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Siciliana: A Novel
Carlo Treviso
Treviso’s engaging historical novel of revolution and revenge, his accomplished debut, deepens the Puzo-fied public perception of Sicily and its history while offering the vivid, often bloody story of the Sicilian Vespers, the epochal 13th century uprising of the island kingdom’s people—and its stiletto-mastering cavaleri warriors—against the French king and his Angevin army. At the tale’s heart is Aetna, the young daughter of one of those knights, her name pointedly suggesting Mount Etna, a Sicilian volcano ready, like the island’s oppressed people, to blow. After bearing witness to tragic violence in her childhood, Aetna at age 20 becomes the living proof of her father’s words: “We are not fearful, because we know that as Sicilians, no matter where we are thrown, we will always land standing.”

This epic telling of a story too rarely told is powered by that zeal, as Treviso vaults ahead in time, from Aetna’s childhood to the hours before Vespers–a chapter-heading timestamps add a thriller’s momentum to a novel deeply concerned with character, history, and the immersive dramatization of long-gone ways of life—but also enduring truths about courage, loyalty, and honor. Treviso proves adept at presenting vicars and generals, cathedrals and markets and a dazzling cave, and the horror and glory of fighting for what matters, as Aetna of the volcanic spirit faces overwhelming odds—and connects ever more deeply to her home and its people.

The action is crisp, clear, brutal, and frequent, and Treviso’s not shy about terror and torture: General Rochefort, a memorable villain, relies so often on a neck vise the he keeps it cinched to his belt. Readers who prefer historical fiction with less extravagant violence may be jolted by the stabbings and gaping wounds, but those who prefer martial adventure and tales of revolution, regardless of genre, will find much here to relish, tremble at, and in the end cheer.

Takeaway: This vigorous retelling of a 13th century Sicilian revolution will dazzle fans of martial historical fiction.

Great for fans of: Ernest K. Gann’s Masada, Bernard Cornwell.

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

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A Someday Courtesan: A Memoir in Stories
Isadora OBoto
Haven’s intimate prequel-memoir to My Whorizontal Life: An Escort’s Tale offers a sort of origin story, telling a story of growing up female in America, where “all men are wolves” and a desire for sex and love is made tricky by the two sometimes seeming mutually exclusive. This volume covers the author’s life from body exploration with a friend at seven, to navigating youthful popularity, sexuality, and connection, up to her freshman college year at seventeen, as she takes steps to achieve her dream of being an actress. The author’s sex work is covered in the earlier book, though some of the stories she shares here are frank, including accounts of assault, rape, and abortion.

A Someday Courtesan traces an emotional arc from Haven’s often difficult early experiences with men, plus her urge toward people-pleasing, to the later satisifaction she finds in sex work. The connection might come through more clearly if the earlier chapters, told in a youthful voice, offered more introspection and reflection. Later chapters have more in-the-moment realness but lack much introspection, obligating readers to step into underage trauma without a strong sense of why they are doing so.

The story of Haven’s secret relationship with an older man, and her inability to relate to her peers after his death, has a fairytale mood that adult readers may find disturbing but emotionally impactful. Sections concerning the author’s relationship to acting follow the book’s most thoughtful growth path: her adoration of a successful peer, her willingness to suspend disbelief about the older “agent” taking nudes of her in his apartment, her success in using her physicality in a well-received comic role, and the final vignette of the book, in which she discovers how to embody a character through tapping into her own experience, carry readers along her path of self-discovery.

Takeaway: A sex worker reflects on her earliest years, experiences with love and sex, and discovery of who she is.

Great for fans of: Melissa Febos’s Girlhood, Sita Kaylin’s Anything but a Wasted Life.

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

Click here for more about A Someday Courtesan
Where's My Shell?
Leah Ingledew
Ingledew’s (Meowl!) latest is a charming story of a newly born turtle searching for the perfect shell. Upon hatching, a tiny turtle discovers that his shell is missing. He wants to go into the ocean, where he hopes to make new friends, but has to find a shell before he can safely make the trip. As he sets out on the journey, he meets all manner of sea creatures along the way—including a pelican, seal, and a hermit crab—who give him a hand in his search. Driven by dialogue and accompanied by colorful and immersive digital illustrations, Where’s My Shell? is a playful and appealing story sure to delight younger readers just beginning their own travels into the world.

