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Metronomics: One United System to Grow Up Your Team, Company, and Life
Shannon Byrne Susko
Metronome United founder Susko (The Metronome Effect) expands on business strategies and systems she has touched on in previous books by extensively detailing the framework and concepts behind Metronomics, the “repeatable, sustainable growth system” developed during her time as CEO of her first company, Paradata. Susko’s aim: to provide CEOs and business leaders the tools to unify every “tried-and-true business framework” they might have encountered in other management and leadership books and then “create and sustain real forward momentum and growth.” Capitalizing on over twenty years of executive experience, and principles established by strategy experts and thought leaders, Susko delves into the system, arguing that it can create “a single active, collaborative, strategic brain” that unifies a company, its culture, and every team member.

Susko’s ambitious guide opens with an overview of the three key components of Metronomics: the establishment of a repeatable, structured process called a Compound Growth System, an “Open Playing Field” for staff and teams, and a CEO+Leadership team coach with mastery of the system. Susko then lays out in intricate detail the differences in hard-edge and soft-edge systems—and the urgency of maintaining balance between them for the benefit of a committed, cohesive, highly-performing team. The bulk of Metronomics takes readers through a case study, the quarterly progression of OpenDoor, a company whose team implements Susko’s framework and finds itself invigorated but still facing challenges.

The core chapters break down how OpenDoor progresses over three years using the Metronomics system. A coach who advocates for coaching, Susko explains what happened--and what should happen—at numerous team meetings, which can be repetitive but helps make the case of her system as a best-practice process rather than a quick fix. Detailed charts of meeting and agenda notes, combined with beautifully designed, well-placed diagrams, make the information easier to digest. Readers familiar with business management and leadership concepts will appreciate the clear-cut advice in this rigorous, practical guide.

Takeaway: CEOs and team leaders looking to grow their business will appreciate this straightforward management guide’s clear-cut, real-world knowledge.

Great for fans of: Jim Collins, Robert Anderson and William Adams’s Scaling Leadership.

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

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Revolution (The Sol Saga Book 1)
James Fox
Fox takes readers on an epic journey of murder and corruption in this heart-racing futuristic sci-fi thriller, the first book of the Sol Saga, an epic set in our near future. Just over two centuries from now, General Keith Brennan breathes, eats, and sleeps the military. When an assassination on Mars takes place moments before the planet’s official independence from Earth, Brennan is thrust into a web of conspiracies and lies that leave him questioning his values and loyalty. Brennan— along with a newbie pilot, the governor of Mars, a hot-shot fleet ace, a government homeland defense worker, and a low-level criminal—becomes the solar system’s only hope at preventing a war between Earth and Mars.

Brennan is one of many dynamic and sympathetic characters with flawed, engaging personalities that readers will quickly come to love. While Brennan is the type of man to follow orders without question, his growing suspicion of foul play mixed with a softness towards Helena Chu, the governor of Mars, chip away at his harsh exterior and make him a standout protagonist. Each point-of-view character holds a small piece of the larger puzzle that builds up to a big revelation, but they must come face-to-face with their own shortcomings in order to make the pieces fit together. The tension escalates quickly, as Fox balances action with scenes of reflection, immersing readers in the world and these lives while offering a welcome breather.

Fox creates a dynamic future where the colonization of Mars has led to a thriving economy. Sprinkled into the background are exciting elements such as genetic enhancement for Marines, organic food printers as an inexpensive alternative to real food, and a variety of transportation options—including individual seat vacuum tubes and autonomously piloted ground-air-vehicles. Mars and this future come to life in a truly immersive experience as Fox spins a dynamic story of conspiracy and action that will sweep away lovers of local space opera.

Takeaway: SF fans eager to explore a deep-rooted conspiracy with a vibrant cast will relish the first book in this promising saga.

Great for fans of: A.K. DuBoff, J. Barton Mitchell’s The Razor.

