Is demographic aging, as seen on Earth, the natural death of all intelligent species in the Universe?
Nguyen Ba Thanh
A more inviting read than its title suggests, this provocative inquiry opens with a fascinating question—“Will our 0.3-million-year-old species exist until the universe's physical death tens of billions of years in the future?”—and then, after moving from “your unstoppably aging carcass to the inexorably expanding universe,” offers an answer that must be faced “by all cosmic civilizations”: that everything dies. Humanity’s no different, The Demogra-Fate Hypothesis argues, “a self-aware species on a deterministic extinction path.” Then, over about 15,000 words, Thanh teases out the philosophical and practical implications, positing the scenario that the fate of most civilizations in the cosmos is likely population aging and decline, as they age and die like the stars or any living organism.

Setting the The Demogra-Fate Hypothesis apart from other treatises concerned with aging populations and diminishing fertility rates is analyst Thanh’s refreshing value-neutral perspective. He accepts as a likely inevitability the decline of humanity, noting that “lower population numbers could ecologically offer humans an unexpected break” and that technological breakthroughs make it possible, as in Japan, for productivity rates to outpace demographic decline as we “increasingly, and comfortably, live off the services of ever-smarter machines.”

Thanh considers the implications of living longer in a less-populated world—" a super-aged world of few children. Hem argues that humanity will likely adapt, just as it always has, and that movements to attempt to boost fertility rates and population growth are unlikely to prove successful, as “humans are blissfully oblivious to abstractions like humankind.” Whether his conclusions prove persuasive or not will be a matter for individual readers to decide, but in a way that’s part of the point: The Demogra-Fate Hypothesis argues that, as individuals, we’re unlikely to band together, through politics or other means, to act in the interests of long-term survival of the species—so we’re unlikely to witness the sun burn out.

Takeaway: A searching, persuasive examination of the question “Will humanity survive until the death of the universe?”

Great for fans of: Nicholas Agar’s Humanity’s End, Charles T. Rubin’s Eclipse of Man.

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

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Practical Survival Skills: First Aid & Natural Medicines in a Survival Situation
J.P. Logan
Logan offers up clear-eyed, pragmatic advice that will help readers prepare to respond in a host of unexpected wilderness situations. Drawing on years of military experience and wilderness first response training, Logan notes that travel, and any time spent in nature, brings with it a risk of injury, and he encourages readers to make provisions for potentially “terrifying and deadly situations.” Logan emphasizes preparation above all else, giving easy-to-implement tips to topics like natural remedies, how to assemble an extended first aid kit, and methods of stabilizing injuries such as sprains, fractures, bleeding, and bites or stings. Overall, he notes that the most important part of first aid is calmly assessing what must be done in an emergency situation.

Logan offers a slew of helpful information in a down-to-earth, accessible style. He shares stories of real-life mishaps and deadly experiences, ranging from snake bites to mountain climbing falls, pointing out the learning opportunities in each. Particularly appealing are the quiz to determine the most effective response in any survival situation, along with the practical medical advice dealing with how to check vital signs, the benefits and techniques of making a natural poultice, responding to allergy attacks in the wild, and more.

The guide is strongest when Logan focuses on particular skills, and he includes illustrations of basic first aid maneuvers—like making a splint for a broken hand—that are clear and concise. He dedicates pages to differentiating dangerous insect bites from those that can be healed naturally, and although he stresses the availability of natural remedies as an immediate response, he also teaches how to access medical assistance when necessary, including a breakdown of how EpiPens work and when to recognize that CPR is needed. Readers more advanced in wilderness survival techniques may find sections repetitive, but for those new to the field this guide will prove informative and reassuring.

Takeaway: This highly useful guide for wilderness survival offers step-by-step instructions that anyone can follow.

Great for fans of: Kevin Estela’s 101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods, Leon Pantenburg’s Bushcraft Basics.

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

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Practical Survival Skills: Nature's Larder - Wild foods survival guide
J.P. Logan
Aptly titled, this highly practical guidebook teaches how to find food supplies in order to survive in the wild. An expert in the fields of foraging, wildcrafting, bushcraft, and wilderness first aid, Logan has assembled a compendium of skills for adventurous readers to hone before heading out into the wild. Focusing on food resources, he lays out clear instructions and advice on topics like how and what to forage, plant identification and safety, emergency cooking–including making a stove and crafting a knife from stone–and that most ancient of challenges, how to build a fire. (He offers six different “designs” for fires, each applying to different situations.)

With thorough yet inviting descriptions, explanations, photos, tips, and recipes, Logan demystifies this aspect of survival–but even as he endeavors to help readers at introductory and intermediate levels of outdoor skills feel confident in the wilderness, he’s always clear and frank about the dangers of nature. Though thorough, this guide is highly focused on food, water, and fire, and Logan reminds readers that a range of survival skills are beyond the purview of this book.

