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Snowflake
Arthur Jeon
In this chilling work about brilliant madness, Hollywood writer Jeon (City Dharma: Keeping Your Cool in the Chaos) easily nails the free-floating anger and helplessness fueled by current events, including climate change and the divisive political atmosphere in the U.S. After watching his younger sister June almost die during an asthma attack exacerbated by Los Angeles’s poor air quality and experiencing a mind-altering reaction to a party drug, 18-year-old prep school intellectual Ben “Benji” Wallace is galvanized into action. He blames the unnamed (but implicitly identifiable) U.S. president, whom he dubs Cretin, for climate change and the other ills of current life. And he makes a life-changing decision: the president must die, or Planet Earth will.

Benji stealthily builds a plastic gun using a 3-D printer and instructions downloaded from the internet while ruminating on the most effective way to carry out a presidential assassination. Jeon deftly chronicles how despair, deeply held principles, and depression can combine to influence horrifying outcomes. As Benji’s mind goes to darker and darker places, the author keeps the plot razor-wire taut and readers turning the pages as quickly as they can.

Jeon’s background in Hollywood gives this narrative the feeling of a box-office blockbuster. Disturbing yet compelling, the dark storyline feels eminently plausible, bolstered by actual tweets from the current U.S. president and real headlines, including accurate environmental statistics. Memorable supporting characters—especially Benji’s sister June and his teacher, John Hale—ably underpin the tale. Any reader with an awareness of current events will devour this in one sitting.

Takeaway: Jeon’s ripped-from-the-headlines stunner based on current events and world leaders will be impossible for readers to put down.

Great for fans of Sam Bourne’s To Kill the President, Robert Wood Anderson’s Resurrection Runner.

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

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Bird in a Snare
N.L. Holmes
Hani, a military scribe and diplomat in the service of the real-life Ancient Egyptian pharoah Amen-hotep III, dominates in N.L. Holmes’s newest historical mystery. Hani, also a real historical figure, divides his time between a large and loving family in Waset (Thebes), the then-capital of Egypt, and a heavy workload abroad as an emissary for the king. As part of his duties, Hani must solve the murder of the king’s ally Abdi-ashirta, found assassinated in his own locked palace with a dagger in his back. With political corruption rampant and few trustworthy allies other than his secretary Maya, Hani travels across the Two Kingdoms to solve a case that pushes his conscience to its limits. While Hani seeks answers, the king’s son and co-regent, Akh-en-aten, consolidates his power through radical religious reforms, turning brother against brother, even within Hani’s own family.

Holmes gears this adventure toward serious fans of adult mystery and accurate Egyptology, but readers unfamiliar with Egypt’s New Kingdom period will find the closing historical note and glossaries of names and places) extremely helpful. Fans of the genre will notice parallels between Hani’s voyage and popular Ancient Egyptian mysteries featuring a mid-tier official of the king with a sidekick who, like Maya, is a dwarf. But, though these similarities are hard to ignore, Holmes’s clearly well-researched plot and characters—including her more egalitarian treatment of dwarfism—do much to distinguish this book from its predecessors.

Hani and Maya are instantly likeable protagonists, and there are enough twists, turns, and court intrigues to satisfy all lovers of historical mysteries. Holmes’s writing is simultaneously colorful and informative, blending vivid depictions of Hani’s surroundings with subtle cultural histories presented mostly without judgement. Readers will find it hard to put down this tale of ancient intrigue.

Takeaway: Diplomatic intrigue takes center stage in this absorbing and historically accurate Ancient Egyptian mystery.

Great for fans of: P.C Doherty, Lynda S. Robinson, C.J. Sansom.