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

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Now What?
Brenda Faatz
At the start of this paean to the imagination, young Lizzy finds herself wondering how to pass the time on one of those overcast days where everything is “a little bit ‘-ish.’” What begins as a mostly solo adventure (she is, of course, accompanied by her dog) turns into a journey of friendship and a celebration of living in the moment. No matter what gets thrown in her way, be it a new neighbor, a rainstorm, or even a box of kittens, Lizzy always makes the most of each situation. Told in playful rhyme reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, and featuring lively and cheerful illustrations from Peter Trimarco, Now What? is a surefire day-brightener crafted to inspire children to embrace their inner adventurers, just as Lizzy does.

Celebrating the power of imagination and friendship is a beloved topic of picture books, and Now What? embraces that tradition, though some seasoned readers will feel it does not add new ideas to a well-worn theme nor offer a new lens to differentiate it. That being said,both text and art feel genuine in their celebration of spontaneity, with the silly made-up words comprising the rhyme scheme feeling true to the overall whimsical tone and feel, especially when paired with the charming, watercolor illustrations. One particularly funny moment captured by Trimarco: Lizzy and Luna are stuck in the box during a rainstorm with their hair pressed up against the top, squishing their otherwise bouncy and tall tresses.

Despite the familiar premise, the heart that shines through this tale, as well as its humor, still make it a worthy addition to any picture book collection. Well suited to rainy day readings, or just as a reminder on those blah days, Now What? is a delightful tribute to the power of invention.

Takeaway: A cheery, rhyming romp that celebrates imagination, friendship, and living in the moment.

Great for fans of: Beatrice Alemagna’s On A Magical Do-Nothing Day, Samantha Berger’s What If…

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

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The Bridge to Rembrandt
Keith Foley
Foley’s literary historical debut offers an intimate glimpse into the history of Amsterdam as seen through the eyes of Robert, a middle-aged man of the present with a wife and kids, struggling to balance his work, married life, and a girlfriend. Through a chance acquisition, Robert finds himself traveling back in time to three significant historical moments in Amsterdam’s history. Each time, he encounters his girlfriend, Saskia, in a different period, embarking on the entire process of courting her again—and ultimately, getting to know her more intimately. Amid all of this, Rembrandt is a constant refrain: Robert meets the painter himself and discovers that there’s a secret waiting for him in the present, if only he can safely get here.

Bride to Rembrandt proces strongest when illuminating the romantic relationship between Robert and Saskia, which metamorphosizes each time Robert travels back in time. By the end of the book, readers will feel genuine regard for these two time travelers, as well as hope that they will end up happy together. Narrative momentum suffers, though, from Foley’s disparate interests, which don’t always fit seamlessly together: the love story, Robert’s interest in painting, the logic of time travelling, and his diabetic problems. Foley’s prose exhibits a light touch (on IKEA: “​​The flat-pack packaging was a genial invention that led to the love–hate relationship with the Allen key, and a lot of domestic arguments.”) though some dialogue edges toward the unnatural.

The story gathers welcome momentum towards the second half, propelling readers into Robert and Saskia’s precarious adventures through time. Foley spices it all with little-known social, historical, and architectural tidbits about Amsterdam, a piquant introduction to the city for the uninitiated. Rembrandt is not as central to the narrative as the title suggests, but he plays a significant role in the climax. Lovers of romance, art, and European history will find much to enjoy here.

Takeaway: This Amsterdam time-travel novel takes an ambitious dive into love, history, and art.

Great for fans of: Jack Finney’s Time and Again, Sylvie Matton’s Rembrandt’s Whore.

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

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American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy
Brynn Tannehill
The good news about American Fascism, a book whose cover depicts Lady Liberty offering a Heil Hitler salute: Tannehill, author of 2018’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Trans (But Were Afraid to Ask), is against it, not for it, arguing that the Republican Party is actively undermining democracy itself. Also heartening: the fact that this book, which at first blush may appear like the latest escalation in the right/left popular polemic war, is for the most part shrewdly argued, deeply researched, and attentive to historic parallels between the United States and the Weimar Republic, Putin’s Russia, and other countries that have been pulled into autocracy.

