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Finding the Source: One Man’s Quest for Healing in West Africa
Dave Kobrenski
Author, artist, musician, and traveler Kobrenski (Drawing on Culture), candidly shares his long search for meaning in life–and for relief from the autoimmune disease he lived with for two decades. Thinking of himself as “a mystic vagabond poet of days past,” Kobrenski drifted in life while searching for purpose until he came across a West African drumming course. African music became his passion and livelihood, leading him to new friends and new love. But on a visit to Africa, he finds himself struck with a debilitating illness. His concerned local friends warn that he might somehow have been cursed and encourage him to seek out a sorcerer, but Kobrenski returns home before taking such a step. Back in the United States he is diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis and starts a lengthy battle with his body and himself.

Africa and art serve as lifelines to Kobrenski during years of misery, disappointments, losses and an unhealthy relationship with opioids, all of which he describes with vivid power. When he is faced with the risk of losing his ability to play music, he takes the advice of a shaman and, with the help of his African friends, undertakes a quest to appease the ancestors and lift his curse. The narrative skips back and forth in time, as well as through subjects, with Kobrenski's interesting asides and historical connections offering a welcome context for his story, which he shares with disarming frankness.

Kobrenski aptly captures the struggle of many chronically ill, between wanting to make the most out of life, fear of commitment because of their pain, and the growing desperation for a cure–which, in this case, even makes potentially being bitten by a scorpion sound like a good idea. Though his treatment choices prove unorthodox, his call to never give up on love and to never identify yourself with your adversity are vital reminders in a book that will inspire seekers whose lives are touched by chronic illness.

Takeaway: A painful yet hopeful story of chronic illness and an African quest.

Great for fans of: Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Anna Lyndsey’s Girl in the Dark.

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

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Flowers That Die
Gideon Halpin
The intimate, precisely rendered poetry of Halpin’s debut centers on the perspective of “sad boy,” introduced in the collection’s first lines saying “fly me away” to the butterflies that “alight on [his] soft brown curls.” That introductory poem, “Mid-daydream,” soon reveals what’s weighing the sad boy down: “a girl / who / like the rainbow is gone.” The striking selections that follow often find this melancholy protagonist seeking refuge in nature (“the garden as a story /embellishes itself” during a rainstorm”), dreaming of warm domesticity (“yet home of the heart / is the heart of my woman /and in my hearth she lights a fire”), and offering memorable declarations in language and imagery that’s invitingly earthbound: “I’ll keep you close as a worn $20 / snuggled in jean pocket lint,” writes in “Exhale of a Flame.”

That longing pervades Flowers That Die, as the poet surveys the splendor of California, the majesty and loneliness of the heavens (“if I were the moon / how beautiful my solitude would be and my scars, a revered imagination”), and the quietude and isolation of a city during a storm. “Storm”’s evocative lines “unflinching, the pigeons / tuck their heads to their chests” stirs reminders of the heron in Elizabeth Bishop’s “Little Exercise,” another poem that finds tremendous feeling in the natural world without giving in to the pathetic fallacy.

While this collection of spare free verse feels bound together in theme, form, and tenor, sometimes to the point of repetition, Halpin touches on a range of other topics as well. Especially powerful is the fruitfully elusive “Soul Drumming,” which against a “bloodred sacred sunset” links music, heartbeats, bird song, environmental devastation, and more into a searching, searing whole. The “sad boy” persona might strike some readers, at times, as a playful mask, but it does not diminish the real pain and beauty that pulses throughout this engaging, accessible collection.

Takeaway: An inviting collection of sharply etched verse that finds a “sad boy” facing the world.

Great for fans of: Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver.

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

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Thriving
Wayne Visser
Arguing that “hope” is an action verb, Visser (Purpose Inspired: Reflections on Conscious Living Volume 4) makes the case in his poetic call-to-action that the challenges of climate change and its impact on the world offers an opportunity to thrive. He opens by painting a picture of the dire situation Earth is in due to humans’ destruction of natural systems, but arguing that the degeneration in nature, society, and our economy can function as “triggers for six societal shifts.” Visser builds a convincing case that these triggers, such as depletion of resources or increasing disease due to unhealthy living, can spark transformation: for example, loss of natural resources should inspire the pursuit of those that are renewable, to avoid further catastrophe.