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

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The Brute
Mike Klaassen
Klaassen (Cracks) serves up an engrossing adventure with a flawed teen protagonist. Fortney “Fort” Curtis is the titular “brute,” with a hulking manner and hair-trigger temper. During a boy scout camping trip with his father and several younger boys, Fort’s camp is pulverized by a tornado and he loses his temper in the aftermath, accidentally breaking one of the boys’ arms. Fort is forced to find a way to master his emotions as he treks across dangerous country seeking help for the ruined camp—in the process dealing with the elements and vicious animal attacks, including a harrowing trip across a flooded river.

This young adult novel deftly balances classic man-versus-nature and man-versus-himself literary tropes. Though Fort’s temper makes others fear him, the book portrays him not as a villain but as an unlikely hero searching for peace; he worries others will reject him when they see his exasperation and anger. Over the course of the story, Fort's desperate need to protect the others drives him to develop self-control amid an array of dangers emphasizing the indifferent brutality of nature.

Klaassen provides just enough detail to turn characters like Fort's twin brothers (Tommy and Timmy) and Billy, the young boy whose arm he broke, into fully realized people instead of just plot devices. Though Klaassen does pile on the perils—the final encounter with an aggressive bull is over-the-top—he also keeps the narrative direct and short. This visceral, exciting, and fast-moving adventure with an unusual protagonist illuminates the need to conquer one’s own demons to help others.

Takeaway: Young adult readers who enjoy flawed characters and the outdoors will be swept up in this suspenseful adventure.

Great for fans of: Kate Alice Marshall's I Am Still Alive, Shaun David Hutchinson's Feral Youth.

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

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The Land Steward's Daughter
Becky Michaels
Michaels’s expertly realized debut historical romance (the first installment in the Winters series) breathes fresh air into the genre. Elaina Walker has been raised almost as family by the duke and duchess of Blackmore; though her father is only a land steward, her late mother, Lady Eleanor Crawford, was a close friend of the duchess. Elaina’s maternal family may snub her at every opportunity, but her middle-class station is elevated by ducal support. No longer a tomboy running amok with the second son, Will, she’s now a refined spinster of 25, entertaining the idea of marriage with banker Giles Hunt—until Will returns from 11 years of school and military service. Although she’s not considered an acceptable match for him, their faithful correspondence during his absence has strengthened their already close bond.

Michaels steers the story with a steady hand, alternating between Will’s and Elaina’s viewpoints and rendering unusually sympathetic portraits of supporting characters and romantic rivals, including Hunt, Will’s older brother Montgomery, and Montgomery’s young fiancee Clara. The protagonists’ history is fleshed out through excerpts from old letters, and the epistolary basis of their relationship is wholesomely romantic.

But this novel is more than a traditional romance; it examines the work of creating a mature, partnered relationship, too. Classic genre themes are touched upon—the conflict between marrying for duty and for love, scandal and propriety in high society—but the centerpiece is a richly imagined, vibrant celebration of love. Readers will be swept away by this new twist on an old favorite.

Takeaway: This smart, refreshing historical romance, focused less on winning and wooing and more on the evolution of a relationship, will sweep readers off their feet.

Great for fans of: Eloisa James, Georgette Heyer.

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

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Miranda and the D-Day Caper
Shelly Frome
Frome (The Secluded Village Murders) blends a cozy whodunit with a political thriller in this mystery novel set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Miranda Davis, an Indiana-raised realtor fresh off solving a local poison-letters case, is surprised when her cousin Skip, a radio DJ in New York, unexpectedly arrives in her small town. He was chased out of the city by threatening letters after he accidentally leaked details of a right-wing domestic terror plot on the air, and having read an article about Miranda’s sleuthing skills, Skip asks his cousin for help in uncovering the truth behind the chaos he unwittingly stumbled into.

Rife with references to Erwin Rommel’s North African campaign, the SAS, Commandos Strike at Dawn, and Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, this book seems geared toward older readers looking for a blend of current events with WWII history and childhood nostalgia. Yet many of these references are jarring and out-of-place, especially given that the protagonists are in their 30s. At times, readers will feel as if they have entered the story too late: though this is the only book in the series so far, references to a previous case and prior relationships give a sense of missing information, and supporting characters (such as Harry, Miranda’s “part-time lover”) lack detail and clear motives.