Tannehill, a frequent national columnist and a formal naval aviator, digs into the past, present, and future of the U.S. and the GOP, with an eye for the historic roots of prevailing trends and tendencies. Tannehill draws links between Pravda and Fox News, between the tenets of Russian propaganda and what posts blow up on Facebook, and between the “systemic disenfranchisement” that “was the cornerstone” of maintaining white Evangelical power in southern states after the Civil War and the gerrymandering and new voting laws that have, in recent years, helped the GOP become “the most powerful far-right party in the Western world.”

In crisp, stinging prose, Tannehill makes a case, digging deeper and wider than other books in the field while still demonstrating some playful elan even when the prognosis gets dire— the section “The End of America is Coming” is introduced with an on-point quote from Jean Luc Picard. Liberals, Democrats, and many open-minded independents will likely find Tannehill’s warning and analysis persuasive, though a tendency to indulge in sweeping shorthand when describing the beliefs and motivations of ideological opponents (and to offer phrasing like “There is a toxic confluence of whiteness and Christianity . . .”) by default limits its reach.

Takeaway: A sharply argued polemic accusing the Republican Party of actively subverting democracy.

Great for fans of: Zachary Roth’s The Great Suppression, Richard L. Hasen’s Election Meltdown.

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

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The Dakker Chronicles: Birth of the Defiance
Matt Gerwitz
In the year 2100, a century and a half before the present of Gerwitz’s intergalactic saga, Mordecai Dak of Earth successfully colonized the Proteus galaxy. The legacy he leaves behind is a utopian society of independent worlds among multiple planets and systems—or, at least, that’s what most everyone believes. Enter the Independent Thinkers, a defiant band weary of the mere illusion of freedom. The Dakker Chronicles series follows disillusioned tech wizard and “Indie” Colston Kayne on his unexpected journey from hiding out from the government to leading a revolution of “warriors” who, as one officer puts it, have dedicated themselves to “fighting to take our lives back, even if that means laying them down.”

Quick-paced, action-packed, and slightly philosophical, Birth of the Defiance treads a familiar path in SF and dystopian fiction. The story’s swiftness can keep it from transcending its most familiar elements. The book opens with Cole already on the run from the DakolonEyo secret police, relegating character background to memories or conversations about his past; readers don’t get to experience the home he’s lost or the hard choices that pushed him into revolt and leadership. Much the same can be said for the other main characters, who often feel like caricatures. As the action jumps from planet to planet, it’s hard to keep up with the many proper nouns without consulting the glossary—planets, cities, galaxies, and some characters become a blur.

Seasoned sci-fi readers or fans of the revolutionary dystopian thrillers are sure to find enjoyment in staples of the genre, here deployed with conviction as the “Indies” stand up to tyranny with their “heaters blasting and plasma shots exploding”—here’s supercharged plasma weapons, warpspeed space travel, daring pirates, a strong villain, and a budding romance amidst varied sequences of fighting. SF fans looking for a quick dose of action, subterfuge, and the beginnings of a revolution will enjoy this fast-paced adventure.

Takeaway: This fast-spaced series centered on an intergalactic revolution debuts with phasers blasting.

Great for fans of: David Weber, Richard Baker.

