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The Satisfied Introvert: A Memoir About Finding Safety in an Extroverted World
BENJAMIN PLUMB
Calling this globe-trotting memoir a “wakeup call for all introverts,” Plumb, the only introvert in an extrovert family, shares his story of living a life according to a “winning recipe” of methodical, “stepwise processes” and “projecting more sociability” than he actually felt, never letting his “authentic self” out. But, after earning his Harvard MBA and returning from the Vietnam War, Plumb began to find this coping mechanism unnatural and limiting—"a major barrier to attaining a feeling of safety.” The Satisfied Introvert argues that “You cannot be a satisfied introvert until you feel secure as an introvert.

Drawing on his own experience and travels, and writing with welcome candor about feelings of doubt and disappointment, Plumb makes the case that introverts—which he defines as anyone “who prefers settings that are calm and have minimal external stimulation” can escape over-reliance on static recipes like the one that continually failed to bring him romantic success and proved little help in many military and business situations. An assured storyteller, Plumb recounts the incidents (including terrifying moments in Vietnam) that drove him to crucial insights about how our minds create our own interpretations about what’s we’re experiencing and the possibility of unifying what the mind focuses on with what’s actually happening.

These and other breakthroughs rise naturally from Plumb’s narrative, which builds to them organically rather than dole them out as self-help lessons. That adds to the value of The Satisfied Introvert: showing the work of arriving at realizations endows them with persuasive gravitas, though the book’s length and occasional repetitiveness—reflective of life itself—means that later realizations don’t hit with the same power. But, beyond their well-earned moments of clarity, later chapters continually demonstrate that escaping an entrenched formula of habit is a lifetime challenge—as is discovering (and re-discovering) how to be your truest self.

Takeaway: An illuminating memoir about an introvert’s journey toward living as his truest self, with strong practical advice.

Great for fans of: Holley Gerth’s The Powerful Purpose of Introverts, Jenn Granneman’s The Secret Lives of Introverts.

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

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The Orientation of Dylan Woodger: A Central New York Crime Story
Chiuba E Obele
Obele delivers an entertaining web of twists and turns in this New York-based organized crime thriller. After his mother drops him off in Utica, New York, to begin his freshman year at Hamilton College, Dylan Woodger wakes up alone in a cold wooded area with no idea where he is or how he got there. Bound, confused, and suffering from a suspected gunshot wound, Dylan has more questions than answers when he realizes years have passed since his last memory. Worse, he discovers he’s been implicated in stealing three million dollars from a dangerous Mafia boss, Big Max. Desperate to save his life and reconnect with his past, Dylan plunges into Utica’s criminal underworld in search of stolen money, the truth, and–most of all–revenge.

Mystery, intrigue, and confusion arise from the opening chapters as Dylan first questions his mother’s source of income before turning to the mystery of his own identity and how he became a wanted man. Readers are thrust into a rough Central New York as Obele provides a vivid description of Utica’s crumbling infrastructure and spiraling economy. The city’s seedy past and dismal present provides an appropriate backdrop for many dark themes, such as racism and organized crime. A chapter depicting torture and sexual assault in the first part of the story may give some readers pause, but Dylan’s resilience and plan for revenge quickly changes the tone, while propelling the story forward.

Obele has crafted an enticing tale that will keep readers guessing until the end. Dylan blurs the line between protagonist and antagonist as he lies, cheats, and kills in search of the truth. His involvement with white supremacist organizations and other criminal elements risk making his character unlikeable, but his redeeming qualities and the urgency of his story are enough to keep readers engaged in this high-stakes, unpredictable crime thriller.

Takeaway: Fans of gritty, organized crime thrillers will appreciate this story’s layers of mystery and intrigue.

Great for fans of: Dennis Lehane, Ashley & JaQuavis’s The Cartel Series

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

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YOU ARE THE KEY: 7 Powerful Ways To Unlock The Life You Desire
Meera Jhogasundram
Jhogasundram debuts with a compact, inviting treatise on purposeful living crafted to introduce readers to self-awareness, self-acceptance, the practice of gratitude, and other avenues toward fulfillment. “You are the magician who can make your wishes come true,” she writes, urging readers to stop making excuses–like being too old to start over–that might interfere with accomplishing their true desires. Emphasizing unconditional self-acceptance and the need for individuality, Jhogasundram offers some basic steps to overcome negative thoughts and boost intuition to successfully pursue your “heart’s calling.” Above all, she encourages readers to forgive themselves for past mistakes and learn how to believe in their own unlimited potential.