Logan’s knowledge and expertise in plant and animal wildlife are impressive, and his tone is no-nonsense and approachable, coaching readers on identification, trapping, and cooking, in welcome detail. A well-organized index of potential food and edible resources mentioned throughout the book is included and is highly convenient, exemplifying the book’s pragmatic design. The general, wide-ranging tips and strategies laid out in Practical Survival Skills are presented engagingly enough to be read from the comfort of home, but the volume is laid out and arranged with the clarity it takes to serve as a survival kit reference work, used in-the-moment while foraging, hunting, and sheltering. This approachable food survival guide is bound to open any curious reader’s eyes to the possibilities of life in the wild.

Takeaway: An approachable, practical guide to food and fire in the wilds of nature.

Great for fans of: Dave Canterbury’s Bushcraft 101, Bradford Angier’s Hot to Eat in the Woods.

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

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A Life Cycle: A Guide to Healing and Rediscovering Yourself
Nicole Asherah
Artist and adventurer Asherah delivers an entrancing collection of poems that transport readers through the ebbs and flows of pain and grief toward eventual healing and regrowth. Written while processing a devastating traumatic event, Asherah’s debut begins with a simple consideration of the self, asking “What if ‘you’ is too rich a masterpiece/ For someone to view as a whole?” Readers will be swept up in Asherah’s journey of self-actualization and insights about how healing is a nonlinear process as she describes facing hard truths: “Mourning the girl you used to know./ For better or worse,/ She’s never coming back.”

Asherah’s haunting verse is wrought with tangible pain, and she expertly explores the physical and emotional components of suffering: “It’s as if the weight of the world is always on my shoulders./ I see myself sinking,/ Down below water,/ I’m out of light’s reach.” There are moments where readers likely will need to pause and sit with their feelings, flooded with the complexities and feelings Asherah stirs. This is where she excels the most: wrenching pained emotion from the heart and then intensely examining it in poems of psychological weight and insight, always exuding vulnerability and resilience.

As the title suggests, some sections of the collection are brighter, with a focus on growth, love, and acceptance. The spirited and joyful poems may come across as a touch lightweight in juxtaposition with the heartrending work in the first half, but the breakthrough is bold and inviting: “I LOVE YOU LOUDLY/ When you keep making dumb jokes/ Until I snort with laughter.” Overall, A Life Cycle is a thoughtful anthology that can be read in one sitting but will stick with readers for a lifetime. Back matter includes a Q&A from the author that will shed light on its inspiration and themes.

Takeaway: A powerful collection of emotionally honest prose that will transport readers on a journey of growth, healing, and self-actualization.

Great for fans of: Alexandra Vasiliu’s Healing Words, Morgan Harper Nichols’s How Far You Have Come.

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

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Terriers in the Jungle: A Novel
Georja Umano
A pair of rambunctious terrier mixes star in this conservation-minded debut by Umano. Romeo and Roxie, two dogs adopted from the pound by their owner, Kate, are enjoying a perfect life near the Pacific Ocean when Kate decides to pack up the family and head to Kenya–where she can finally help conservationists in their efforts to save African elephants from poaching. Romeo and Roxie are up for the adventure, as long as they get to stay with Kate, whom Romeo fondly describes as the first person to teach him “how to be part of a family and to be loved.” But the trip turns out to be more than everyone bargained for, as both the dogs and Kate are forced to draw on their inner resilience to survive.

Animal lovers will immediately fall in love with Romeo and Roxie and their curiosity-driven hijinks in Africa. When baboons move into their home area, the dogs waver between fear and sympathy after locals tell them the only safe way to get rid of the troop is to kill their leader–and Roxie’s run-in with a mother baboon protecting her baby is as much comical as it is sweet. Romeo, who never falls short on bravery, is also an intuitive cross-species communicator: after the trio meets their first elephant, and Kate astutely says “All the animals and people are connected,” Romeo leads canines and pachyderm in howling song.

Umano strikes a nice balance between action and feel-good moments throughout the story, and even the heartbreaking sections circle back to her overarching theme of connectedness. Multiple illustrators have contributed black and white renderings of the story’s animals and happenings, bringing different African species, as well as Romeo and Roxie, to life. Readers with a soft spot for wildlife will appreciate the list of conservationist organizations Umano includes at the end.

Takeaway: Two terriers take on the wilds of Africa in this spirited tale of conservation and animal protection.

Great for fans of: Brian Doyle’s Mink River; Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone.

