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Texas Quest: An 1870s tale of German immigrants settling in Texas.
Betty Willis
Willis’s third novel follows the journey of Christian Schulz as he leaves Germany in the early 1870s to evade army service and begin a new life in Texas. During the perilous ocean journey, Christian reconnects with old classmate Otto Schneider, and once the ship docks, the duo accompany several young women meeting spouses in Galveston before striking out for Fredericksburg. Lena Clemons, seeking a husband of her own and falling for Christian, joins the journey and shows she’s more than capable of pulling her own weight. The trio stops in Richmond, on the Brazos River in southeast Texas where they quickly become a part of the community, despite their long-term plans to settle in Fredericksburg.

Readers will appreciate the fresh perspective of German immigrants settling in Texas in the early 1870s, as Willis deftly describes life in the Lone Star State during the Reconstructionist years. Lena is particularly likable, as a woman who wants to be viewed as attractive and feminine, but is still perfectly comfortable doing hard work. The story is period accurate, taking readers along for the adventures, risks, and still-wild freedom of Texas in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Already, the settlers speak with reverence for the story of the Alamo three decades earlier; persuasive regionalisms (“the Newnited States”) color their dialogue.

As their love deepens, Christian and Lena must consider whether they’re ready to get married and start a family and whether they’re willing to leave Richmond, where they’ve begun to put down roots. The character development at times is thin, offering limited insight into their feelings as they face the greatest changes and decisions they will in their lives. Texas Quest occasionally strays away from the main storyline to address the larger history. It will appeal to readers fascinated by Texas and the 19th century immigrant experience, which Willis dramatizes with passion and convincing detail.

Takeaway: Texas Quest is perfect for readers fascinated by the challenges immigrants faced coming to rural Texas in the late 19th century

Great for fans of: Paulette Jiles, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Téa Obreht’s Inland.

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

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The Success Trail: Learn to Win with a Marathon Runner's Mindset
Jack Perconte
This motivational self-help book builds upon the metaphorical and literal adage that "slow and steady wins the race.” Former major league baseball player and avid marathon runner Perconte offers a straight-shooting "pep talk" encouraging readers to strive for their goals and dreams even when doing so seems difficult—and even when they suspect they may fail at achieving them. Laying out step-by-step plans and always emphasizing the need to work on yourself, Perconte coaches readers by drawing on personal experience, from rising to baseball fame and later taking up marathon running, achievements that demand the discipline and constant work ethic laid out in his action steps. With a running theme of living a life with no regrets, The Success Trail is a positive guide to pushing through to become the best version of yourself, taking each day to become better, and putting yourself in competition with the person you were the day before.

With a direct and inviting style, Perconte centers most of these lessons and advice around the idea of running a marathon, contending that by approaching it—or any big dream—a step at a time instead of looking at the finish line creates a constant sense of achievement that makes grand goals seem attainable. He urges readers to celebrate all the little wins along the way, a crucial step in adopting the mindset of a winner, though he’s always frank about acknowledging that nothing worth having comes easy or without hard work and dedication.

While ideal for athletes, Pereconte’s advice can be applied to many aspects of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s overgeneralized. He addresses issues like keeping motivated in one’s “dog days,” “weathering” through bad “playing conditions,” how to bring your best on “game day” and more, inviting readers to adopt the habits of mind of a pro athlete. Readers will close the pages with a renewed sense of direction and encouragement to tackle their dreams and change their outlook and mindset.

Takeaway: A rallying self-help guide to adjusting your mindset and besting yourself each day.

Great for fans of: Marie Forleo’s Everything is Figure Outable, Jim Afremow’s The Champion’s Mind.

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

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A Message from Boo
R.G. Johansen
Johansen’s epic mystery, steeped in the flavor of Atlanta and portents of the supernatural, finds Southern homicide detective John Williams paired up with Victor Lechman, a hirsute transplant from Brooklyn’s murder squad. The case: a series of murders that suggest an evil from beyond this mortal realm, as the cops face corpses mangled by a killer of terrifying strength, whispers of demonic possession, premonitions connected to their own pasts, and phenomena that even a skeptic like John can’t explain, like apparitions from the distant American past—or why when he’s placed under hypnosis he somehow speaks Latin.