This novel shines in its depiction of life in the mountains of North Carolina. Readers familiar with the area around Asheville will love the realistic descriptions of the city and its environs, including cameos by local institutions ranging from the Biltmore Estate to Black Mountain’s Blue Ridge Biscuit Company. Miranda is a spunky, no-nonsense protagonist who audiences will root for as she takes decisive action to make sure Skip’s job—and her small town—remain safe.

Takeaway: This mystery combines modern political intrigue and Blue Ridge Mountain life with WWII nostalgia.

Great for fans of: Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series, Maddie Day’s Country Store Mysteries series.

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

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Stockboy Nation
Thomas Duffy
This sequel to Stockboy is a timely but anemic story of a man’s midlife crisis during the age of Covid-19. Phillip Doherty is now 40-something, and his successful first book, a memoir about working in Manhattan at novelty bookstore Milton’s World of Fun, has not led to more writing success. Now living in San Diego and unable to find any sort of writing job, he begins working part-time at the local branch of Milton’s, much to the dismay of his live-in fiancée Melissa, a lawyer currently paying most of their bills. The romance is gone and Phillip is torn—should he return to New York and his old job or stay and pursue a relationship with LeAnn, an attractive college professor?

Duffy has the day-to-day stuff of working retail down pat, but Phillip is so indecisive that he wavers in his decisions almost as quickly as he makes them: Melissa or LeAnn, San Diego or New York City? The only thing he sticks with is his job, but with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, even that may no longer be an option. A pagelong flirtation with religion goes nowhere, and the characters’ political discussions occasionally feel forced and unwieldy.

The story’s topicality is a boon. In the throes of a pandemic that already has killed many Americans, readers would think Phillip’s world might have grown desperately dark. Instead, he eats junk food and binge-watches television like so many people have. Duffy’s lead lacks agency, so his story is reminiscent at times of someone who begins journaling without much to say. But readers with similar experiences will find him relatable.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a novel about navigating a midlife crisis or being underemployed during Covid-19 will find familiarity in its lead character.

Great for fans of: Caitlin Kelly’s Malled, Matthew Quick.

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

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Life is a Ride: My Unconventional Journey of Cancer Recovery
Chris Joseph
Joseph’s intensely moving cancer memoir unwinds his distressing years in traditional and alternative medical treatments. In October 2016, Joseph, a 59-year-old single parent living in Santa Monica, Calif., finds his life at an unceremonious standstill upon detection of stage three pancreatic cancer. An indifferent healthcare team and the devastating aftereffects of chemotherapy compel him to take control of his treatment and consider unconventional routes. While chronicling his journey on his blog, he succeeds in finding a stable outlet for his anxiety and apprehensions. In courageous and profound sequences, the reader finds him regaining his composure as he counters his doubts as a father, a boyfriend, a brother, and a friend.

Interactions with his sons are the emotional cornerstones of the book, but he also comments on the American healthcare system and underscores how recovery begins by taking charge of one’s life. Readers will appreciate the affecting accounts of other patients that support his informed insights on medical care and fitness, as well as the clear and straightforward prose.

Joseph skillfully balances the bleakness of the subject with candidness and levity. His analogy about fear being an “obnoxious roommate who doesn’t clean up after himself” is one of the many standout observations of the narration. Liberally infused with candor and vulnerability, Joseph’s thorough introspection of his years in cancer treatment is a rewarding examination of love, duty, legacy, and mortality.

Takeaway:This gripping cancer memoir is a unique exploration of identity, community, and the American healthcare system through the story of an ordinary man’s life-altering illness.

Great for fans of: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, Joules Evans’s Shaken Not Stirred... A Chemo Cocktail, Julie Yip-Williams’s The Unwinding of the Miracle.