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

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The Golden Quest: Your Journey to a Rich Life
David & Corrie Delisle
On his birthday, a young boy is told by his father that, rather than receive the Dragon Rocket 2.7 that he hoped for, he’ll be going on a quest to learn the golden rules of money, just like his father did at his age. Told in chapters that explain one of each of four golden rules, with a narrative that follows a traditional fantasy hero’s journey, The Golden Quest engages and intrigues children in learning financial basics. Coupled with Hanson’s cheerful and expressive digital illustrations, the story stands out among other graphic novels, and Delisle, financial advisor and proud dad, uses the format to its advantage to keep young readers interested in the journey as well as the lessons.

Best used as a tool for teaching finance basics, The Golden Quest still contains valuable lessons for young readers. The most powerful rule of Delisle’s four golden rules is the first–only buy the awesome stuff. That chapter includes important discussion of how “the awesome stuff” isn’t always a thing but rather could also be an experience or a pet. As the narrative functions as a vehicle for the financial information rather than an organic story in its own right, the story’s fantasy aspects are downplayed, often just a means to an end. Readers meet the boy on his birthday, but there’s no clear indication as to his age, which is indicative of the uncertain age range for this book’s intended audience, as topics like compound interest and investing in stocks and bonds are complex, even for adults.

Still, The Golden Quest is a great way to start meaningful conversations about money with kids and provides them with a foundation of basic knowledge and vocabulary that can be built upon as they get older. The Golden Quest turns a potentially intimidating topic into an inviting, informative adventure.

Takeaway: Young readers will delight and be informed by this unique graphic novel that teaches the basics of finances.

Great for fans of: Jasmine Paul’s A Boy, A Budget, and A Dream, Walter Andal’s Finance 101 for Kids: Money Lessons Children Cannot Afford to Miss.

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

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Poetic Gems
Lance Lewis
Distinguished by their warmth, their engaging metric tug, and a surefooted epigrammatic clarity, Morris’s inviting devotional poems hark back to an earlier of age of popular American verse, when general interest magazines ran lively poetry crafted to appeal to all ages. More a treasury than a collection, this volume, first published in 1980, opens with a preface in which Morris explains that she selected the title “Poetic Gems” out of the conviction that its selections are precious, as they praise and honor her God, and that reading them will “cheer the soul of every reader.” For Christian readers, poems like “Don’t Grow Weary” (“Remain faithful to Christ in all that we do”) or “Giving” (“Let's give our time, talent and treasure/ In service to God each day”) fit that bill, though Poetic Gems also ranges into general-interest territory with titles like the bicentennial celebration “A Tribute to America,” “Rainy Days,” or the irresistible “Stray Dog,” which rhymes “It’s time you had a feeding” with “A bath is what you’re needing.”

Morris’s voice is conversational yet conversational, touched with song, nursery rhyme, scripture, and the occasional “o my,” all in what used to be called “the American grain.” Her poems are often upbeat, even insistent, on commonsensical truths like good manners and the Golden Rule. She urges cooperation (in “Cooperation”), moving past “foolish prejudices'' (“Get Involved”), and treating people well (“A Friend” advises “Prove yourself friendly and you'll have a friend.”)

Her devotional work, by contrast, acknowledges “Dark Days” and the “interruptions and disappointments” that make perseverance a challenge. Yet even as she faces troubled times, Morris finds and shares comfort: “God is not to blame /For man's course of action,” she notes, and reminds believers “So don't let trouble get you down/ Remain faithful and wear a Crown.” Her faith, optimism, and championing of simple gifts is especially refreshing all these decades later, when such voices are vanishingly rare.

Takeaway: Devotional verse and celebrations of the everyday, all in the commonsensical American grain.

Great for fans of: Leland Ryken’s The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems, Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson’s Before the Door of God.

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

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In Truth: Most people lie as if they are telling the truth.
Arti Auburne
Auburne debuts with a moving story of childhood trauma and resilience. Amélie Marchand is an inquisitive child living in Canada with her French-descended parents–her father, who is reticent and withdrawn, and her unpredictable, temperamental mother. In the winters, she attends school under the watchful eyes of her parents, who insist she become fluent in English in order to become a “loyal and true Canadian.” During summer months, she is sent to live with her cousin’s family, where she senses something dangerous lurking behind their affluent façade. Enduring abuse and dysfunctional family dynamics, Amélie grows up too soon and turns to education as a way to escape her past.

With an intense interest in investigative journalism and near-perfect performance in university, Amélie transforms herself into “Am,” a fiercely independent and unfettered woman.When she learns of a dark family secret that puts her past into perspective, she commits whole heartedly to her work– that is, until she meets Charles Stonebridge. Am and Charles immediately hit it off and quickly move in together, but after their twins are born the relationship deteriorates. Am desperately tries to hold on to their romance, while navigating the ups and downs of new parenthood and relaunching her shuttered career, but eventually they drift apart, in the process disclosing shocking personal revelations and past trauma.