According to Jhogasundram, too many lives are spent trying to make others happy and conforming to unrealistic expectations. Instead, she teaches readers to reframe their anxieties and disappointments by understanding they can only control their own reactions to external events–and after they have done their best in any situation, the last recourse is to believe the Universe (her flexible term for a greater power) will bring their desires to fruition. Jhogasundram suggests that readers practice setting healthy boundaries to free up energy for pursuing their own interests, advising “you teach people how to treat you by the way you treat yourself.”

Much of this guide feels elemental, but readers new to the concept of conscious living will appreciate the straightforward counsel, particularly the sections on how to increase everyday gratitude and why to expect resistance when breaking with traditional ways of measuring success. Jhogasundram writes that making conscious decisions should start with small steps, such as paying attention to the sounds in our environment or relishing daily routines, reminding us throughout that no experience should ever be wasted. For those seeking a more meaningful existence, this preparatory guide will give them a good starting point.

Takeaway: This compact guide will give readers a base for making conscious decisions and pursuing their true desires.

Great for fans of: Drew Gerald’s Why You’re Still Stuck, Mallory Ervin’s Living Fully.

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

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Eudora Space Kid: The Lobster Tale
David Horn
Eudora Space Kid is back in the second of Horn’s comical interstellar adventure series, this time on a mission to rescue lobsters in danger of becoming dinner at the New Year’s Grand Dinner Buffet. Eudora Jenkins, a third grader who lives on the AstroLiner spaceship Athena, is enthusiastically reckless when it comes to creating fun, and her favorite activities involve anything that will get her to the ship’s bridge–where one day she hopes to have her own seat as the chief engineer. In the meantime, Eudora is focused on pranking the grown-ups on board, until she discovers that they plan to consume her beloved lobsters from her father’s laboratory.

To save the doomed crustaceans—some of whom she has aptly named Red, Bluey, and Mister Claw—Eudora drags along her best friend, Arnold, on a secret expedition. But in classic Eudora style, the two run into a serious snag along the way when enemy Qlaxons threaten to attack the Athena, and Eudora just happens to be in the vicinity when their ominous message comes through. While it might seem far fetched to build an intergalactic spectacle around lobsters, these amusing storylines come together in a satisfying manner, and Horn’s cheeky style pairs nicely with Eudora’s penchant for outlandish action to make this playful space yarn a winner. (The pun of the subtitle captures the book’s spirit.)

Hoover’s black and white illustrations lend extra comedy, especially her depiction of the wide-eyed and shell-shocked lobsters as they watch the drama unfolding around them from the safety of Eudora’s backpack. The feel-good ending will please readers who value tidy conclusions and animal life, and despite the comic mayhem Eudora, as always, exemplifies the message of aiming big and holding true to your beliefs. Younger readers will appreciate the antics and also the space-themed word search at the end.

Takeaway: Eudora returns to save animals aboard her family’s spaceship in this entertaining caper.

Great for fans of: R.L. Ullman’s Epic Zero series, Mike Nawrocki’s Squirreled Away.

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

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Great Work: Do What Matters Most Without Sacrificing Everything Else
Amanda Crowell, PhD
Targeted to anyone who finds themselves wondering “what do I do next,” Crowell’s inviting guide helps turn overcommitted, exhausted readers into productive and engaged dream-followers. Combining personal anecdotes, concrete examples, and step- instructions, this guide creates a clear and actionable strategy for those who wish to find deeper meaning in their lives and careers. The first step, of course, is identifying what each individual’s personal “great work” might be, from writing a novel to becoming a doctor to raising their children. Once a person’s great work is identified, they are instructed on how to reduce their daily burdens through things like setting boundaries, refusing or delegating non-critical tasks, and moving personal projects that don’t contribute to the overall objective at this time to “medium-term parking.”