Despite the horror elements, Johansen’s mode and form is the police procedural, personal division, as both of his detectives emerge as compelling, complete characters with distinct motivations. Divorcee John’s love for his daughter powers much of the novel’s suspense, and his amusing distaste for all things New York sets up an engaging, often comic partner relationship: “John rationalized that the pollution and noise had destroyed the brain cells of every citizen who lived in that acrimonious city,” Johansen writes. Still, he’s a warm, community-minded guy who teaches self-defense classes at the YWCA. Victor, of course, has a New York cop’s sharp tongue, but as the case goes and the partners become closer, John begins to suspect something may be off with him, a tension that Johansen adeptly mines.

The mix of down-to-earth procedural and the (apparently) supernatural may not be to all readers’ tastes, and the story runs long, but Johansen mostly hits the marks of both genres: here’s vivid crime scenes, interrogations, and autopsies; dustups with the department brass; and an uneasy but potent partnership all set against a convincingly detailed Atlanta. Add two cops haunted by their pasts—and quite possibly haunted for real, in the present—and you have a thriller likely to please crime and horror buffs alike.

Takeaway: In this epic procedural, an Atlanta cop faces a new Brooklyn partner, baffling murders, and possible demonic possession.

Great for fans of: John Connolly, Mary SanGiovanni.

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

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The Lighthouse
Christopher Parker
Parker’s debut novel is a work of character-driven magical realism dealing with themes of filial love, grief, and existence in the liminal space between life and death. The story follows two young protagonists: Amy, who has recently lost her mother to a car crash, and Ryan, a young rancher who is struggling with his farm’s failing finances and his father’s failing health. The two develop a close relationship after Ryan finds Amy in the bathtub, having overdosed on sleeping pills, and saves her. While both must face their own personal troubles, they also find themselves caught up in the mystery of the town’s old lighthouse, which somehow, as a local puts it, lights “up the sky like a torch from heaven”—despite having no lamp. What follows is a genuinely surprising twist that will leave readers aching for all the characters involved.

Ryan and Amy are sympathetic characters whose grief makes them relatable, and their tender, supportive relationship is the story’s heart. Still, Parker does not shy away from highlighting the ways trauma and loss can change a person’s personality for the worse. Parker also proves adept at crafting a moody, possibly haunted milieu, as his leads live among vicious winter storms, miles of forlorn farmland, and of course the lonely lighthouse, on its “outcrop of jagged rocks,” to which Ryan and Amy find themselves drawn.

Several exciting revelations come at the novel’s end, but the beginning and the middle of the story by comparison at times lacks momentum. Some subplots are dropped or not fully realized, such as Amy’s father’s detective work. The Lighthouse is not a full-fledged fantasy, yet does contain magical and spiritual elements, which can be tricky to balance. For some readers, there may not be enough magic, and for others, there might be too much. Still, readers who follow its mysterious light will be rewarded with intriguing twists and lovable characters.

Takeaway: A mysterious lighthouse, compelling surprises, and a meditative look at moving through grief.

Great for fans of: Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, Erin A Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows.

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

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IMPRESSIONS: Short Letters
AMEYA PANDIT
In this authentically insightful treatise on “what is,” Pandit, a software engineer and father, has collected thoughts and observations on three grand topics in sections titled “On Childhood,” “On Nature,” and “On Arts.” In these sections, Pandit offers short, paragraph-length reflections, each entry illustrating a new (or recurring) subject from which might be derived some meaning. “People go at length in search of God but then there [a child] stands—a marvel and a wonder of art—carved and sculpted by one and only one—nature herself,” Pandit writes in “On Childhood.” In these bold assurances, impressions makes an implicit argument for the intuitive attainment of knowledge, that “truth we need not learn but. . . fully grasp in all our flesh and blood.”

If each entry stands as an ode to art (or children or nature) as “a source of truth,” then in these brief, poetic compositions Pandit makes appropriately definitive statements: “In all the vanity and wickedness that this world has, we witness something pure and exceptional… one that is handed down to a woman by none other than nature herself… —motherhood.” However, subjects and phrasing recur to such a degree in these vignettes or codas—Pandit’s form is singular enough that no single established term captures these rich entries—that some readers will find them redundant, especially if they read straight through rather than occasionally dip into Pandit’s stream of thought.