What tiny turtle–that’s how he’s identified in the book–discovers in this simple journey is the value of friendship. His new acquaintances devote themselves to picking out potential shells, none of which seem to be the right fit: the seal suggests a small pebble, the pelican offers a piece of seaweed, and a beach mouse thinks he’s hit paydirt until his choice turns out to be a hermit crab. Some readers may find the straightforward plot and repeated action to be predictive, but younger fans will be comforted by the storyline’s familiarity.

Ingledew’s endearing pictures of tiny turtle trying to navigate his surroundings without his iconic shell will easily entertain young readers, and the story’s abundance of unique dialogue makes it a perfect read-aloud choice. Readers will get to learn new words and see them in action, such as the “huffy hermit crab” ultimately “identifying with the tiny turtle’s predicament” or the “peckish pelican” who routinely announces the turtle’s plight to the other creatures. Ingledew’s attention to detail and cheerfully expressive illustrations make this engaging story one that animal lovers will be eager to revisit.

Takeaway: This heartwarming tale of a tiny turtle finding his shell will engage and encourage young readers.

Great for fans of: Kelly Tills’s Chicks Don’t Eat Candy, Serena Lane Ferrari’s Clumsy Nelson.

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

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The Magical Guide to Bliss: Daily Keys to Unlock Your Dreams, Spirit & Inner Bliss
Meg Nocero
This inviting guide from Nocero (Butterfly Awakens) embeds a crucial insight about transformation into its very form: changing a life takes daily work, over time. So, urging readers to accept that bliss is not an abstract concept or passing feeling but an attainable state, Nocero lays out a year’s worth of inspiration, with 366 daily entries offering reflective essays, inspirational quotes, prompts for meditation, all tied to the calendar year. (But it’s not limited to any particular year—the guide never ties dates to days of the week.) A “Magical Key to Bliss” at the end of each entry nudges readers forward on establishing visions, setting and achieving goals, or other essential steps to living the life one dreams of—and affecting positive change, both in one’s realm and the world at large.

“Set the example; choose one good thing to do for another today,” Nocero advises on March 1, after a thoughtful, paragraph-length essay on leading by example and an on-point quotation from the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca. Each day of the year occasions a full page of similar content, highlighted by Nocero’s engaging, original reflections, which tend to be warm, even insistent affirmations that celebrate wandering, living in the moment, aspiring to new heights, and more: “The sun has risen,” she writes for April 20th, “and so will you as you ascend the spiral staircase of life, ready to take in its majesty one step at a time. Now go!”

Nocero offers a wealth of inspirational content keyed to the passages of a year. It can be repetitious if you plow straight through, but taken as it’s intended, read over weeks and months, her distinctive voice sets this guide apart, reading first as a coach but then, as the days pass, as something closer to a conscience, encouraging and exhorting, insisting that now is the time to dare to do great things.

Takeaway: A full year’s worth of fresh, enthusiastic inspiration packed into an inviting guide.

Great for fans of: Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment, Julia Cameron.

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

Click here for more about The Magical Guide to Bliss
Tipani Walker and the Nightmare Knot
Jessica Crichton
Crichton (Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine) weaves a spellbinding tale of overcoming in her latest youth fantasy. Twelve-year-old Tipani Walker lives in the worst part of town and is habitually late to school, where she is so mercilessly teased by other kids that each day feels like a struggle to survive. What her teachers and peers don’t know is that Tipani’s once-loving family has been ripped apart: her father is in a years-long coma, and her mother is left fighting a debilitating addiction. Tipani spends her time holed away in a treehouse tying knots–a favorite pastime of her father’s that takes her mind off reality–until one day she discovers those skills are a token of her own hidden magical powers.