Visser posits that technology helps rather than hinders restorative and regenerative habits. Emphasizing positivity, his case for choosing “to thrive” is logically argued, shrewdly put together, and always informative. He paints a clear picture of why society needs to change now, before the damage done to the environment proves irreparable, and how a world shift towards sustainable green practices–such as engaging in a risk economy to better prepare for emergency responses in disastrous situations–will benefit everyone. It’s politically affiliated rather than politically charged, and readers who doubt climate change’s existence and impact will find their views challenged.

The core of Thriving is Visser’s infectious belief in the resilience of nature and humanity. Thanks to this optimism and an inviting tone, readers will get all the necessary background and context without feeling like they’re reading a textbook. Poems at the starts of chapters offer a brief respite from the heavier subject matter, and Visser's clear prose will resonate with audiences seeking concrete and graspable answers to environmental concerns. Readers will come away emboldened and inspired.

Takeaway: This persuasive call to action on the hot topic of climate change will inspire reasonable, logical change in motivated readers.

Great for fans of: Naomi Klein, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Paul Hawken

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

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Lift: Fostering the Leader in You Amid Revolutionary Global Change
Faisal Hoque
This motivational guide urges readers to anticipate the relentless pace of change at the dawn of what Hoque and c-authors Jeff Wuorio and Shelley Moench-Kelly call the Fourth Industrial Revolution, an era of new technology, an ongoing pandemic, and climate disruption. Broken down into three clear-eyed sections, Lift lays out a foundation–and offers innovative tools–to help leaders and entrepreneurs to become “transformational leaders” that are better equipped to motivate and lead as the world around us keeps evolving. Hoque and co. map out the four drivers of the revolutionary changes shaping our world, including Covid-19 and an epidemic of misinformation, and examine their impact on work, education, health care, and many other areas of our lives. Accepting rather than resisting change is crucial, Lift argues, for understanding it as an opportunity and daring to become a transformational leader.

“Change may be inevitable, but it’s never prudent to rush into anything without considering your resources,” Hoque writes. With much practical advice, point-illustrating sidebars, and real-world examples, Lift urges forward-thinking innovation in health care, education, the public sector, and of course business, arguing that when it comes to issues like sustainability or empathetic leadership good intentions are not enough. The authors offer intriguing tools like the questions to ask “to turn everyone in your company into a futurist” and tips to develop emotional intelligence. Each chapter ends with a section called "Learn and Transform,” which invites readers to examine how the material relates to their own needs and opportunities.

This is an inviting, pragmatic read for anyone looking to take on a leadership and motivational role in a world that is rapidly evolving. Perfect for both entrepreneurs and those just entering the workforce, the tips and personal anecdotes from the authors offer readers an in-depth look at what it takes to continue to keep up with this ever-changing world–and not get left behind.

Takeaway: An inviting, in-depth guide to transformational leadership in a world of continual change.

Great for fans of: Stacey Abrams’s Lead From the Outside, Mark C. Crowley’s Lead from the Heart.

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

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Falcon Fire
Erik A. Otto
Otto (Proliferation) straps readers in for an interstellar thrill ride filled with dynamic characters and harrowing adventures. Convicted criminal Hix Redrock-Ren has been sentenced to a workstation orbiting Earth. As a member of Venus’s lower social class known as the hedonites, he’s been looked down on his entire life—in contrast with Neeva Nash, the inspector assigned to his case, who’s destined for greatness within Venusian society. As a member of the upper-class Verdarists, she shares the dream of making Venus’s surface a lush green utopia, but that comes at a price. A hedonite riot has stirred unrest, and as Neeva investigates, she begins to unravel a deadly conspiracy. Now, Hix and Neeva must work together to save their people before it’s too late.

Hix shines as a dynamic protagonist. He quickly forms alliances with his fellow criminals, who all share the same intention of escaping the workstation and returning to Venus. For Hix, the desire to jump ship is rooted in love for his sister Mel, a drug addict living on Venus and the only person in the universe Hix has left—an endearing relationship that makes him easy to empathize with. Neeva is also a stand-out character, a strong counterpart to Hix with a storyline that wends through conspiracies and lies rooted in Venus’s history. Both of these characters shine against the backdrop of a society on the brink of self-destruction.