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

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Trine Rising: The Kinderra Saga: Book 1
C.K. Donnelly
The first installment of Donnelly’s coming-of-age fantasy series blends introspective self-discovery with high-stakes adventure. In the land of Kinderra, people are born either Aspected—having the power of clairvoyance, healing, or defending—or Unaspected. Young Mirana Pinal is born with all three powers, making her a Trine. After seeing a disturbing vision wherein she destroys Kinderra, Mirana confides her secret only to her boyfriend, the Unaspected Teague Beltran. She soon learns that she is part of a prophecy foretelling the destruction of her homeland at the hands of a new Trine. The other Trines are the peaceable sage Tetric Garis and the Ain Magne, a warmonger bent on subjugating the citizens of Kinderra. When the threat of an attack from the Dark Trine forces Mirana to reveal her visions, Tetric Garis takes her under his wing to train her. Can Mirana thwart her own destiny and save the kingdom from herself?

Donnelly has set her story in a classic medieval Europe-flavored fantasy world, complete with armies on horses, ancient prophecies, and an extensive dramatis personae. Although the author makes some moves to differentiate her work from other stories in the genre—for instance, by substituting common English terms with Kinderrian ones—some readers may find the net result is more distracting than illustrative.

But Mirana is a sympathetic heroine, her struggle to find her place in the world will be relatable to young readers, and her romance with Teague captures the tensions and thrills of teenage love. Polished prose, strong characterization, and the author’s keen eye for atmospheric detail keep this coming-of-age story engrossing.

Takeaway: Young adult readers will be swept up in a gripping fantasy adventure with a main character they can root for.

Great for fans of: Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series and Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.

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

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Girl Intrepid: A New York Story of Privilege and Perseverance
Leslie Armstrong
Armstrong’s (The Little House) poignant memoir is a nuanced drama. In the summer of 1947, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, Armstrong moves with her mother from Boston to New York City. Enrolled at her mother’s alma mater, the Brearley School, Armstrong struggles to fit in, while her mother struggles to land a spot in a law firm. Despite being cash-poor, Armstrong spends summers with her mother in lavish digs around the world, whereas her time with her beloved and temperamental father hinges on sailing and his drunken tirades.

While Armstrong’s life is fascinating, it is her mother, Barbara, who captivates. A single mother, Barbara has a brief stint with depression before she pivots and establishes herself as a firm scion of survival: she becomes an international spy—until she marries a doctor, allowing her to resume her career as a lawyer and affording her daughter a wealthier lifestyle. Like her mother, Armstrong is pioneering and full of grit, becoming an award-winning architect at a time when the field was largely a boys’ club. She teeters emotionally between her mercurial parents, and it plays out in her personal life as she searches for parental figures and embarks on three ill-fated marriages.

Armstrong excels at allowing the reader to empathize with an intimate portrayal of her search for connection, stability, and love. The added bonus of a photo gallery in the center of the book features her family and important figures in her life and showcases her work as an architect. This is a moving coming-of-age memoir that will enthrall readers as they travel through the dizzying turns of Armstrong’s life, from her early childhood to the death of her enigmatic mother.

Takeaway: A candid memoir of the dynamics between a compelling mother and her independent, tenacious daughter.

Great for fans of: Jeannette Walls, Ariel Leve.

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

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2 by South - Precious Blood and Rattlesnake in a Cooler: One Act Plays by Frank South
Frank E South III
“A family for the most part does not want its belly exposed,” reveals Connie, a nurse, halfway into “Precious Blood,” the first of this collection’s two harrowing, accomplished one-act plays. South’s “Precious Blood” and “Rattlesnake in a Cooler,” which hit Los Angeles and New York in 1981 in a production directed by Robert Altman, demonstrate the playwright’s commitment to exposing American underbellies—and ripping at the scars he finds there. In both, South offers a vision of what at first seems to be the mythic white, rural ordinariness that is still sometimes treated in American culture as synonymous with terms like “heartland.” But soon, the secrets spill out—and the knives tear flesh.