Enchantment abounds in this meaningful story, and Crichton, who writes prose of hypnotic power, sprinkles in some fascinating physics as well. When Tipani stumbles into a store with a curious owner named Piper Weaversage, a First Degree Dream Fae, she learns that not only are other dimensions real, but she is a secret Weaver–a special human charged with protecting the tapestry that forms the universe. Tipani launches headfirst into her new abilities, including time and space travel, in hopes that they will help restore her family, but the journey is more dangerous than she ever imagined. While she fights to preserve the world, she is pulled into a surreal nightmare where she is forced to face her own inner demons along the way.

Rich with metaphor and double meaning, this novel is weightier than it might seem–though some readers may feel lost during accounts of Tipani’s lucid dreams. But the lesson on facing fears and persevering at all costs is crystal clear, and Crichton proves adept at interlacing painful reality with ethereal tones. Any readers who have felt powerless to change traumatic situations will find an escape here.

Takeaway: This powerful adventure of childhood self-discovery blends physics, fantasy, and the fabric of existence.

Great for fans of: Dani Resh’s Compass to Vinland, Michelle Madow’s Elementals Academy.

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

Click here for more about Tipani Walker and the Nightmare Knot
Mighty Mara: PIcture book
Carina Ho, Jesse Byrd
In their enthusiastic and inspiring picture book for young children, Ho and Byrd encourage kids to let their differences shine. The story introduces a little girl named Mara who lives in a bland village called Sametown, where everyone “grills the same foods, chants the same chants, [and] plays the same games.” Colorful, confident, and ebullient, Mara is not content to blend in with the crowd. Determined to meet friends who also dare to stand out, she decides to perform a dance in the school talent show, where, hilariously, everyone else has chosen to do a magic routine.

Not until she is taking the stage at the talent show do readers learn that her differences go beyond her preferences for vibrant clothing–Mara uses a wheelchair to get around. Cleverly concealing this bit of information until near the story’s end highlights the fact that Mara is just as capable as her peers. Even though her method of self-expression is unlike anything Sametown has ever seen, she earns huge cheers at the talent show and public recognition for her skills. Mara’s journey also draws attention to some of the challenges individuals with disabilities face in accessing the same opportunities and spaces as those who are able-bodied.

Ho’s real-life experiences inform Mara’s fictional ones, as Ho also uses a wheelchair while traveling, dancing, and making music, often receiving the same surprised reactions as Mara. Monica Paola Rodriguez’s lively illustrations breathe even more life into Mara’s tale, showing her smiling and wearing rainbow-colored clothes amid the mostly brown and gray Sametown backdrop, where even the balloons are khaki. (The people, though, are diverse in background, despite their shared sameness.) The book ends with a series of questions to help parents or teachers start discussions with children about fitting in, accessibility, and finding their talents, making this not only a delightful story but also a valuable educational tool.

Takeaway: The inspiring story of a young girl who livens up Sametown with vibrant clothing, dancing, and self-expression.

Great for fans of: Amy Webb’s When Charley Met Emma, Anitra Rowe Schulte’s Dancing with Daddy.

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

Click here for more about Mighty Mara
Dismantling the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil Within so Love Can Thrive: Learning to Love
Rene Lafaut
Lafaut’s (Contrasting Humility and Pride) comprehensive examination of the Christian faith as it relates to overcoming “sin strongholds” advocates the teachings of Jesus Christ to increase faith and replace unhealthy behaviors with universal love for others. Lafaut’s focus is on breaking down sin, guilt, fear, and dishonesty—which he terms “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” in a nod to the biblical account of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden—in order to bear “good fruit” such as peace, kindness, and self-control. To that end, he lays out steps for believers to dismantle sin in their lives by confessing it, repenting of harmful thoughts and behaviors, and learning how to love without judgment.

Lafaut draws from his own experiences to provide realistic examples to readers, offering charts to illustrate concepts like the “Sin-Conduit Structure” and the ramifications of unresolved sin and candidly detailing his own process for exploring and conquering bad habits. He addresses heavyweights like fear and pride, cautioning readers to see through these behaviors to the underlying issues, explaining that conceit is born out of a desire for belonging and arguing that fear becomes unproductive when it causes self-reliance instead of depending on God to solve problems. Lafaut also offers hope for readers who persevere through the hard work–he describes the end result as a “tree of life” that will eventually result in positive traits like joy and faithfulness.