Urgent themes of classism and discrimination beat at the heart of this action-laced sci-fi thriller. It might take some readers some effort to settle into the intricate and futuristic world, but the storytelling smooths out as the plot seizes hold. The suspense is steadily paced as Otto bounces back between Hix and Neeva’s point-of-views. Well-designed graphics of Venus’s futuristic landscape help readers visualize the unique setting. Fans of dystopian sci-fi thrillers will enjoy this adventure.

Takeaway: Sci-fi fans interested in dystopian worlds, corrupt governments, and the future of our solar system will relish this futuristic thriller.

Great for fans of: Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, Ann Leckie.

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

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Crushed: The Hacker and the Heiress
Isabel Jolie
Jolie pulls off a mainstream romance with substantial sweetness despite its grounding in a dark backstory. Hacker Erik Lai, hiding out in Napa with his team after they’ve switched from criminal extortion to white-hatting for the US government, can’t help but trace down his old online gaming friend Firefly, who turns out to be running a small bookstore cafe while downplaying her identity as Vivianne Rossi, heiress to the Rossi wine fortune and a bit of an internet sleuth herself. For Erik, getting to know Vivianne in the real world risks putting her on the radar of his dangerous enemy Kane, but disclosing his secrets to Vivianne feels emotionally risky as well.

Jolie creates an excellent balance between making Erik’s backstory and associated security paranoia seem realistic without actually shifting the tone of the novel from romance to thriller. Erik and his hacker teammates have a great rapport and function as a group of friends helping him navigate the idea of a relationship. The long-term remote fantasy gaming friendship also seems natural without being tied too closely to any particular game, and the peek she offers into the world of wine collecting feels convincing and well-researched.

Though the novel works fine as a standalone, Jolie’s fans will appreciate the tie-in to her previous title, First Light, in which Erik appears as the female lead’s brother. His long and still-maintained online relationship with Vivianne makes his desire to protect her less creepy than it would be for a truly new connection. Family warmth among the Rossis balances the relative isolation of the main characters. The careful plotting pays off Erik’s security paranoia without actually causing too much drama for the couple, and Jolie manages to make Vivianne seem independent and competent while still benefiting from Erik’s help. Fans of romance with a slice of action and thriller intrigue won’t want to miss this.

Takeaway: Mainstream romance fans will enjoy the balance of undisclosed secrets and online crime and plenty of sweetness and goodwill.

Great for fans of: Meredith Wild’s Hardwired, Mandy Baxter’s One Kiss More.

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

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The Opus Dictum
Gary McAvoy
Various factions vie for wealth, power, and control of the Vatican in this taut political thriller based in part on actual events. A briefcase full of secrets belonging to murdered Italian banker Roberto Calvi turns up in an obscure Vatican archive supervised by Fr. Michael Dominic. The priest finds himself drawn into a struggle for the secrets involving Catholic organization Opus Deus, which has sinister plans, and the Mafia-connected Masonic lodge, Propaganda Due. Working with journalist Hana Sinclair and her bodyguard, Marco Picard, Dominic must battle for the future of the Catholic Church as cardinals jockey to see who will become the next pope.

McAvoy (The Magdalene Chronicles) excels at keeping the story moving at a gallop. Forbidden romances, Nazi sympathizers, murderous commandos, conspiratorial nuns, and a foul-mouthed cardinal all continually turn up, while well-researched details on hand-to-hand combat and firearms lend a strong verisimilitude to the handsomely staged fight scenes. Indeed, McAvoy does a nice job enriching the entire Vatican setting with persuasive detail, from soccer matches among Swiss Guards to the office layout of a powerful bishop. He also can turn a phrase neatly, as when henchmen are described as "chief architects of chaos." Sometimes the action crowds out opportunities for character and thematic development, but it flows so quickly that thriller fans will want to finish the book in a single sitting.

Although the emphasis is on plot, McAvoy does introduce some engaging characters: Dominic has an intriguing backstory that leads to internal struggles, and one of his associates is a delightfully worldly nun who seems to love technology as much as God. Bodyguard Marco provides a welcome contrast to his spiritual charges, and even some bad guys get sympathetic portrayals, like a pathetically ambitious Vatican official who sells his soul to impress his superior. Contrasts like that will have readers cheering on Dominic and his allies as they race to a nail-biting denouement.

Takeaway: International thriller fans will relish the political machinations, nonstop action and the delightfully evil secret societies.

Great for fans of: Steve Berry, William Tyree.