“Precious Blood,” a tangle of three overlapping monologues, opens with tender and funny evocations of life in the hilly marshland of Missouri, but crescendos to rape and murder. That nurse, Connie, starkly reenacts a brutal crime, haunted by it but also so grimly accepting of all that men are capable of that she never bothered reporting it. The blistering “Rattlesnake,” meanwhile, concerns a doctor who abandons his career for the rodeo life, a fantasy right out of the country music records he loves. In South’s America, though, the outlaw life’s not a song, but a horror show.

South’s plays obsess over cruel and ugly violence—violence unleavened by Hollywood’s reassuring distinction between good guys and bad guys. Connie compares the occasional surges of rape cases she sees in a Kansas City hospital to a “rush” at a restaurant, and the tough-talking narrator of “Rattlesnake” aspires to be a cowboy hero but winds up a killer down in the mulch with people he only knows as Bad Smell and Pissing Guy. In these plays, it’s cruelty and mourning in America.

Takeaway: These harrowing 1981 one-act dramas, once staged by Robert Altman, lay bare the dark side of American idealism.

Great for fans of: Eric Bogosian’s Drinking in America, Sam Shepard’s True West.

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

Toot Fairy
Brian Donnelly
This delightful story recounts the socially awkward journey of Irma, a would-be tooth fairy in training who has a dairy aversion that threatens her studies and eventual graduation from Tooth School. Rhythmic prose accompanies Irma on her travails as she desperately tries to fit in with the new recruits in school. When she drinks the milk provided at snack to avoid being judged by the other fairies, Irma’s school performance takes an embarrassing turn for the worse.

Van Gool’s vivid and polychromatic illustrations give depth to the storyline and illuminate Irma’s inner struggles, drawing readers’ attention to the minor eccentricities—from her showy socks and shoes to her distinctive bracelets—that make her stand out from her peers. Despite feeling forced in some sections, Donnelly’s rhyming prose lightens an otherwise heavy topic for kids who have been ostracized for their differences and adds an element of fun to some uncomfortable social situations. Irma’s attempts to conform to the expectations of her teacher, in spite of her very real physical struggle during assigned tasks, is painful to watch and will elicit compassion and empathy in readers.

Donnelly brings gentle attention to tangible challenges that many youth and adults face, both in the overt example of dairy intolerance and in the more hidden theme of being shunned and excluded for individuality and distinctiveness. The parallel theme of perseverance, even in the face of ridicule and seeming failure, sends a message of hope and optimism to a young audience. Irma’s eventual success, earned by channeling her unusual talents and creative thinking, will resonate with readers as a victory for underdogs and a method of celebrating uniqueness. Though simple in its presentation, this unconventional tale revels in what makes each of us exceptional.

Takeaway: This playful tale celebrates individuality and pays tribute to the power of perseverance.

Great for fans of: Maria Dismondy’s Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun, Julia Finley Mosca’s The Girl Who Thought in Pictures.

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

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The Spell
C.V. Shaw
Shaw debuts with an enchanted story of the royal family of Fleurham—Queen Lilac, King Maurice, and Princess Isabella—and the mysterious struggles that ensue after Princess Isabella is wounded by a potentially cursed arrow. King Maurice pursues the archer, only to end up trapped and bewitched by a woman named Maggy Mae and her grandmother. Queen Lilac seeks out self-interested allies and becomes consumed by her need to rid Isabella of the curse. As the princess grows, this tension drives the fragile royal household apart, and Isabella decides to try to break the curse herself.

The premise is promising, but readers may be frustrated by the loose ends that remain: neither the identity of the archer who shot Isabella nor their motive is revealed. In addition, Shaw relies heavily on stereotypical depictions of women: Isabella, nicknamed “China Doll” because she is “so fragile and easily broken,” remains largely passive throughout, and her character development is tied primarily to her lovers.