The writing is clear and easy to follow, the tone expert and encouraging without being condescending, and the reasoning behind her methods sound and persuasive as Crowell guides readers through creating concrete goals, making an action plan, and how to identify and embrace their own personal work styles and habits. Though she emphasizes that “great works” do not have to be related to jobs or even what we might traditionally think of as “productive,” her examples tend to focus on those areas. Still, her coaching should be applicable to most enterprises, as she offers lessons about facing and conquering self-doubt, procrastination, and other forms of “defensive failure” in favor of taking action and learning from the inevitable “productive failures” that result.

Readers seeking motivation, direction in life, or even simply a starting point for their ambitions may find this clear, practical guide a helpful place to start. She frequently references the journals she has published to complement this guide, though Great Work itself is sufficient for those who are motivated and determined to put her plans into action in their own lives.

Takeaway: A clear, inviting self-help guide for finding and achieving your “great work.”

Great for fans of: Erica Wernick’s Meant for This, Bob Goff’s Dream Big.

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

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Children of the Dying Hearth
Martin R. Nelson
In this marathon first installment of his Annals of Tessian series, Nelson interweaves several threads in the realms of Tesseris, a once-united empire that has been shattered by ancient forces. According to legend, the Imperial Dynasty of Kai’loth once ruled Tesseris peacefully, until the empire fell and its rulers were all but destroyed. Now the scattered lands are controlled by five pentarchs in the capital city of Crux, a place renowned for its corruption–but rumors are spreading of an heir to the old dynasty, and the Order of Drake Knights is tasked with finding him and restoring him to power.

Nelson’s saga is a tangled web of deception, betrayal, and bravery that will keep readers guessing until the very end. He delivers a satisfyingly diverse cast that is sure to please fantasy fans: elf brothers Qel and Qerym know the secrets of the ancient stories, Pentarch Damien has just been reelected and is desperately trying to root out a traitor in the Crux, and a band of independent warriors has stumbled onto an heir with unknown powers. As they try to deliver him alive to one of the last known Ancients—who can train him to fulfill his destiny—their every move is threatened by a terrifying power that is consuming entire villages in its wake. Nelson keeps the tension high: a brutal pirate dead set on revenge inflicts horror at every turn, and his connection to the quest is a mystery until the cliffhanger ending.

Despite this epic fantasy’s sheer volume of names and pages, Nelson manages to keep readers engaged with a well-paced and easy-to-follow plot. He expertly sets the stage for future stories and reveals just enough about each character to pique the interest of readers who enjoy intricate narratives and immersive worldbuilding–and the heroic quest at the novel’s heart proves an inviting way to transport readers through an abundance of extraordinary settings. This elaborate meld of fable and fantasy entertains and surprises.

Takeaway: An immersive fantasy epic uniting magical creatures and humans in a quest to restore an ancient empire.

Great for fans of: Steven Erikson, Peter A. Flannery’s Battle Mage.

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

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A Thing or Two About the Game
Richard Paik
Paik's inspiring debut novel is an assured look at how and why it’s imperative to change traditional definitions of failure and success. The narrative centers on Brad, a former biotech researcher drifting after resigning from his job, where he refused to acquiesce to shady political maneuvers. His ex-wife Stephanie asks him to coach a softball team for 11 and 12-year-old girls as a favor, and despite initially being resistant, Brad eventually agrees. Bantering and battling with his frenemy Mike all while trying to prove something to himself, Brad adapts to his role quickly, teaching the team detailed drills and improving their performance.

As Brad deals with all sorts of outside interference, like intrusive parents and hypercompetitive opposing coaches, his team progresses and bonds with each other. When the season ends, every member takes something important from the experience—none more so than Brad and Mike. Without hammering it home too obviously, Paik makes restrained use of Brad's gardening hobby as a metaphor for how he's helping his players grow, and the politics he encounters as a coach tellingly resembles the nonsense he had to endure as a researcher. On the downside, Mike is slightly undercooked as a secondary protagonist: he's not in the book long enough to be fully developed, but he still takes up a lot of space.

The girls are sometimes presented as a bit of a mystery that Brad has to crack, though Paik wisely focuses on how they relate to their coach and each other in the context of competitive gameplay and their developing chemistry during practices. The emotional payoff in the climax is well-earned, and Paik successfully makes readers feel invested in every character. The theme of taking a chance and getting out of one's comfort zone is reinforced throughout the story, culminating in plot changes that come across as smooth and natural. This is a fascinating exercise in exploring camaraderie and hard work without a particular reward in mind.