Whether read in short or long doses, though, the writing is rhythmic, melodic, lyrical: “poetry mends the rift, while music bridges the gulf,” Pandit notes, drawing on both. Sometimes, Pandit addresses an audience directly—“I walk. I walk a lot… I walk so I can write; I write because I have something to say…”—and in doing so gains the investment of thoughtful, patient readers invested in style and ideas. Upon reaching the end, any lingering doubts of the literary ambition of this work will have retreated.

Takeaway: In distinct style, Impressions considers the small yet profound daily experiences many of us tend to dismiss.

Great for fans of: Cleo Wade’s Where To Begin, Alexandra Elle’s After the Rain.

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

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Surreal Absurdity
Jim Lively
Lively’s second in the mystery series that kicked off with Aberrant Behavior brings back amateur detective Charles Pierce, who’s about to find himself again tangled in bizarre mysteries. Charles is starting over later in life, retired as an attorney who defended medical insurance companies’ denials of claims, after a case very nearly killed him: Aberrant Behavior found Jamie Simon, the wife of a claimant who died, attempting to poison Charles on a cruise. He’s now focusing on his passion for art in his new studio, but it doesn’t take long for a strange bearded man to turn up there and threaten Charles appear and threaten him—“So you’re the bastard who caused my family a load of trouble.” Making matters worse: Jamie the poisoner has also reappeared.

Charles and detective Gonzales, a cop trying to figure it all out, are the kind of standout characters series readers look forward to meeting again in book after book, and several others feel like they could be that, too, with clearer roles and more substantial development. This time, though, some of the cast don’t exhibit much individuality outside their story function as suspects or red herrings, which contributes to the feeling that the final revelations aren’t all that surprising.

The hook of this series—an ex-lawyer’s easy life upended by fallout from the work he did—remains compelling. Lively draws readers in with effective scene setting: a dark, tense walk when Charles is expecting to be attacked, and sequences in which characters are followed or worrying about who’s going to turn up. Less intense set pieces also have welcome detail and energy, such as the goings on at the art studio and, especially, an art gallery in full party mode. Lively’s frequent attention to wine will be fun for connoisseurs—and a distraction for non-oenophiles.

Takeaway: Mystery again comes for a retired lawyer in this sequel that will please art and wine connoisseurs.

Great for fans of: Vinnie Hansen’s Art, Wine & Bullets, Hailey Lind’s Feint of Art.

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

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The Adventures of Super C.J.
Yaba Baker
In this charming graphic novel for middle schoolers, Cameron Justus, (CJ) a near-genius boy with a hair-trigger temper, gets imbued with the power of a Lightbearer of the Universe. But that comes with one major downfall: when he reacts with anger, his power is greatly dimmed. After being suspended for punching a classmate, CJ and his dog Rex find themselves in front of the Guardians of the Universe, who praise his good heart but call out his problem with anger management. (Understandably weirded out, CJ at first tells them “I am saying no to any type of drug you guys are pushing.”) Soon, CJ and resourceful Rex, also gifted with special powers (like talking), take on an evil force with the power to control inanimate objects, leading to memorable encounters with national monuments—including the statue of a founding father who takes a classic comic book swing at CJ.

Baker deftly delivers the overarching message—that anger fuels poor choices—without sounding preachy, a balance that middle schoolers will appreciate. The snappy dialogue will tickle the funny bones of both adults and kids, especially the chatter between dog and boy. Rex’s advice on controlling anger: “Try taking deep breaths and counting to ten. That’s what I do to keep from biting you when you take forever to walk me.” Elsewhere, CJ laments, “If my Mom and Dad found out I destroyed the Lincoln Memorial AND the Jefferson Memorial, I will be grounded until I am 35.”

Charming full-color graphics from Pratyush and Rituparna Chatterjee perfectly complement the tale, drawing readers into the short but impactful story– which strikes a nice balance between the real world, with angry mothers and principals and childhood fights, and fantasy elements like talking dogs, fireballs, and giant household objects. Kids will happily consider the importance of staying calm while reading and rereading this appealing offering.

Takeaway: This middle grade graphic novel’s message about reining in anger will please superhero-minded readers of all ages.

Great for fans of: Frank Cottrell Boyce’s the Astounding Broccoli Boy, Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man.