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

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Politely Rejecting the Bible: Why You Shouldn't Believe Everything the Bible Tells You
Dan Kapr
Kapr debuts with a sweeping repudiation of biblical inerrancy—the contemporary belief that the Bible, being divinely inspired, is without errors or contradictions. (The implication, as Kapr frames it: “If the Bible is inerrant, then we must believe everything it says.”) A former youth pastor, Kapr writes that his theological worldview was challenged when he recognized the blindspots in his faith. After studying for years in an attempt to discern the truth, his focus shifted to asking for “more rigorous and thoughtful engagement with issues that have a profound impact on our world,” leading to this collection, which presents questions and evidence to make the case against Biblical inerrancy. He operates from a holistic approach, using research from Christian writers, historical accounts, and common knowledge of human history—in addition to Biblical references—while encouraging readers to “adjust their worldview” if necessary.

While he acknowledges that he has lost his own faith, Kapr is adamant that he does not intend to destroy what others hold dear. Instead, he hopes to provoke new thoughts or provide an alternate, cultivated engagement with faith and scripture. He argues that the Bible is indeed full of errors, citing paradoxes and contradictions, a stance that stems from his long time study of hermeneutics through exegesis, or interpreting a text based on its content. He poses seven questions that have led him to reject inerrancy, making his case methodically, persuasively, and with welcome civility.

Rather than dismantling a dominant world religion, Kapr emphasizes two major concessions: the Bible does have errors and, because the religion is important (whether one holds the beliefs or not), theologians must offer space for the discussion of the errors to better understand the text and the foundations of faith. Readers, both introductory and advanced, who are interested in hermeneutics and apologetics will delight in this compendium of Biblical references and interpretations.

Takeaway: A former youth pastor challenges the doctrine of biblical inerrancy in this civil, thoughtful treatise.

Great for fans of: Rachel Held Evans’s Faith Unraveled, Craig G. Bartholomew’s Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics.

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

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Rotten Fruit in an Unkempt Garden: A Memoir in Poetry and Prose
Michael Nanfito
Nanfito’s fresh, genre-defying memoir explores his life journey from the 1970s to the 1980s in essays, poems, and illustrations, starting with a childhood shaped by a “Father”–a scholarly man who encourages the study of philosophy and nurtures Michael’s artistic talent–who isn’t officially his father, and the man Nanfito terms his “lesser father,” the parent whose practical yet cynical nature teaches him the craft of metalworking but curses him with young rage. Always attracted to the “outlaw life,” Michael recounts leaving home at 17 to discover “the self that lived within me and threatened to burst” and then committing himself to “choose life over a living death embroidered with the shallow breath of obligation.”

With sharp prose and a beat poet’s vivid frankness, Rotten Fruit in an Unkempt Garden surveys the adventures that followed. Through the eyes of young Michael, we witness his passion, both physical and intellectual, develop through every poem, encounter, and caper, including the “heady rush” of “running blow up and down the Coast.” He offers emotional and intellectual tributes to many who crossed his path, and, as “a brazen young man recently released from the academies of conscience and incarceration,” he delves deeply into literature and philosophy, both in the narrative’s present and in the telling today. Despite bookending lines like, “…remember to forget me” and, “…when I died, I died alone,” from the collection’s first and last poems, Nanfito’s accounts are powered not by grief but by the urgency to understand one’s self.

The poems, portraits, and vignettes cohere into something like a portfolio, revealing aspects and the development of a freethinking soul, readers’ sense of the full picture emerging through accretion of telling detail. Nanfito proves adept at crafting his lyric, sometimes stinging vignettes, immersing readers in “a life lived through a dirty lens,” championing personal freedom, laying down a marker about what it means to live–and create–on his own terms.

Takeaway: The raucous, lyric coming-of-age of a freethinker, in verse and essays that live “life through a dirty lens.”

Great for fans of: Howls From the Underground: An Anthology; Tony Nesca.

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

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Transparent Investing: How to Play the Stock Market without Getting Played (A Data-Proven, Simple Investing Strategy)
Patrick Geddes
Market guru Geddes demystifies investing, presenting it as a clear-eyed, no-nonsense process in a guide that readers new to the market will find helpful, cautionary, and inspiring. Using a metaphor of rational results versus primal cravings, Geddes explains that consumers are often deceived by a “romantic narrative” about investing–the myth that portfolio performance can, for the most part, be controlled. In contrast, he offers up a data-based alternative that focuses first on regulating fees and taxes, followed by risk and return, and walks readers through how to become an “empowered investor,” someone with a watchful eye for portfolio managers who try to misrepresent potential outcomes.