Takeaway: This rich character study of a man dealing with a mid-life crisis through coaching is full of small, resonant details.

Great for fans of: Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs, Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance.

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

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Z is for Zapatazo
Ruben Rivera
This incisive and accomplished debut collection offers compelling testimony of the poet’s experience of a tumultuous 1960s barrio childhood and a life spent “in the spaces between what America says it is and what it is.” Ruben’s vivid memory poems celebrate family and culture as often as edge into laments—“Gone the laughter, I’m talking Puerto Rican laughter, the world series of laughter, now only faint bells in the distant steeple of my memory,” he writes in the vital title piece, an alphabet-primer that contemplates the gulf that separates “idyllic” depictions of mid-20th century American treatment of children with the more brutal reality, where “teachers in schools who looked just like Robert Young and Barbara Billingsley blistered our tender behinds with every device imaginable.”

The centerpiece “Vatos,” meanwhile, considers Ruben’s own youthful inclination toward the toughness it takes to survive in such a punishing culture, toward being “vatos locos,” or glue-sniffing “kids who couldn’t hurt the man, but we could hurt our own.” Touchingly, it’s a friend’s deep engagement with film and books that introduces to young Ruben the possibility of living for more than “mercurial omerta” and “ineffectual violence”—an epiphany he holds to even after the duo suffer lifelong injuries in an assault by police officers. Ruben writes with exquisite tenderness of what it takes to transcend the options a racist society offers. In the standout “Miss Rice,” a poem about a teacher who just stopped showing up one day, he presents the roles everyone played as elemental: “You were perfect as spring rain. We/the hard ground that sewered you to sea.”

Ruben finds refuge in art and imagination, from Middle Earth and Marvel comics to the contested figures he memorably celebrates in “Pulp Fiction Women,” queens and pirates who “composed your own justice like poets, and lured men/to your dens, your chambers and altars and all-women empires.” That spirit of claiming one’s place in a world where power’s inequitably distributed pulses throughout these arresting pieces.

Takeaway: An incisive collection exploring the gulf between American promise and its reality.

Great for fans of: Jimmy Baca, ¡Manteca! An Anthology of Afro-Latin@ Poets.

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

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Of Dreams and Angels
Jared Morrison
In Morrison’s heartfelt debut romance, successful Canadian wealth manager Joe Riley dreams every night that he inhabits the mind of a woman he’s never met: Claire, a beautiful British newsmagazine editor. In his sleep, he witnesses what she sees, experiences her memories, and senses her emotions, but he cannot access a secret that haunts her every move. Increasingly bothered by these prescient but limited visions, he travels to London to find Claire, and a precious love story quickly unfurls. Neither her complicated family situation nor living on different continents can slow the connection, until Claire reveals the secret that will test their mutual devotion.

From the first page of this sweet, sensitive romance, Morrison poses a profound question: Can finding true love be more important than one’s carefully plotted career goals? As Joe develops a new understanding of love’s significance, readers are given an inside view of his warring thoughts, which infuses the text with a philosophical, albeit at times meandering tone. Although Joe’s character is a stock career-driven cynic (who disavowed love after a youthful heartbreak) and the plot centers on a familiar conceit — taking a leap of faith to pursue a magical connection to the ideal woman — his loyalty to Claire renders him lovable.

Despite its length, this novel flies by, and Morrison’s writing is intelligent without pretension, graced by regular witticisms. Readers are immersed in dreamy romance as the couple sightsee in London, hike amid the Canadian Rockies, and stay in a luxurious hotel, alongside picturesque phrasing that illuminates their journey: “They walked the corridors of the fabled building, ate late brunches in its various dining rooms, danced in the ballroom to music only they could hear.” Of Dreams and Angels is an enjoyable, easy-to-read romance that probes the weight and meaning of our relationships.

Takeaway: A heartfelt, philosophical romance about a predestined love affair.

Great for fans of: Josie Silver’s The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, Sarah Rees Brennan’s Unspoken.