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

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Triumph and Tragedy: The Evolution and Legacy of 20th Century War Machines
Gail W. Miller
As its title suggests, Miller’s blunt, gorgeous photographic history of twentieth century war machines surveys is as pained as it is impressive, as its parade of mighty tanks, planes, cannons, and more—all shot by the author in vivid black and white–stirs both awe at humanity’s power to create and disquiet at its zeal to destroy. “In studying this long sweep of history, one cannot help but be struck by the extreme spasms of violence and destruction that occurred in the twentieth century,” Miller notes, before considering, in several persuasive text chapters, the forces that brought about this era of “unprecedented calamity”: mass production, improved mass transit, crucial cultural and scientific developments, and, fascinatingly, the improvements in public health that allowed populations to surge.

The third book in a trilogy on twentieth century war weapons (after The Neutron's Long Shadow and Weapons of Mass Destruction), Triumph and Tragedy lays out a clear, compelling history of the development of war technology, with welcome attention paid to the political, economic, and cultural currents powering a series of international arms races before, during, and after the World Wars. Miller appreciates that war machines aren’t produced in a vacuum, and his attention to sneaky business like the self-serving relationship between Bethlehem Steel and the secretary of the U.S. Navy during the Cleveland administration is welcome and clarifying, as is his depiction of the deployment of these weapons by often reckless actors working from perceived national interests.

Miller supplements this rich material with accounts of the changing nature of war, often with telling quotes from the people who lived and died in the shadows of these machines. The star, though, is Miller’s photography, plus a host of well-selected archival images and documents. He offers a succession of marvelous photos, often beautiful and barbarous at once, the killing machines looming and unmanned, the gray bolts, treads and gun barrels mute testament to our ingenuity–and appetite for power

Takeaway: This beautiful, outraged photographic survey of twentieth century war machines will dazzle and challenge fans of military history.

Great for fans of: Weapons & Warfare of the 20th Century, David Edgerton’s Britain's War Machine.

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

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Travels Through Aqua, Green, and Blue: A Memoir
Mary E. Gregory
Poet Gregory’s bold first book offers an expansive, revealing memoir about a remarkable life. Born with a cleft lip and palate, Gregory enjoys a mostly happy childhood in Nashville in the 1980s before a deep disruption: her preacher father reveals that he is gay and leaves the family. Lacking support in the face of scandal, and exhibiting signs of mental illness, Gregory’s mother moves her and her two siblings around the country, cutting them off from their father and extended family and subjecting them to extreme poverty and neglect. Although Gregory initially wants to blend in with other people, her self-confidence and bold choices will forever set her apart.

Gregory’s relationships with her family members are central to her story, and she doesn’t shy away from their complexities, addressing flaws and imperfections with sensitivity and nuance. Her mother’s ADHD and paranoid schizophrenia constantly exacerbate the family’s pain and the struggle of scraping by, though Gregory portrays her with a balance of unvarnished honesty and deep compassion and love. She also turns that candor on herself, examining her brief adolescent drug use, her unusual marriage, and her time in therapy. Always infusing these past experiences with incisive present-day commentary, Gregory lays bare the everyday humanity of complex choices—and mistakes.

Gregory’s strong narrative voice—one chapter opens “When I was still on speed, hanging out in the living room with other degenerates on an all-nighter at my dealer’s house, I pulled out a postcard”—is enhanced by strong dialogue and a facility for capturing striking sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of her past, though at times an abundance of detail slows the storytelling. The specificity, though, conveys a strong sense of time and place as Gregory offers fascinating insight into the HIV/AIDs crisis, civil unrest in Los Angeles, and grunge-era teen malaise. Despite the extraordinary and often heartbreaking challenges that Gregory has faced, her sincerity, realism, and determination will inspire readers of all backgrounds.

Takeaway: Readers interested in mental health and coming of age in the late 20th century will appreciate this moving story of resilience and healing.

Great for fans of: Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, Tara Westover’s Educated.

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

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Discovering Twins: no secret is safe forever
Stella ter Hart
Ter Hart stuns readers with a haunting journey through family secrets in this striking debut. Part memoir and part historical fiction, ter Hart’s account offers an unforgettable mixture of anecdotes, personal memories, genealogy records, and preserved correspondence, all skillfully combined into a moving chronicle of her family’s experience of the Holocaust–a story that, she writes, “must continue to be told to all existing and future generations.” She recounts her parents’ upbringing in Holland during the second World War, as well as their later immigration to Canada, but her focus is on the Jewish family members who were lost–and those left behind.