The overarching goal according to Lafaut is “to do to others what we would want done to us,” and he frequently cautions readers to avoid being “moral policemen” in favor of increasing tolerance and empathy. Prayer is his recommended currency to work through unhealthy traits and build a more intimate spiritual life. This is not light reading, but it’s written with passion and clarity. Christians struggling to come to terms with personal faults will find plenty to digest.

Takeaway: Christian readers will appreciate this comprehensive examination of how to overcome sin and unhealthy habits.

Great for fans of: John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Jerry Bridges’s Respectable Sins.

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

Portraits of Childfree Wealth: 26 stories about how being Childfree impacts your life, wealth, and finances.
Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP®
Financial planner Zigmont demystifies the economic reality faced by childless couples in the U.S., offering 26 portraits of childless couples from diverse backgrounds and demonstrating, among other general findings, that most of his subjects do not regret being “Childfree” (the caps are his)—but also that not having kids does not necessarily make couples feel wealthy. “I did find that Childfree people tend to have less debt than the average American,” he notes, pointing out that childless couples’ finances tend to be simpler, and that their lives allow time to pursue “Time, Money, and Freedom.”

The individual portraits of couples, the result of interviews and surveys, dig into the specifics of childless adult-ing, teasing out the varied ways couples arrange their lives and roles. Zigmont, part of a childless couple himself, sees a tendency—shared in his own relationship—among his subjects to live what he calls the ““Gardener and Rose approach,” in which one partner, the Gardener, creates the stable environment for the other “to bloom.” Examples abound in his interviews: Michelle, 26, faced was encouraged by her husband to quit her “toxic” job. The couple crunched the numbers, made some sacrifices, identified some new income sources, arranged for health insurance—and Michelle embraced her freedom.

Zigmont probes his subjects on their financial stability, retirement plans, debt and employment situations, and the choices—or circumstances—that led them to the “Childfree Life.” Their accounts are frank and eye-opening, certain to be illuminating for anyone living, considering, or finding themselves facing a similar lifestyle. Some cite climate change or school shootings as reasons not to have children, and Zigmont sees a relationship between experiencing childhood poverty and choosing to go childless. Asked if she has any regrets, 28 year-old Autumn responds “Hell no, no. None. Zero nada.” Such open discussions of this topic remain rare and valuable.

Takeaway: Revealing portraits of 26 childless couples, their financial lives, and their lack of regrets.

Great for fans of: Amy Blackstone’s Childfree by Choice, Evan Carney’s Retirement Planning for Singles and Childless Couples.

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

Click here for more about Portraits of Childfree Wealth
Silverman
K. Wergland
This exuberant novel by Wergland plumbs life’s tricky questions with lots of heart. When his past and present collide, Ben Silverman must grapple with the future of his music and his marriage. Ben has reunited with his band Da Funk for a comeback show at Manhattan’s Roseland Ballroom. When he’s offered a record deal to bring Da Funk back into the spotlight, he turns it down, determined to move on with a more financially secure life. His second marriage is crumbling and threatens to topple once an old flame reignites a passion Ben hasn’t felt in years. Meanwhile, a hectic accounting job keeps him from fully devoting himself to his band.

Wergland’s sharp characterizations will capture the attention of readers of character-driven fiction. Ben’s indecisiveness on how to handle relationships with his wife Ingrid and his lover Alison highlights his own sense of unfulfillment, and Wergland’s deft portrait of Ingrid, the beleaguered mother and neglected wife, stirs sympathy. Silverman wraps its very human drama in a story that’s also convincing when it comes to the art and business of music, with Ben’s connection to his musical legacy given equal weight with his personal struggles. Wergland reveals a good ear for indie and rap: Da Funk’s gritty, sometimes tentative lyrics reflect a band re-establishing themselves as adult artists. Ben’s connection to his musical legacy is given equal weight as his personal struggles as he tries to reconcile his new life with his past.