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

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Half-Told Truths
Amy O. Lewis
The second installment in Lewis’s accomplished Colorado Skies thriller series, Half-Told Truths finds Kim Jackson on the run after being framed for murder, now working as a part-time caregiver and bookkeeper in small-town Colorado as she tries to make a new life for herself. Lena Fallon, the woman Kim is caring for, is a cantankerous ex-cop with her own secrets who was “left disabled and discredited” in the line of duty. Lena and Kim have a difficult relationship, but Lena convinces Kim to help figure out who injured her and why. As Kim gets closer to the truth, Lena demands she stop when the investigation starts to put innocent people at risk. Meanwhile, a mysterious new arrival in town, Jaye Dewey, complicates matters and may be the key to everything.

Lewis has crafted a tight, fast-paced plot that will keep readers engaged and guessing. The details of the investigation are carefully laid out and well-described, with themes of regret and trauma woven neatly throughout the narrative. Lena and Kim are both compelling characters with a tense and layered dynamic that’s engaging enough to power the story; their dialogue often has a cranky, comic edge. Lena starts to have concerns about Kim’s motivations, and buried secrets begin to emerge–still, despite their intriguing relationship, the two women at times seem too quick to veer from caring about each other and sharing common goals to being completely at odds, sometimes within the same chapter.

As it develops its memorable small-town community, Half-Told Truths presents a large cast to keep track of, and some readers may find the exposition heavy. Incorporating more levity could have added interesting texture to the narrative, but overall, this is an excellent, thoughtful genre read that will appeal to fans of character-driven thrillers, with a conclusion that leaves the door enticingly open for future installments.

Takeaway: An ex-cop and a woman on the run forge an unlikely alliance in this lively, thoughtful thriller.

Great for fans of: Harlan Coben’s Tell No One, Linwood Barclay’s The Accident.

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

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The Acolyte of Apocalypse
Jeff Gonsalves
Gonsalves’s second in the Subnorm series paints a gruesome picture of a post-apocalyptic future where those considered subhuman are fair game for unpleasant government practices. One subnorm, Chuck Anderssen, is considered non-threatening but useful to those in power due to his telepathy gift. Closely monitored at work and his home in an Anomaly Camp, Chuck works to keep his nephew, Elliott, under government radar—but when Elliott loses control and his reality-altering powers are revealed, he is taken in for testing. Chuck risks everything to help Elliott escape to a safe mutant colony, along with the help of other subnorms and hired mercenaries.

Gonsalves proves adept at keeping readers on edge—even uncomfortable— with unexpected twists and jolts of graphic action, all set against the ugliness of a vividly realized post-apocalyptic world that no one would want to live in. Subnorms are tortured to force their abilities to the surface, in the hopes of grooming them into super-soldiers, though if they are deemed too dangerous the government gives them radiation treatment to remove their psychic powers. Gonsalves’s descriptions are haunting, and life outside the government buildings isn’t much better—the land is mostly dead, and continual radiation damages everything in sight. Once the travelers cross the “Risk Zone” in their efforts to survive, they encounter unspeakable trauma.

Gonsalves’s characters exhibit intricate personalities and complicated lives, not breaking down into simple binaries of good and evil. Moral dilemmas abound, and even those who strive to do the right thing regularly question what that is. Gonsalves’s background in pediatric oncology shines in his creation of child characters who are rich in complexity and deal with their harsh realities in unique ways, and fans of dark, dystopian fantasy will root for them to find their happy ending. This harrowing story will stick with readers long after the last page.

Takeaway: A nightmarish, post-apocalyptic journey of one man who is willing to risk it all to save his powerfully gifted nephew.

Great for fans of: C.A. Fletcher’s A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, William B. Forstchen’s One Second After.

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

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Crude Ambition
Patricia Hunt Holmes
Holmes draws on her decades of legal practice in public finance in her second novel (after Searching for Pilar), a thriller that offers an insightful look at the male-dominated world of Texas corporate law. Corporate attorney Carolyn Page, an associate at the prestigious Edwards and Harrison law firm, is invited to a work party at a beach home, and awakens during the night after a day of too much drinking to discover third-year law student Laura Petrillo bruised, bloody, and unconscious—and her male colleagues more determined to cover up Laura’s injuries than to help her. Carolyn drives Laura to the nearest hospital, but she disappears the next day, leaving Carolyn searching for her whereabouts.