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

The Simulated Multiverse: An MIT Computer Scientist Explores Parallel Universes, The Simulation Hypothesis, Quantum Computing and the Mandela Effect
Rizwan Virk
Virk, an MIT computer scientist and author of The Simulation Hypothesis, makes a cogent, clear-eyed guide to the head-spinning science of parallel universes, quantum indeterminacy, and the possibility—terrifying or relieving—that our perceived reality is in fact part of a great simulation. That idea doesn’t just refer to a Matrix-style simulation of our particular patch of existence: instead, Virk entertains the idea that what we know is merely a part of a “complex, interconnected network of multiple timelines.” With an eye for games and pop culture, like Philip K. Dick and the “Arrowverse” TV shows, plus a willingness to dig into the metaphysical implications, Virk picks apart both the dead serious science supporting this hypothesis as well as quirky, quantum-flavored “speculative” ideas that tend to go viral, like the Mandela effect.

Especially interesting, after Virk has grounded readers in the science and the possibilities, is the author’s discussion of qubits and quantum parallelism, which rises out of a fascinating consideration of the convincing worlds conjured up by the creators of video games, reaching back to the text adventures at the dawn of the medium and then up to the current cutting edge. Virk takes pains to simplify the material for those not steeped in quantum or game mechanics, though the discussions can get heady enough that, when deep into some tricky passages, readers may find themselves having to return to an earlier point and start again, a “save state” process that itself resembles playing some of the games Virk examines.

Virk excels at working familiar cultural examples (Black Mirror, Star Trek, Devs) into his explorations, but the broader argument is never subordinate to his pop interests. Even deep into an explanation of quantum parallelism, considering the fate of the universes a quantum computer might create but essentially discard, Virk imbues the material with a sense of playful awe but also practical know-how, not just considering the possibilities but showing how they could be brought to life.

Takeaway: This head-spinning examination of the possibility of multiple realities argues that you, right at this moment, might be in a simulation.

Great for fans of: Tom Siegfried’s The Number of the Heavens, Carlo Rovelli’s Reality Is Not What it Seems.

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

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Politics of Being: Wisdom and Science for a New Development Paradigm
thomas legrand
Calling for a collective awakening to heal the “spiritual disease” threatening the very survival of humanity, this forward-thinking synthesis binds together scientific and spiritual approaches to facing the world’s continual crises. In the face of climate change, rising fanaticism, and self interest, Legrand, an economist and social scientist, not only urges for a wisdom-based, science-guided evolution of humanity–he also endeavors to show how to make it happen within a generation.

The title refers to a vision of a politics dedicated to the “fulfillment of all beings,” a phrase that might sound pie-in-the-sky, but probably not as much as it would have just a few years ago. Legrand argues, with some rallying power, that the shift he advocates has already begun in global populations battered by relentless catastrophes and the shared realization that “not only our economic system was dysfunctional but all aspects of society.” The path forward, he suggests, is inward, as individuals—and then the political bodies representing them—reorient on an “inward path toward sustainability,” focused on a set of spiritual values including love, peace, happiness, and “light,” which describes a connection, often spiritual, to one’s true purpose.

Separate chapters address those values in detail. Setting Politics of Being apart from less rigorous utopian visions is Legrand’s thoroughness and clarity, and especially his careful consideration of how to achieve this species-wide awakening and what in practice it would look like. Drawing as much on up-to-date sociological, economic, and political thinkers as he does on spiritual ones, Legrand examines the impact the politics of being could have on our health and diet (and the systems linked to both), on nature and economics (which do not have to be at odds), on justice and governance (he’s infectious in his enthusiasm for Nicolas Berggruen and Nathan Gardels’s model for intelligent government.) As much a guide as a vision, Legrand’s work will inspire futurists, idealists, and other readers at the intersection of planning and spiritualism.

Takeaway: This daring vision for global, human-centered change blends scientific approaches and ancient spiritual wisdom.

Great for fans of: Sulak Sivaraksa’s Wisdom of Sustainability: Buddhist Economics for the 21st Century, John Edward Carroll’s Sustainability and Spirituality.