This family tree can be challenging to track, but ter Hart’s conversational style incites readers in and transports them into the center of her family’s experiences. Her stories of “Tante Mina,” an aunt who survived multiple concentration camps after her husband turned her over to the Nazis, is spellbinding, as is the family secret that her grandfather, Giovanni Vittali, hid a fortune’s worth of valuables for Jewish friends and family through his construction company. Equally moving are ter Hart’s personal photographs, such as a reproduction of her grandmother’s star of David and a snapshot of seven-year-old Maurits, a relative who was killed at Sobibor. Throughout the account, ter Hart returns to the family’s tendency to have twins, the genealogical thread that spurred her interest in uncovering her family’s background.

While ter Hart never shies away from shocking details (at Auschwitz she notes the “still visible claw marks of human fingernails on the walls of the gas chambers”), she highlights the silver lining of stumbling across her family’s confidences–including finally being able to connect with a distant relative who survived. She leaves readers with the gut-wrenching insight “[h]ow grievous that humans, generally, still seem unable to evolve beyond being the hunter, the hunted, or the watcher,” and anyone intrigued by family histories and uncompromising historical fiction will discover a narrative to remember.

Takeaway: An unforgettable odyssey of family, overflowing with devotion, grief, and resilience.

Great for fans of: Adiva Geffen’s Surviving the Forest, David Crow’s The Pale-Faced Lie.

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

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1414º
Paul Bradley Carr
Carr’s first novel is a deep dive into the worst of Silicon Valley, told from the perspective of journalist Lou McCarthy, who has spent over half a decade covering the Valley’s billion-dollar companies, man-child founders, and their brociopathic, sexual assault-ridden culture. McCarthy now has an unprecedented opportunity to expose abuses and a serial predator at Raum, the Valley’s most highly valued company. But when Raum’s founder, Alex Wu, jumps to his own death, she finds herself mixed up in a larger plot to take down California’s tech titans, one sexually depraved CEO at a time. McCarthy must decide if she wants to stop the murderer, or maybe join them.

The narrative is fast-paced, and as a journalist who has spent 20 years covering the tech industry, Carr navigates this world with persuasive ease, his prose steeped in the local slang, jargon, and modes of thinking: “There’s no better way to understand Silicon Valley than to trace the path from feeder schools like Stanford through incubators like XXCubator, all the way to the Nasdaq,” he notes. Readers not steeped in the ins and outs of Silicon Valley may find it dense and occasionally inscrutable, and a circuitous plot at times adds to the challenge of keeping up with McCarthy. Others might not have the stomach for the novel’s frank descriptions of sexual assault.

Still, 1414º is an engaging read, with strong-willed female protagonists driving the plot and its action. With real-world news and events often serving as the building blocks, Carr creates a fictional world both similar to and scarier than the one we inhabit, all while putting his own spin on hot-button issues like the end of data privacy, the danger of online trolls, and, above all else, powerful men’s use and abuse of women. Silicon Valley aficionados, women in tech, and lovers of complex, fast-paced murder mysteries will enjoy this book, which reads as a potent critique of tech industry culture.

Takeaway:A fast-paced Silicon Valley murder mystery with a larger message of social justice.

Great for fans of: Adrian McCarthy’s Blue Screen of Death, Mark Coggins’s Vulture Capital.

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

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The Messenger: Eight Keys for Resurrecting Your Life
Mia Zachary
“Yeshua went again into the region of Yehuda and across the Jordan,” Zachary writes in a typical line from this atypical retelling of key incidents from the Gospels. But she adds, “He took his disciples with him and three Marys walked with him: his mother, his sister, and his beloved companion.” The “beloved companion” is Mary Magdalene, that most contested of Biblical figures, called Maryam in this radically inclusive account and treated with reverent respect by Yeshua, who trusts her to “preach about The Kingdom and to heal the sick.” Drawing from the Gospels, other early Christian texts, and translations of the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita, Zachary’s vision of the life, death, teachings, and resurrection of Yeshua is both deeply researched and deeply personal.

Zachary notes, in an inviting preface, that she hopes that reading this new version of the most familiar (and fought over) of tales will prove a “perspective-shifting experience” for readers. She acknowledges that there’s no record establishing the precise relationship between Yeshua and Maryam, but concludes they must have been close friends, together embodying the “necessary balance of sacred masculine and divine feminine energies.” That balance guides Zachary, who alternates between masculine and feminine pronouns for God and has Yeshua address disciple Shimon’s distaste for Maryam’s prominence among the disciples who “fish for people.”