As the story leaps forward, Holmes expertly details the inner workings of a powerful Texas corporate law firm, revealing how women had to fight to secure equal pay and promotions compared to their male counterparts. Nine years later, Laura has reinvented and is investigating complaints about the financial impropriety of JBH Energy, a company represented by Edwards and Harrison, giving her the upper hand against the men who assaulted her. Carolyn, finally promoted to partner, is caught in the middle when she finds out JBH has been drilling on her family’s land and polluting a nearby creek. Holmes’ descriptions of the work and milieu are chillingly realistic, drawing readers into the high stakes world of corporate law.

Holmes develops her characters with the same quick confidence with which she captures readers’ attention in the opening scenes. Carolyn’s backstory is intriguing—complicated by growing up under the shadow of her mother’s suicide and her own drive to achieve professional success—and Holmes deftly reveals her inner turmoil at wanting to help Laura but fearing it will derail her career. She faces tough choices as the novel progresses and intensifies, and Holmes ties it all up with a gripping conclusion.

Takeaway: A gripping thriller of women corporate attorneys in Texas, facing a chance for revenge.

Great for fans of: John Grisham’s The Judge’s List, Allen Eskens’s The Stolen hours.

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

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Billy the Bully: From the AddyBee123 Book Collection
Sharon and Kierra Linen
Addy is being bullied in school by a new boy named Billy, who tells her that she looks funny and trips her in the hallway. As Addy is trying to navigate Billy’s bullying and practice with her friends for a school talent show with a $500 cash prize, something happens to Billy and Addy must decide how to treat someone who has only ever been mean to her, and shows her friends how to rise above and do the right thing. Told in a straightforward and simple writing style and tone, accompanied by equally simple digital illustrations, Billy the Bully is a cautionary tale that encourages kids to see the best in other people, even bullies.

Though this book is intended for a very young audience and has an encouraging message of empathy and openness, the narrative simplicity diminishes the emotional complexity of the kinds of upsetting young people often face. Addy is moved to help and even befriend her bully after her mother tells her the old truism that bullies often are acting out of their own insecurities. That certainly can be true, but as most school kids can attest bullying–and bullies themselves–are a much more variegated topic than this one example allows for. Still, a scene of Addy trying to reconcile her mother’s warmth with the cruelty of some kids is touching, and the diverse cast of kids and reminder of everyone’s humanity are a welcome plus.

The digital illustrations burst with color and engaging faces, though they’re often static; their visual simplicity may be useful for the practical matter of helping young not-quite readers understand the text. That text is not appealingly laid out, and a lack of paragraph breaks makes dialogue read awkwardly. Ultimately a straightforward tale, Billy the Bully puts a likably sunny face on familiar advice and is sure to drive conversation about a persistent problem.

Takeaway: Young readers will enjoy this simple story and illustrations about bullying and friendship.

Great for fans of: Patty Lovell’s Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, Tracy Ludwig’s My Secret Bully.

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

The Hip Shot
Michael L Miller
At the heart of Miller’s debut thriller is a lifelong friendship among four men–and the urgent question just how far would you go to help someone you care about who is in need? Mervin Hayes and his friends Perch, Boot, and Skeeter grew up together in the southern town of Preston, South Carolina. As men in their sixties, these one-time good-‘ol-boys now spend their time golfing and enjoying a beer, but their lives get flipped upside down when Skeeter goes missing. To add to the mystery, he isn’t the only one in town unaccounted for. Carol, a local physician, has also vanished. It’s up to Mervin and his friends to get to reveal the dark truths behind all the Southern charm.

The case is engaging, told in crisp, voice-drive prose. Miller invests much energy into his characters, letting them visit and ruminate, always with rich attention to backgrounds, individual voices, and golf games. Readers looking for a swift thriller rather than a chance to get to know Miller’s people may find such intricate detail–covering why Mervin drifted from the church over his life, or his favorite songs back in the day–slows the pace, but the portrait of stripmalls, country clubs, and crime are evocative and revealing, especially about changing mores. The diverse cast includes strong women such as Sergeant Barbara Lowrie, a member of the Lumbee Indigenous tribe, and Hazel Owens, a former punk musician and Carol’s lover; the depiction of the lead hero, Mervin, isn’t always flattering.