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

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A Rake Like You
Becky Michaels
The polished second entry in Michaels’s Linfield Hall series of Regency romances kindles fresh possibilities between neighbors Louisa Strickland and Charles Finch, heir to the Earl of Bolton, six years after the abrupt end of their fake courtship. Unlike many women of her time, Louisa is herself named as the heir to a manor and fortune, and she doesn’t intend for any man to destroy her life of independent means. Charles, meanwhile, has drunk and gambled himself and his estate into debt and is obligated by his friend and debt holder, the Duke of Rutley, to pay back the funds–preferably by marrying into money. Realizing that it’s Louisa that he truly wants, Charles eagerly pursues the heiress, insisting he’s put his rakish ways behind him, although she’s not sure she’s ready to trust him with her heart—or her property.

As with Michaels’s previous romance, Lady August, this will prove a perfect fit for readers who relish the wit, society, family dynamics, and focus on smart independent women of Jane Austen novels but prefer a purely romantic storyline. Amid the balls and gossip, Louisa is easy to empathize with: her position of not having to rely on a man for her living gives her rare agency, and readers can easily relate to her disinclination to marry, especially when the man determined to have her as has shown such questionable judgement in the past. (“Insufferable ninny,” she calls herself, when she finds herself enticed.)

This puts welcome focus on Charles, who must convincingly change his ways and learn what sacrifices he must make. Not all of the characters are as richly developed or engaging, with the Duke of Rutley, in particular, a contradictory figure who pushes the plot along. Yet the central couple are memorably conflicted: “Against my better judgment, I cannot,” Louisa sighs when Charles asks if she despises him, and readers who enjoy that dynamic will find much to savor.

Takeaway: This engaging Regency romance features an heiress with rare agency and a rake who must prove himself worth her.

Great for fans of: Minerva Spencer’s Rebels of the Ton series, Evie Dunmore, Sarah MacLean.

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

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Through My Christian Prism, or at the Port Rail
Larry Clayton
This wide-ranging collection of essays, many originally published as op-ed columns in a host of newspapers, finds Clayton taking on topics as disparate as the degradation of the English language (“the sooner we get old-fashioned grammarians to the rescue, the sooner we begin the march back to sanity, not to speak of honesty and truth”), the legacy of American asceticism (“one of the foundation stones, perhaps the very cornerstone, of this phenomenon—capitalism—[created] so much wealth, for good and bad, in the world today”), and the remembrance of soldiers missing in action (“No one who knew him, in the marines or the South Vietnamese army, ever saw him again.”) Tying it all together is Clayton’s warmth, curiosity, and Christian faith.

A savvy sense of rhetoric also distinguishes this companionable volume, as Clayton proves adept at structuring column-length considerations of controversial or challenging topics—the nature of authority; the state of the U.S. armed forces—so that they read like searching, open-minded journeys of mind rather than received opinions or polemics. When making an argument, he seems to be teasing out and testing a personal truth. An essay on the tense relationship between religion and the state strikes a wise, reasonable tone unlike what readers have grown accustomed to from firebrands on either side of the issue. “Christianity is the guardian of our conscience,” he writes. “It can be exaggerated or twisted into theocracies that are cruel and pale distortions of the true principles of the faith. But choosing the alternative—destroying religion—leads to a far worse outcome.”

A polished prose stylist, Clayton holds to foundational truths but remains open to new ideas. And he’s funny, writing light yet serious pieces about what a believer learns from golf or on the horrors he encounters in his inbox. Christian readers will find much to enjoy and consider in this lively collection.

Takeaway: These wise, lively essays consider topics both light and challenging from a perspective of Christian faith.

Great for fans of: David Bentley Hart, Cindy La Ferle’s Writing Home, Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns.

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

Echoes of Light
Jani Viswanath
“Child, whatever you do, know the difference between ambition and greed,” non-profit founder Viswanath recalls her father telling her as she grew up. Echoes of Light finds her setting that wisdom down for others, along with insights gleaned from a lifetime that has taken from India to Afghanistan to the world at large. In a preface, she urges readers to understand that “destructive greed, self-obsession, petty politics, corrupt overwhelming capitalism, and fanatic extremism” are destroying humanity and the planet, and she asks us to be ambitious in kindness, empathy, and gratitude. In the globe-trotting poems and short stories that follow she warns that “the human touch has been killed” in our lives.