Wergland tempers the heavy human drama with welcome comic touches. Baby Zack, the cause of Ingrid and Ben’s sexual frustrations, is known as the “Immobilizer,” and Ben wonders distractedly, if he turns out not to be present his child’s development, who will teach Zack about “Mozart, the Marx Brothers, the expansion of the cosmos.” With refreshing wit and intimacy, Wergland creates a nuanced portrait of a family on the brink of collapse.

Takeaway: An intimate portrait of a musician torn between past and present makes for a funny, heartfelt novel.

Great for fans of: Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Maybe In Another Life.

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

Click here for more about Silverman
The Wolf's Den : Book One of the Three Brothers Trilogy
Elizabeth R. Jensen
Jensen’s debut, the first in a trilogy, infuses the early education of three noble brothers training to be medieval knights with fantasy and superhero elements. The Wolfensberger boys are just starting to understand their abilities, and slowly coming to accept what adults around them already see–they possess a collective power that cannot be ignored. Their grandfather Burchard Wolfensberger, known simply as the Wolf, is a fearsome warrior, military strategist, and advisor to King Renard of Etria. While his mage son, Kenric, uses magic to boost crop yields, the Wolf’s grandsons have been raised to follow in his footsteps and become knights.

It’s the summer of 600, and 10-year-old Borus leaves home to attend the Trinity School for Knights. Kassandros (known as Kass) is devastated to lose his cherished older brother, even though he will be joining Borus next year, but at seven, Julien (called Jules) is more focused on his pony and undeniable horse skills. Jensen emphasizes individual achievement by setting the brothers on different paths: Borus becomes a master swordsman, Kass accompanies the Wolf to the remote Southwind Fort and bravely employs his archery skills when they’re ambushed by an invading force, and Jules shocks his parents when his magic manifests.

Jensen’s story is rich with details of chivalric combat, whether it’s rigorous training exercises created by inventive instructors or bloody skirmishes that shatter the Etrian peace, as well as plenty of magic to please fantasy fans. Jules is a rarity, a weather mage who can manipulate the forces of nature, and his father tries to ground him with a cautionary tale of an ancestor whose abilities drained her of life. Heroes are more stoic than emotional in this tale, and their actions are emphasized over their words, as Jensen explores the formative years of the valiant Wolfensberger brothers as a quest for knowledge and experience, in preparation of what they’ll face in future volumes.

Takeaway: More sword than sorcery, this adventure focuses on the rituals of knighthood and coming-of-age as training.

Great for fans of: John Flanagan’s The Ruins of Gorlan, Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and Pedro Urvi’s The Traitor’s Son.

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

Click here for more about The Wolf's Den
Another Hysterical Female: mostly funny stories to fix us
Kristin Giese
Giese’s brash and breezy second book ties amusing anecdotes from her life with lessons she’s learned en route to becoming a confident, empowered individual. Written with a stand-up’s snap and love of a punchline, many of the recollections lean towards the funny side, with familial adventures and medical mishaps taking the lead, followed by life-learning moments in adulthood, such as utilizing Best Buy’s recycling program to dispose of the most intimate of electronic devices. (She named her Magic Wand “Riggs.”)

Giese manages to showcase the love, practicality, and failures of her parents and grandparents without becoming overly sentimental or cruel. She occasionally strays into more serious stories, including sharing a neighborly curiosity that becomes a friendship with a young girl battling a medical condition that limits her ability to go out and make friends. Giese recounts these anecdotes with honesty and welcome flashes of wisdom, and many will feel relatable to readers, possibly as slightly more comic–even melodramatic–versions of incidents in their own lives. Even the Magic Wand story builds to an insight about not feeling shame in yourself and owning your own narrative: “Ownership means we’re in charge of choosing how we’re going to behave and how we’re going to feel,” she notes.