Zachary sources most lines of her retelling in ancient texts, combining Christian beliefs with other traditions, emphasizing light, rebirth, and knowing the self as a route to healing. (An appendix spells out the subtitle’s “keys for resurrecting your life.”) A spiritual healer herself, she preserves the healing miracles, though her take on the loaves and fishes story suggests Yeshua as a good manager rather than a creator of food. She numbers the lines, offers copious explanations of familiar and unfamiliar terms, and places the words of God in blue text. Readers looking to blend Christian teachings with other spiritual traditions will find much to ponder.

Takeaway: A vivid, deeply researched retelling of key moments of the Gospels, woven through with elements of other spiritual traditions.

Great for fans of: Thomas Jefferson’s Jefferson Bible, Elaine Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels.

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

Click here for more about The Messenger
Iceapelago 2091
Peter Brennan
Brennan’s near-future dystopian thriller portrays an Ireland shattered by environmental catastrophe into 30 islands where small groups of survivors struggle with weather, dwindling supplies, and governance issues. The Commander, ruler of this "Iceapelago," struggles with his responsibilities and a sometimes contentious relationship with local councils—the "Sixes" and sheriffs. An impending storm serves as a catalyst for violence against the current leadership, while other residents have their own agendas, especially Ruth Henry, who manages the Iceapelago's essential drone fleet, and Rory, a sheriff with a chip on his shoulder.

Brennan, who has a background in climate studies, effectively shows how individuals adapt to new, shocking situations. Rory's "army boots were removed from a corpse at the time of the flood without a second thought," and the boats no longer have life jackets: "life had little value." Occasionally, the point of view switches to wild animals, especially the arctic foxes, who are also struggling, a pivot that grants an especially rich perspective on the environmental calamity, despite interrupting the main narrative. In fact, the story feels crowded at times, with too many characters and plot lines to gain a deep sense for any of them, but the glimpses are engaging, and each story moves at a swift pace.

The most engrossing aspect of this apocalyptic adventure is Brennan's vision of how humans may organize themselves in a dystopian society. He has meticulously mapped out a future, as shown when the local Six offers Rory the sheriff's job, and we see a community that runs with a curious—and plausible—mix of democracy and commonsense oligarchy. But Brennan doesn’t shy away from the potential abuses: as the rulers become more desperate, they become more dictatorial, meting out swift and violent justice. Indeed, the book offers reasons for both hope and despair—and a message of our environmental future that will resonate long after the final page is read.

Takeaway: Sci-fi and climate fiction fans will relish this richly detailed—and all-too-possible—dystopian actioner.

Great for fans of: Diane Cook’s The New Wilderness, M. R. Carey’s Ramparts Trilogy.

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

Click here for more about Iceapelago 2091
Scinan Legacy: C. 1-9
Kathy Blackledge Pickel
Pickel opens her debut fantasy series with a fresh, powerful hook: Thanks to King Wodan’s quest to possess all knowledge, the Nine Realms have stagnated, entering an era marked by “perpetual lack of creativity and invention”—new ideas and significant change are literally impossible. Amusingly, most denizens of the worlds ruled by Wodan haven’t noticed this 25 years later. As Queen Frija and the seers of the Order of the Tjetajat search the Realms for a solution, four young people in the realm of Midangard find themselves on the cusp of adulthood and adult responsibilities with little inkling that they’ll soon be swept up in the fate of the Realms themselves.

The series stands out for its author’s dedication to “specific neurodiverse reading comforts.” Pickel notes that she’s telling this story over multiple books but with consistent chapter numbers and pagination. Thinking of the hefty Scinan Legacy as the first nine chapters of a longer book rather than as a standalone might help readers who find the pacing slow even for epic fantasy. These pages are devoted to friendship and world-building, but of the most inviting sort. In that same preface Pickel promises that she has crafted the novel for readers who prefer “expanded descriptions of characters’ emotions and motivations.” So these characters are thoroughly, engagingly drawn, at times explained to the point of redundancy.

The Realms, too, are presented with welcoming imagination. Pickel guides readers through this world as her her quartet of likely heroes-to-be--three young men and one young woman, a seer accompanied by a wonderful shape-shifting pal called a pucca—tour a sort of fantasy Worlds Fair, lingering in pavilions dedicated to the many sharply drawn cultures. The plot picks up 200 pages in, when the two chief protagonists connect at last—a connection that might shake the Realms. Fantasy fans comfortable with the cozy pace will be eager for the next (literal) chapter.