For readers who shy away from technically complicated writing, this guide will be a strong fit. Geddes is candidly direct—even going so far as to caution readers against the myth that investors can consistently outperform the market—and delivers user-friendly tools to help followers improve their returns. He urges potential investors to begin with understanding investment fees, noting that these are the “easiest to control,” and clarifies complex market terms like asset and wealth managers, security selection, and benchmarks. His close attention to tax impacts will be a welcome topic for readers looking to manage their funds more efficiently.

Most helpful are Geddes’s step-by-step instructions on deciding whether to hire an advisor, including a self-assessment quiz to determine the viability of investing without one, and follow up measures readers can take if they elect to go that route. He identifies questions to ask when interviewing potential wealth managers, as well as a technical glossary, alongside upfront counsel that “if you’re a long-term investor in stocks, at some point you’ll have to endure a horrible, gut-wrenching downturn.” Buyers beware: This is a guide tailored to investors looking to get started, laying out structured advice and the necessary know-how for success.

Takeaway: A candid guide on getting started in market investing that will please readers looking for easy-to-follow, understandable steps.

Great for fans of: Erin Lowry’s Broke Millennial Takes on Investing, Daniel Crosby’s The Behavioral Investor.

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

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Annihilation
Kaylin McFarren
McFarren’s twisty cosmic epic, the second in her Gehenna series, again takes flight on the conflict—and surprising romantic longings—between angels and demons, this time in the aftermath of the death of Lucifer. Heaven and Hell tremble, with our mortal plain caught in the middle, as Queen Lucinda, Lucifer’s daughter and now the rule of the infernal realm, prepares for the Red War, and forces of often complex or shifting loyalties move against her and each other, among them Crighton Daemonium, the good-hearted “Soul Seeker” Nephilim whom Lucinda loves with consuming passion, his soulmate Ariel, the young demon Samara, and factions like the Black Crows.

Opening with dishy romantic entanglements and a hellish slaughter, Annihilation proves, for all its significant heft, a brisk, engaging sequel, plotted with the restless playfulness of an author who understands that readers know every genre convention and is admirably committed to upending them. As befits the material, the story at times can be darkly upsetting—Lucinda and co. are obsessed with “seed” and will do what it takes to extract it—but never gratuitously explicit. In fact, readers on its wavelength will have a ball: McFarren gleefully mixes pantheons and mythologies—the Gehenna saga features Cerberus, Hecate, shapeshifters, angels in the bodies of demons, and many more surprises—as well as genres, blending fantasy, horror, and romance into a singular whole, all laced together with a welcome, often salty, wit. (She’s especially funny on the administrative aspects of ruling Hell.)

The action is crisply described, the horrific and infernal elements vivid but not lingered over, and the dialogue often comic (One character deadpans, “an Archangel followed us and smote the crap out of him.”) Readers are advised to start with the previous book, Soul Seeker, as Annihilation moves fast and assumes a familiarity with its worlds, but lovers of daring fantasy with occult elements and an interest in the gray between good and evil will find this a feast.

Takeaway: A vigorously inventive fantasy sequel that finds fresh surprises and romance in the war between heaven and hell.

Great for fans of: Debra Dunbar, Kate Griffin.

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

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True Teryn: The Last Lumenian Series
S.G. Blaise
In the second installment of the galaxies-spanning Last Lumenian series, Blaise delivers a high-speed adventure through a wild landscape with a group of lovable misfits and a reluctant chosen one. After being forced to flee her home planet, Lilla is charged by the Goddess to raise an army for the final battle against the Archgod of Chaos and Destruction, or the DLD. The army the Goddess has in mind is that of the Teryns, a people feared for the warmongering ways, but luckily Lilla has an in, as her boyfriend Callum is Teryn royalty. Unfortunately the rest of Callum’s family is less than impressed, sending her on a dangerous quest to prove her worth—a quest that will ultimately disrupt the foundations of Teryn society.