Crafted to a purpose, Viswanath’s poetry tends toward the direct and even didactic, free verse that celebrates possibility and the natural world, decries the inhuman pace of contemporary life, and reminds readers that no matter what you do—or how much fame and fortune you’ve accumulated—“You return to whence you came from, my friend.” The stories cut deeper and, like their author’s biography, range the globe, set among Indonesian garment factories, the Surobi district of Kabul, the Hindukush mountains, and a grandmother’s home in Coimbatore. Each centers a lesson about our essential humanity, but their approaches are as varied as their locales, with parables, literary realism, and even a Scheherazade-inspired tale within a tale.

Viswanath proves adept, in her fiction, at bringing life and character to the precepts she advocates, and her handling of various cultures, peoples, and locations is arresting and respectful. (That’s little surprise, as she’s the founder of Healing Lives, which funds the education of future nurses and doctors in Kenya, India, and Bangladesh.) In Echoes of Light she fulfills a related ambition, presenting characters faced with what she presents as the everyday human dilemma: “The choice is ours—to make each day beautiful and memorable; or toxic and damaging.”

Takeaway: This global-minded collection of fiction and poetry urges us all to make a difference in the world each day.

Great for fans of: Jamil Zak’s The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, Phyllis Cole-Dai and Ruby R. Wilson’s Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems.

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

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A Match Made in Spain
Rochelle Merrill
After divorcing her adulterous ex-husband, 35-year old high school ASL and Life Skills teacher Cecilia Galván is ready for a fresh start, but before that new life can begin, she must survive an international school tour with a group of teenage students to Spain in this humorous contemporary romance. Done with fairy tales, Cecilia wishes for independence and some distraction, which she gets after a meet-cute at the airport with 39-year old Catalonian businessman, Felip Segura, whom she at first thinks of as “Mr. Magic Abs Ankle Banger.” Repulsed by the similarities he shares with her ex-husband, Cecilia decides he’s “the kind of trouble that had already gotten her into trouble.” However, after a series of fortunate coincidences place Felip as the group’s substitute tour guide, Cecilia is faced with a decision–tread carefully or give into passion and “kisses that threaten[ed] to wake her slumbering libido.”

Merrill excels at incorporating a large cast of diverse, realistically written characters into the overall plot. Cecilia’s character has a hearing disability, while one of her students is on the Autism spectrum. Felip’s handsome looks are “made a little more human” thanks to a crooked front tooth. Amusing dialogue between Cecilia and her students, who prove both raucous and thoughtful, plus innuendo-laced banter between her and Felip make up for minor typos and editing oversights.

The use of Spanish and Catalán in dialogue as well as an enticing tour of popular destinations in Spain is charming while adding a sense of authenticity to the story. (Some students are both surprised and relieved to discover that Barcelona’s most famous bull-fighting arena is now a shopping mall, complete with a Sephora.) Although this winning couple’s attraction is evident from the beginning, Merrill weaves an appealing and comic contemporary romance with just enough angst and suspense to keep readers guessing about the relationship until the end.

Takeaway: Fans of contemporary romances will be drawn in by this holiday in Spain’s diverse characters and comic pleasures.

Great for fans of: Emily Henry’s People We Meet on Vacation, Tessa Bailey’s It Happened One Summer.

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

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Big Bad and the Bored Canary
Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco
Mehlman-Orozco’s first picture book achieves a difficult balancing act: presenting the terrifying topic of human trafficking in a way that will enlighten children. Nicolette, a restless canary who lives in Kiev with her caring, strict parents, wants to escape from their restrictions and travel to glamorous foreign destinations. Her growing discontent draws the attention of a wolf in peep’s clothing. Disguised as a bird, Big Bad Wolf offers Nicolette the world, and lures her from Ukraine to the United States, where she’s forced into hard labor–with no end in sight.