Auburne’s story is more literary fiction than commercial romance, brimming with intense character insight and development. Am is a stand out protagonist—equal parts strength and vulnerability—who will resonate with readers, and her eventual full-circle transformation is a declaration of resilience. Despite some of the lengthy prose passages, and a slightly anticlimactic ending, readers will appreciate the depth of Am’s personal journey and metamorphosis–through painful relationships, debilitating self-beliefs, and deaths of loved ones, she manages to stay standing. This story is unsteady at times, but it will reward the interest of readers of fiction centered on vividly rendered women.

Takeaway: A woman works through her painful past and its far-reaching impacts in this stirring account.

Great for fans of: Kristina McMorris’s Sold on a Monday, Barbara O’Neal’s Write My Name Across the Sky.

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

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Dark Cloud
Sandra Wolff
In a futuristic desert, the land is occupied by a faction of mercenaries, General Stone’s personal soldiers, competing for dominance with other warlords for turf and people to rule. But Dark Cloud, a mysterious woman with a traumatic past, won’t let Stone get away with destroying her home, and luckily she’s got help in the form of Klaatu, a robot programmed to be her bodyguard. With its unique and cinematic illustrated style, this graphic novel is fast-paced and action-packed, feeling like a blockbuster movie on the page, which makes sense, given that Dark Cloud, was originally written as a screenplay, initially inspired by Wolff’s love of The Road Warrior. (Wolff wrote the screenplay; writer/artist Jared Barel penned, illustrated, designed and lettered this adaptation.)

Like the movies that inspired it, readers are dropped into Dark Cloud’s world of wastelands and warlords without much explanation as to how everything got to this point, how the technology works, or who our main character actually is–in this case, she doesn’t exactly know herself. The pace is fast, and character and milieu get revealed through action, though at times everything moves so quickly that, as the hero faces convoys, militias, standoffs, and a loose nuke, it can be unclear what’s actually happening or why. Dark Cloud’s past–as well as the world’s–all are shrouded in mystery, to the point that this particular post-apocalyptic adventure doesn’t fully distinguish itself from others in its genre.

Dark Cloud is a dark, sometimes graphic, action-packed read whose story touches on complex topics like environmental degradation, exploitative labor, and nuclear devastation, with some moral murkiness and a tendency to let readers work out background and context for themselves. Barrel’s photo-derived illustrations have some dark power, and he stages action with clarity and power, especially the rampage of a terrifying robot. Also appealing: the purplish desert skies under which Dark Cloud grieves.

Takeaway: A cinematic, action-packed graphic novel full of wasteland violence and beautiful desert scenes.

Great for fans of: East of West, Savage Highway.

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

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Choir of Brave Voices: Creative Reflection for a Seasonal Journey of Self-Discovery
Gillian Walter
Coaching supervisor, writer, and artist Walter invites readers to harness their creativity in this reflective debut. In a handsome volume filled with poetry with paintings, Walter offers creative prompts and invitations for reflective journaling for readers seeking new and fresh methods for entering into a state of peace and introspection. Neither a study guide or a how-to tome, Choir of Brave Voices has been crafted to be what Walter refers to as “space” to find liberation and creativity, a soothing reprieve from hectic routines. She includes poems of dreamy beauty (“Then, around my neck,/ Appeared a beautiful key,/ Small, gold, delicate,/ Forming rainbows in the light”) encouraging readers to dive into a world of wonder and contemplation.

Walter structures the book around the calendar seasons, pairing poems with her own vivid paintings in each, alongside gentle nudges to pause and reflect (“What is my Brave Voice dream? What do my critics/inner critics tell me?”) as well as note-taking spaces for reader reflections. Her poems exude the empathy and humanity you would hope for from a coach and mentor: “I know I’m not the only one,/ In urgent need of a helping hand.” A final section gives special attention to helping professionals help their clients develop their own authentic voices, illustrating the key lessons of the Seven Eyed Model of Supervision through playful scenes and incisive prompts and questions.

Between promoting structured, reflective creativity, her rhymed verse brings a sense of grounding—“I’ve found a soft place to fall,/ In a world with hardly any space at all,”—that will resonate with readers who are familiar with mindfulness practices, although some introductory audiences may find the amount of creative space Walter provides them challenging. Walter suggests that readers forge their own metaphorical canvas, be it a page, a garden, or just the freedom to dance, championing their journey to “encourage your uniqueness out of the closet.” This interactive collection will lift open-minded seekers toward their own truths.

Takeaway: A unique and contemplative collection that combines visual art and poetry to help readers discover courage and creativity.

Great for fans of: Worthy Stokes’s The Mindfulness Journal, Aimee Chase’s Present, Not Perfect.

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

Click here for more about Choir of Brave Voices

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