Blaise’s storytelling and worldbuilding combines a delightful whimsy with gripping action. Lilla spends much of this adventure on the run from dangerous animals with alien names like “k’boar,” “k’mountain lion,” or “bear-wolves” (“Not k’bear-wolves?” “The k is silent”). Her motley group of friends and companions are also a joy, and despite the main quest featuring no fewer than eight party members (including two former love interests), distinct and interesting personalities make them each stand out. From the grumpy warrior lady to the softhearted yet feisty healer to the know-it-all mage, the only character that doesn’t prove especially engaging is Callum, the current boyfriend, whose chief traits here are mostly anger and jealousy. Still, Callum is not present for a large chunk of the story, which gives the ensemble a chance to shine.

The plot itself exhibits a tendency familiar from other second entries in series: it ends in about the same place it began and feels, at times, like an optional side quest chosen as an opportunity to introduce lore and develop characters, which are this installment’s selling points. Although technically not YA, True Teryn has a lot of crossover appeal for readers of romantic science fiction with comic elements.

Takeaway: Charming and witty, this science fantasy sequel will please readers with its unique world and memorable characters.

Great for fans of: Amie Kauffman, Dianne Duvall’s Aldebarian Alliance series.

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

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Sean Moses Is Martin Luther, The King Jr.
Moses D. Powe
Equally informative and celebratory, Powe’s Sean Moses Is Martin Luther, the King is a love letter to the achievements of Black leaders, as well as an inspiration to the young readers, inviting them to imagine growing up to be leaders themselves.Sean Moses couldn’t be more excited about the leader he gets to portray in the Black History Month program at his school. As he invites his parents to guess whichBlack leader he has been assigned, Powe’s text and Angelina Valieva’s powerful illustrations introduce a succession of historical luminaries, such as Frederick Douglass and Civil War Medal of Honor winner Sgt. William Harvey Carney, with expressive and imaginative visions of young Sean as each.

The detailed and expressive illustrations bring both Sean and the leaders to vivid life. Fine touches like borders on the edges of pages create an appealing historical ambience, to go with the theme, though the choice to illustrate and print the book in black and white feels like a missed opportunity to fully represent and showcase Black identities. The format, switching back and forth between dialogue and then informational text blocks presented in the format of museum placards, also makes for a stilted reading experience, especially if being read aloud.

Even so, Sean’s cheerful demeanor, the book’s positive, inventively presented message, and the notable beauty of the illustrations (including those elaborately gilded information plates) make this a winning addition to the shelves of any family. Featuring historical figures most adults should be familiar with (Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois), and championing some that are perhaps less well known, there’s something for everyone, whether young or old, history buff or reluctant history learner. A powerful and uplifting tribute to the accomplishments of Black Americans throughout history, Sean Moses is sure to delight and stir young readers–and adults hungry for some positivity–with its rousing spirit.

Takeaway: With an uplifting tone, young Sean Moses celebrates and identifies with the achievements of Black individuals throughout history.

Great for fans of: Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated, Ellen Levine’s Henry's Freedom Box.

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

Papa's Last Words: They Lied About God
R. H. Ben-Shalom
A legacy, an impassioned treatise, and a prompt for further questioning, Ben-Shalom’s Papa's Last Words sets down a father’s thinking—his “testimony” —for his children on the topic of his relationship with God, all from a singular perspective that draws deeply from varied religious traditions and never settles for received wisdom. Ben-Shalom credits his relationship with helping him “through the valleys of sexual abuse, physical abuse, attempted suicide, isolation, loneliness, betrayal” and more. In searching, polished prose, he urges his audience to study the history of Christian denominations and draw from each what is good; to accept that “God’s people are God’s people, no matter how you examine it,” whether Christians or Jews; and to challenge orthodoxies like the concept of the trinity (“He is—simply—YHVH, and blessed be His Name”), distinguishing what is truly of God from “the perverted things of humanity.”

This is a heady, original book, alive with fresh thinking, persuasive argument, and thorough, well-documented research. Ben-Shalom shows his work, leaves space for challenges, and above all calls for his readers to approach belief and history with a similar spirit of thoughtful questioning. While his prose is approachable, often even warm, the material can get dense, especially as he works through questions of translation and interpretation that likely feel more pressing to him than they do to readers.

That said, that work is the point, as Ben-Shalom’s mission, throughout, is to pare away the human to expose what he finds divine in scriptural, Kabbalahistic, and other ancient sources. In them he finds evidence that a messiah has come, that God can take human form, and that knowing this history in depth can help bolster one against the “seductive deceptions” of those eager to instill doubt. Christian readers interested in a gently challenging dive into the history and interpretation of the heart of their faith will find much here that resonates.