Criminologist Mehlman-Orozco, who chronicled real-life trafficking cases in Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium, uses Ana Rodic’s exquisite illustrations to make this bleak subject approachable at story time. Rodic combines expressive pen and ink drawings with color washes that range from soft Frankenthaler smears to the hard brilliance of oxidized metal. She renders golden canary Nicolette with her avian friends as a joyous fledgling eager to leave the nest, which emphasizes the tragedy of having her wings clipped.

Mehlman-Orozco effectively employs a familiar villain in the duplicitous wolf and cleverly--chillingly—includes the words of actual traffickers in the text, such as the wolf’s vow to “feed her ears exactly what she wants to hear.” While the message comes through powerfully, Mehlman-Orozco proves less successful at crafting a memorable contemporary fable. The upbeat rhyming never quite meshes with the lessons the story has been crafted to impart, and some awkward sentence constructions make reading aloud at times a minor challenge. Still, parents will find this a valuable resource for opening discussions about the uncomfortable topic of how predators manipulate children. Learning who to trust is a lifelong process, and Big Bad and the Bored Canary introduces young readers to the insidious danger of wolves cloaked as fairy godmothers, preying on the dreams of their victims.

Takeaway: Gorgeously illustrated, this cautionary bird tale aims to warn young readers from the allure of human traffickers.

Great for fans of: Brodrick Nettles’s A Free Me: How Taylor Escaped Becoming a Victim of Human Trafficking, Jacqueline A. Bartley’s Ice-Cream Saturdays.

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

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Godfrey's Crusade
Mark Howard
​​Howard’s polished debut YA fantasy follows Godfrey de Bastogne, son of a duke, as he transitions from squire to knight. After hearing a crusade-pitch in a town square, Godfrey quickly pledges to fight “the war of the gods”––and aid his mother’s homeland, Azgald, against a rising tyrant. During the crusade, he meets Madeline, the daughter of another volunteer commander, who is introduced as a “damsel” but is secretly a sorceress. Godfrey has a vision that prophesies that their “crusade” cannot end until they defeat a dragon, but there’s a catch: dragons don’t exist anymore. Meanwhile, Alvir of Clan Black Dragon, the rising tyrant, and his wife, Nera, the Great Witch of the North, vow to take over Azgald. Will the crusade successfully thwart the mysterious dragon of Godfrey’s prophecy?

While familiar in its plotting, this action-packed adventure and coming-of-age story offers elements of romance and its fair share of supernatural elements and creatures. Howard’s plot is tightly wound and layered, with no details that aren’t essential to the novel’s progression. Each trial Godfrey undergoes builds on the last, culminating in an entertaining finale. The majority of Howard’s protagonists prove well developed and form believable relationships. Rather than a damsel in distress, Madeline is a strong young sorceress at risk of marrying a man she does not love because of a deal her father made, while Godfrey is more than the son of a duke—he reveals himself to be a trustworthy and loyal young man who wants to honor his mother and father.

Howard does a great job world building and balancing the story’s fantastical and naturalistic elements. The villains could be more developed to make the material richer and more resonant, and because the mode here is the hero’s journey, prophetic quest division, the plot at times will be predictable for readers steeped in the genre. Still, Howard has crafted an engaging, well-written tale that will please young devotees of classic high fantasy.

Takeaway: This fast-moving classic fantasy brings appealing life to a familiar tapestry.

Great for fans of: Tamora Pierce’s Squire, Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone.