Miller dives into the complex “yin and yang” of the South by offering insight into the geographical beauty and southern charm of an easygoing atmosphere in contrast to the historical racism, social unrest, and political tension. There are thrilling moments of suspense and fascinating twists. Readers looking for a Southern mystery with a dash of danger will enjoy this thriller.

Takeaway: Fans of Southern mysteries revolving around life-long friendships will find enjoyment in this enticing thriller.

Great for fans of: Karin Slaughter, J.W. Becton.

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

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Monroe Doctrine: Volume I
James Rosone and Miranda Watson
Rosone & Watson's (Battlefield Ukraine) sprawling, high-tech war thriller imagines a scenario where a bellicose China employs advanced artificial intelligence in an effort to dominate the world. This first volume of a larger series emphasizes exacting details of ocean and jungle combat, with point-of-view officers, soldiers, and bureaucrats around the world. The granular focus on individuals as part of larger military and diplomatic operations sheds light on how many and what kind of people it takes to both run a government and start a war. Rosone and Watson also give attention to the implications of data mining, biological warfare, and computer surveillance, set against the backdrop of countries vying for ultimate power.

There's no question that Rosone and Watson did their research, and their ability to create a gripping series of scenarios makes this story almost relentlessly fast-paced despite the book’s pronounced length. In their effort to give names and faces for all levels of operations, they include too many characters to keep track of without notes. The narrative proves most engaging when it slows down and concentrates on specific individuals like the Chinese programmer Ma "Daniel" Yong, who designed most of the supercomputer Jade Dragon. These human moments make the conflict feel meaningful and less like a wargame what-if/ exercise–Dan is complicated, unpredictable, arrogant, and vulnerable, though he gets swept aside in the novel’s second half.

Some characters never transcend cliché, but the authors’ goal is to give readers an understanding of the gritty and frequently exciting details of military strategy, as well as some of the human cost involved, all while exploring the ramifications of facing an opponent who can accurately predict its adversaries’ every move. Readers interested in speculative warfare fiction will appreciate the level of detail and thought given to individual missions, as well as the significant tension powering the narrative.

Takeaway: A sprawling and detailed World War III epic that focuses on digital and biological warfare–and a powerful A.I.

Great for fans of: Steven Konkoly’s Deep Sleep, Michael C. Grumley’s Breakthrough.

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

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Geodysseus
Joe Costanzo
Costanzo’s (De Anima(L)) latest offers suspenseful science fiction in vintage style. It’s the 1950s, and while the US is locked in the Cold War and the Space Race, Frank Sartori of the Atomic Energy Commission is sent to investigate several sets of coordinates found in a strange pod that fell from the sky. Frank, along with surveyor Bob “Bobcat” Babcock and reporter Kate Wilson, finds debris in the wreckage that defies any technological know-how of the age, setting off an investigation that uncovers answers but leaves him with the biggest question of all—to what end?

Frank searches for clues about the mysterious pod’s origins while struggling with the ghosts of his past, namely, a mysterious “uncle” who claimed he and Sartori were sent by otherworldly “Beings” as part of an experiment. In the course of his inquiries, he uncovers others who might be like himself, including Asumi, whose baffling past left her orphaned and traumatized in an internment camp. The story takes a while to get going,but once enough clues have dropped the suspense is powerful, though Costanzo doesn’t avoid the feeling of the infodump when explaining the Beings, and readers might find the ending overly ambiguous.

The 1950s backdrop helps build the slow tension, as the cast works within both the limits of technology and the geopolitical reality. However, the heart of the story is in its characters and their emotional depths: Frank’s rational mind is tempered by compassion for a lost soul who reminds him of his own past, Bobcat’s blunt demeanor comes with sharp intelligence and a fierce desire for justice, and inquisitive Kate holds her own as a character with agency, sometimes helping and sometimes at odds with Frank. Readers will be left questioning the possibility of life in other parts of the universe as well as our own purpose on Earth.

Takeaway: This ‘50s SF mystery offers slow-burning suspense, an otherworldly journey, and compelling characters.

Great for fans of: Douglas E. Richards’s Unidentified, Michael C. Grumley’s The Desert of Glass.

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

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