The narrative is at its strongest when avoiding these clichés and focusing on the consuming dynamics between its protagonists, such as the tense relationship between Isabella and her mother. Shaw’s portrayal of the Kingdom of Fleurham—as charming but faded, saturated with tension between the English and French residents, and filled with “bewitched and enchanted villagers”—is compelling, too. Readers who enjoy European-flavored fantasy with traditional gender roles will be ensnared by this fairy tale.

Takeaway: This royal story is best suited for readers who enjoy classic fairy tales with European settings and damsels in distress.

Great for fans of: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

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

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Einstein's Last Message: Saving our world by changing how we think
Rod O'Connor
Debut author O’Connor, a cognitive psychologist, packs an overflowing helping of wisdom and heart into this slim volume about mindfulness and its role in humankind’s future. Galvanized by a 1946 Albert Einstein interview, O’Connor asserts that a new type of thinking is essential if humankind is to survive such crises as global warming and the Covid-19 pandemic. He posits that four “thinking worlds” inform all decisions, good and bad: the material world, trying to understand people, inner self, and an internal sense of right and wrong. Using a metaphor readers will easily understand, he compares these four worlds to Russian nesting dolls. O’Connor, painstakingly explains how the four worlds nest within each other and coexist when making both good and bad decisions.

Using that frame and sensible, easy-to-understand prose, he examines empathy, intuition, greed, the placebo effect, and global destruction with an unwavering and realistic gaze, and offers practical strategies for readers to do the same. Comfortingly, he describes mental time travel to lance any festering wounds from one’s psyche, a path easy to undertake from one’s favorite living room chair. While he is for the most part optimistic, O’Connor is a realist about human error: he notes that memory shortcomings, incendiary language, and confirmation bias can effectively derail the truth, but offers methods to avert such pitfalls.

O’Connor tackles daunting subjects with a deft touch, making complicated concepts accessible for the average reader, and his suggestions and principles are sound, well-reasoned, and meticulously footnoted. Two concise, helpful appendices recap the author’s most important points, providing valuable cheat sheets for those pondering important decisions or trying to overcome faulty reasoning. Any reader concerned for the future of humankind will find wise nuggets of information to take and implement on the journey forward.

Takeaway: This passionate plea for a thoughtful and intentional future will touch everyone from dedicated environmentalists to college students.

Great for fans of: Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra.

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

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Bad Bitches and Power Pitches: : For Women Entrepreneurs and Speakers Only
Precious L. Williams
Williams, a pitchmaker, speaker, and entrepreneur who has won more than a dozen elevator pitch competitions, draws deep on her saleswoman talents to present the “bad bitch” as an appealing and transformative model for women in business, with an acknowledgment that it’s not for the meek or those who are uncomfortable with self-promotion. It’s a multifaceted figure, too: Williams examines seven different types of “Branding Bitches” (The Unstoppable Bitch, The Creative Bitch, The Flawed Bitch) and suggests that readers should incorporate aspects of all of them when crafting a pitch for a brand, business, product, or service.

The author takes several chapters at the start of the book to explain precisely what she means when she claims for herself the term “bad bitch”—and why she’s encouraging readers to aspire to it, too. Williams is talking about a proud woman of power, a “female who knows what she wants and knows how to get it,” who “is not afraid to be her authentic self at all times” and seizes “the opportunity to shine, teach other women to bask in their femininity, promote their brilliance, and become downright ‘sheroes.’”

Williams is a compelling writer and role model. The book’s strongest chapters concern the power and promise of seizing her brand of girl power. An early chapter lays out strategies for drafting a winning pitch, with clarifying and practical tips, but overall Williams is less focused on process than on modeling her vision of a sisterhood of bold movers and shakers. Readers specifically hunting for a step-by-step guide to pitching and brand-building may want to consult more books—but those hungry for advice from a woman unapologetically seizing her place in the world will find just what they need.