Takeaway: This new epic fantasy series prioritizes friendship, character, and clarity as it reveals a fascinating world gone stagnant.

Great for fans of:Robin Hobb, Katherine Kurtz.

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

Click here for more about Scinan Legacy
Hemingway's Daughter
Christine M. Whitehead
Whitehead (The Rage of Plum Blossoms) delivers an immersive fictional imagining of the life of the fictional Finn Hemingway, a daughter of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley. When Finn leaves her Chicago home to attend a Connecticut boarding school at the age of 14, intent on eventually becoming a lawyer, she falls in love with Nick Armstrong, a relationship soon tested when he enlists in the Marines during the second World War while carries through with her quest for a legal career, attending Smith College and eventually enrolling in law school. Finn does not live with her famous father, but they correspond regularly, and she spends treasured time with him when not in school, as she tries to understand his fractured relationships with women.

The heart of Whitehead’s richly emotional narrative is Finn’s journey of self-discovery and her desire to forge her own path in the shadow of her father’s notoriety. Hemingway’s Daughter draws on the storied author’s history to address controversies surrounding his novels—and once-pressing allegations that he supported communism—adding realism and credibility to the conceit of an imagined daughter. Whitehead expertly develops Finn, interspersing (invented) letters from her father and (actual) quotes from his books into the text. The letters, playfully reminiscent of Hemingway’s famous style, find him offering support for his daughter while noting the vital role that writing plays in his life. Finn’s complexity comes through as she fights against boarding school bullying and addresses how her physical appearance and height run contrary to societal standards.

Whitehead emphasizes her similarities to her father—namely, their mutual struggles with alcoholism and its potential to overshadow their brilliance. Finn’s innermost feelings about her father will resonate most with readers, as she closes this compelling narrative: “He was flawed and fabulous, mean-spirited bully and most gracious of men, driven wordsmith and drunken raconteur, braggart and humble man, international icon and Midwestern boy, all of it. It was all true.”

Takeaway: Ernest Hemingway’s fictional daughter comes to life in a compelling and nuanced story of love, inheritance, and making your own way.

Great for fans of: Erika Robuck’s Hemingway’s Girl, Naomi Wood’s Mrs. Hemingway

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

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With' rd.
Brad Ramsey
Across five sections of short, often unnamed poems, Ramsey’s searing and personal collection grapples with the existence of being a poet before, during, and after making meaning through art. Sometimes, the speakers here ruminate on self-doubt (“It is not that I can’t write, for I have written. Or / Was that some other infinite time?...”), and others lay bare the ways that mental illness can disrupt the creative process: “I long to write the words I once with ease composed, / To celebrate my life in poetry and prose, / But now the world is dark and luminous within, / I scratch the surface only and cannot get within.

Ramsey experiments with voice, point of view, and form throughout this slim collection. Some poems make use of dialogue, bringing the ruminations outside of the prevailing interiority. A few use blocks of text and a meditative tone to illustrate a scene, while others edge toward song structures, with rhythmic refrains and repeated lines. Ramsey often employs strong first-person narration, evoking the feeling of someone recording their deepest insecurities in a journal, but he also offers second person reassurances, perhaps to the reader, perhaps to the speaker: “Meaning falls from the sky at such alarming rates, / You are a human being, my love, you are a human / being…”

At times the many untitled poems can seem to bleed into each other as one long-form narration or meant to be enjoyed in sharp, separate bursts. In true postmodern tradition, Ramsey presents critiques of “the...twenty-first century / wasted mind” in conversation with larger philosophical questions of the self. In Ramsey’s poetic world, no one problem is more legitimate than the next, rather compounding in how they impact the artist. He addresses the canon, then eschews it: “no longer do I aspire to the golden gate of poetry - / to the muses, Keats, Wordsworth, Collins, or Shelly, / but a poor muse, a humble muse will do, / who can be in the society of wretch.” Instead, he finds his own way.

Takeaway: The varied forms, styles, and themes throughout Ramsey’s poetry illuminate the universal nature of loss and sadness.

Great for fans of: Charles Olson, Campbell McGrath.

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

Click here for more about With' rd.

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