Takeaway: This impassioned treatise, from a father to his children, digs deeply into the roots of Christianity, emphasizing the divine.

Great for fans of: Brian D. McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, Rob Bell’s What Is the Bible?

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

Click here for more about Papa's Last Words
The Village Feasts: Passover Stories of Food and Laughter
Mark Binder
Abrahmson’s charming Passover anthology, the latest in the ongoing Village Life series after A Village Blessing and Winter Romance, returns readers to Chelm, that “town of fools” of folklore somewhere between Russia and Poland, forever alive with misadventure, laughs—and possibly more chickens than people. Abrahmson, who is celebrated for his storytelling and klezmer harmonica, has crafted an illustrated set of stories that are as warm as a fresh challah bread out of the oven. Readers young and old will be delighted to meet Doodle the Orphan and learn about his penchant for cabbage, see Rabbi Kibbitz struggle to turn down delicious pastries, and witness the epic power of Mrs. Chaipul’s matzah balls when the town is threatened by a flood, among many other adventures.

Abrahmson invites readers into the Chelm fold with vivid accounts of its inhabitants drooling at the delicious aromas of Seder, getting lost in the Black Forest with the Chiriboms and Chiribims, and feeling their jaws ache as they try to chew through leaden Matzah balls. Not merely comic figures, Abrahmson’s characters develop and reveal personalities over short snippets of text, though they’re given to much amusing hyperbole: “Moishe argued for six hours that if the pyramids in Egypt had only been built from his wife’s matzah balls, then they would still be standing.”

The only disappointment is that it’s all over so quickly, at about a hundred pages. (Fortunately, the characters overlap with the other books in the series.) Abrahmson’s prose savvily mixes the homey and the surreal, and he’s a master of the cozy bedtime story. The Village Feasts, with its often silly phrasing and emphasis on ritual and community, demands to be read out loud, shared at a gathering or relished by little ones before bedtime, when sleepy eyelids are beginning to droop. A glossary in the endmatter is both helpful and comic.

Takeaway: These sprightly comic Passover tales set in the village of Chelm are warm and engaging.

Great for fans of: Seymour Rossel’s The Wise Folk of Chelm, Solomon Simon’s The Wise Men of Helm and Their Merry Tales.

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

Click here for more about The Village Feasts
From Auschwitz with Love : The Inspiring Memoir of Two Sisters' Survival, Devotion and Triumph
Daniel Seymour
In this riveting memoir, author and professor Seymour (Momentum) presents the remarkable experiences of two brave sisters during and after the Holocaust. Manci and Ruthie Grunberger lived with their family in a bustling village in the former Czechoslovakia, where daily life revolved around school, friends, and Orthodox Jewish traditions—until German forces took over in 1944. After the Grunbergers were transported to Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, the 18- and 16-year-old sisters were separated from their family. Together, they endured the unendurable: internment at Auschwitz and a grueling death march afterwards. Once the sisters were at last liberated, their aunt brought them to the United States, where they created remarkable lives for themselves.

While Ruthie had shared her story, Manci’s silence about it, even with family, inspired Seymour, her son-in-law, to record her memories. At the start of each chapter, he establishes the political and cultural context before transcribing the sisters’ testimonies as witnesses, survivors, and Americans. The emphasis on the women’s post-Holocaust lives, and their interpretations of the past, distinguish this memoir. For example, Manci distances herself from her memories, whereas Ruthie chooses to educate the next generation through writings and speeches. Details about leisure time in retirement support the overall message of finding joy in life.

Seymour’s research shows in his skillful contextualization of the sisters’ stories, and their dialogue flows smoothly without the interviewer getting in the way. They provide accounts that are often absent from school textbooks—sharing stories, for example, of how Auschwitz captives were drugged to ensure submission, or the brave unit of workers who smuggled in gunpowder and blew up a crematorium. This urgent memoir offers new light on one of history’s darkest moments and stands firmly against deniers’ rejections of documented history. Seymour gives voice to Manci’s and Ruthie’s courage and survival as well as their incredible bond that testifies to the strength of the human spirit.

Takeaway: A riveting firsthand account of two sisters’ survival of the Holocaust and Auschwitz.

Great for fans of: Judy Batalion’s The Light of Days, Viktor Frankl.

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

Click here for more about From Auschwitz with Love

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