Takeaway: This appealing guide to brand-building dares women to be the right kind of bad.

Great for fans of: Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass, Elaine Meryl Brown, Marsha Haygood, and Rhonda Joy McLean’s The Little Black Book of Success: Laws of Leadership for Black Women.

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

Click here for more about Bad Bitches and Power Pitches:
The Vintage Rolex Field Manual
Colin A. White
White’s manual demystifies collecting the world’s most sought-after precision watches. Geared for both the neophyte and the obsessive, the Chevalier Edition of White’s previously published guide offers fresh content, such as sidebar profiles of watch technicians, sellers, and even a dial lumer—and if you’re curious about what that is, then this manual is for you. Accompanying the new material are dozens of high-quality photographs of vintage Rolexes, with a focus on the details a serious collector needs to consider when authenticating a potential purchase.

The photos are gorgeous, as are the watches, but White’s emphasis is on practical, attainable Rolexes a collector might encounter in the wild, rather than the highest-end luxury items. The backbone of this edition remains his manual, first published in 2019: a helpful and inviting survey of what a potential collector would want to understand before purchasing a pre-owned or vintage Rolex. White takes readers “beneath the lugs,” exposing the period-correct guts of generations of Rolexes, including their winding screws, to a dozen types of hands, and the mechanisms at their ticking hearts (called “movements”). Those particulars are supplemented with a history of the brand and illuminating explanations of unique Rolex terms (“Oyster Perpetual Submariner” is just the start of it).

White’s a welcoming writer, eschewing the “jargon-soup” that he attributes to his hobby’s “insiders.” He addresses common misconceptions and encourages potential collectors to buy watches they’ll love and actually wear, rather than getting too hung up on acquiring a piece of the highest period correctness. White exhaustively catalogs all the information publicly available on more than 1,400 official manufacturing runs of Rolex watches. Even established collectors will find this a valuable resource.

Takeaway: This field manual gives an illuminating introduction into the world of Rolex collecting.

Great for fans of: Benjamin Clymer’s Watches: A Guide by Hodinkee, Gene Stone and Stephen Pulvirent’s The Watch, Thoroughly Revised.

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

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Surrender: A memoir of nature, nurture, and love
Marylee MacDonald
MacDonald’s sprawling autobiography recounts her coming of age: falling in love, becoming pregnant as a Catholic teen in 1961, and giving up her son at age 16 after a stint in the Florence Crittenton Home for unwed mothers. The trauma of that experience is multiplied by complex emotions regarding her own adoption. The author dives deep into those feelings and a host of others—how it felt when her father exposed himself to her, meeting the son she put up for adoption, and her fear about returning to Phoenix, where the home operated. Throughout the narrative, she considers the long-term effects of trauma.

The author brings to life what it meant to be an adolescent 50 years ago, in an era of sexual repression when teenagers had difficulty buying contraceptives. As for pregnancy, many schools would not readmit girls known to have given birth, so a great deal of duplicity was involved in the whole process, including limiting weight gain so the mother could leave in the clothes she wore early in the pregnancy.

The author’s inner strength is obvious to readers, as is her intelligence. MacDonald aptly describes the “lava-like knot of humiliation, shame and rage” that accompanied her pregnancy as her boyfriend and eventual first husband went on with his life while hers was on hold in Phoenix. Readers will, through the eloquent prose, come to understand the rage and trauma inherent in growing up during such a restrictive, gender-biased time period in the U.S.

Takeaway: Readers looking for adoption stories who want to understand what life was like before birth control will appreciate this tale of coming-of-age trauma.

Great for fans of: Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away, Anne Petrie’s Gone to an Aunt’s, Ann Patchett’s The Patron Saint of Liars.

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

Click here for more about Surrender

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