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

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Miners, Milkers & Merchants: From the Swiss-Italian Alps to the Golden Hills of Australia and California
Marilyn L. Geary, foreword by Giorgio Cheda
Oral historian Geary’s illuminating study examines the emigration of Swiss Italians to Australia and California through the letters of the Rotanzis, a middle-class family from the “isolated alpine village” Peccia in the Swiss canton of Ticino. Three brothers—Francesco, Virgilio, and Alessandro Rotanzi—choose to seek fortune far from home, each writing to their father, Luigi Rotanzi, of their excitement, frustrations, hopes, and worries over twenty-five years. The narrative closely follows their success (and failures) as they chase riches and bear witness to monumental historical events–all set against the fascinating backdrop of immigration in the 19th century.

In 1855, eldest brother Francesco is the first to leave; later, after experiencing severe food shortages and illness, he would write in a letter to his father “I would not wish this trip on anyone.” Six years later, Virgilio chooses the adventure of journeying to California, along with “hundreds of Swiss-Italian Emigrants who had taken off for [the] state,” eventually being joined by Alessandro. Readers will appreciate the opportunity to compare the brothers’ different journeys, as well as life in both Australia and America from the viewpoint of the same family. Images throughout the narrative provide clarification and context for the Rotanzi brothers, including a family tree and maps of important places like Australia and the Ticino Districts, in addition to numerous photos, portraits, and various documents, such as advertisements and handwritten letters.

Though this account will most interest readers specifically interested in the emigration of Swiss-Italians, Virgilio’s life in California naturally intersects with other facets of American history, including the Civil War, discrimination against Chinese workers, and the Ghirardelli chocolate and soda factories. The Rotanzi family is the main focus of the narrative, but Geary adeptly weaves in the experiences of other immigrants, ensuring anyone fascinated by the experience of emigration to the U.S. will find revealing and resonant.

Takeaway: A fascinating study of the 19th century American immigrant experience, drawn from letters between three Swiss-Italian brothers and their father.

Great for fans of: Leo Schelbert ‘s America Experienced: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Accounts of Swiss Immigrants to the United States, Howard Blum’s The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush.

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

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Financial Dominance: Your battle plan for a richer life
Frank Molinar, CFP
After years of working as a financial advisor to soldiers in the National Guard, Frank Molinar, CFP, realized that the financial issues faced by service members often boil down to the same common problems and can be solved with the same solutions—an SOP, or standard operating procedure. In Financial Dominance he details practical steps service members and their families can take toward fixing those problems and set themselves up for future wealth. Using mission readiness language keyed to his audience, Molinar devotes separate chapters to the five key steps of his plan: stop the bleeding, secure the perimeter, engage the enemy, build future ops, and plan the exit. Throughout, he draws anecdotes from training, briefings, and personal consultations to demonstrate the effectiveness of his strategy.

The first three chapters are straightforward and offer clear, actionable steps, while the final two--including the book’s longest, “Building Future Ops,” which is dedicated to the notably volatile topic of investments—take on a vague, advisory tone. Molinar urges readers to secure and maintain their financial perimeters first, and is adamant about the distinction between investing and speculating as he explains the structures and types of investments, but readers who pick this guide up for its clear-eyed advice about eliminating debt or prioritizing creditors, much of this chapter may prove impractical.

Molinar’s style is usually uplifting if firm, but sometimes his can-do attitude turns into victim blaming, as when he argues that fear "induces" poverty. Angie Moline’s illustrations synthesize the main concepts into cheerful infographics readers will find useful as reminders and reference points. Similarly, Molinar’s worksheets are useful tools to put his suggestions into action. Soldiers and military families will get the most out of this, but general readers looking for an introduction to financial planning can also benefit from his advice. Ultimately a unique take on personal finance, with practical steps geared towards military professionals, Financial Dominance will give money-minded readers much to consider.

Takeaway: Soldiers and military families looking to sort out their finances and build a better future will find clear, practical advice.

Great for fans of: Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, Morgan Housel’s The Psychology of Money.

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

Click here for more about Financial Dominance

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