Sharing the stories is where Giese really shines, although the book as a whole might resonate with more power if the stories had been told in chronological order or if some were developed in greater depth. At times, the connections between the comic storytelling and the life lessons can be tenuous, as when an incident with her mother, the family car, and her father’s feet being in an unfortunate spot gets connected to thoughts on accepting people for who they are and not expecting them to change to meet your expectations. Still, these comic anecdotes of the author’s adventures and mishaps will have readers laughing, nodding, and commiserating.

Takeaway: These brash comic anecdotes offer laughs and insight from the perspective of a woman unafraid to be herself.

Great for fans of: Ali Wong’s Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life, Laurie Notaro’s I Love Everybody.

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

Click here for more about Another Hysterical Female
Relentless: Homeless Teen to Achieving the Entrepreneur Dream
Natasha Miller
In this inspiring memoir, Miller chronicles her life from experiencing homelessness as a teen with an abusive mother to becoming a successful musician, businesswoman, and loving parent. Growing up in Des Moines in a dysfunctional home with two younger brothers and a father she describes “stuck in the same storm as the rest of us,” Miller endured threats of stabbing, shooting, and psychiatric wards from her mother. For Christmas 1987, when she was 16, Miller did not receive a gift—instead she was kicked out of her house and placed in a local shelter for runaways. From there on, Miller, a talented violinist, was on her own.

Writing with clarity and insight, Miller acknowledges how circumstances like hers can foster despair and poverty, but her story becomes a showcase of resilience, courage, the drive to succeed–and ultimately, in the touching final pages, of empathy, as she strives to understand her mother. After landing musical scholarships, she married young and moved to California, where her daughter Bennett was born. It wasn’t all sunshine—Miller’s first marriage ended, followed by other heartbreaks—but she made the most of her musical gifts, performing standards and her own compositions, gaining famous fans such as Clint Eastwood and singer Frederica Von Stade.

Ultimately, Miller triumphed, founding a multi-million-dollar events firm and a record label, while befriending and recording with singer/songwriter Bobby Sharp. After winning Entrepreneur Magazine accolades, she participated in programs at MIT and Harvard. She reports these accolades with humility, and presents her journey as a coach might, reminding readers that it’s not victories that matter most–it’s “struggle and fight, the lessons we take from our scars.” Eventually, as she works “to break the chain of torment and abuse,” Miller even meets again with her mother. Readers eager for inspiration will be moved by Miller’s rise over adversity, a true testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Takeaway: Miller’s inner strength and grit will stir hope in readers of inspirational memoirs.

Great for fans of: Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called It, Lu Li’s Dear Female Founder.

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

Click here for more about Relentless
DIVISIBLE MAN
Howard Seaborne
Seaborne kicks off his ambitious Divisible Man series—which currently encompasses nine novels and a clutch of short stories—with this high-flying tale in which charter pilot Will Stewart survives, miraculously, the in-flight explosion of a plane, an incident that, waking up in the hospital after crashing to Earth sans cockpit, he can’t recall. His mind clouded by morphine, Stewart seems to recall his own body defying gravity, and even catches himself floating out of his hospital bed—surely, he thinks, a consequence of the medication he’s being administered by a medical team that seems to have some secrets. Soon, though, the truth becomes clear: Stewart has powers, to float in defiance of physics and to turn invisible, abilities he painstakingly learns to manipulate in a series of clever scenes.

Seaborne’s crisp prose, playful dialogue, and mastery of technical details of flight distinguish the story, which proves especially engaging in its first half. The disorientation of a hospital stay is adeptly described and exploited for suspense, and Stewart’s first real solo flight (aided by model airplane parts) is a legitimate thrill, a surprising burst of inventive fun that captures—not for Divisible Man’s last time—the dazzling surge of a flying dream. The action set pieces, especially flying scenes, remain strong throughout the novel, but the eventual conflict (involving a conspiracy plot that entails kidnapping, pedophilia, and opioids) that tests Stewart and his new abilities proves familiar.

Still, this is a striking and original start to a series, buoyed by fresh and vivid depictions of extra-human powers and a clutch of memorably drawn characters, like Stewart’s wife, Andy, a cop comfortable with a glock and capable of shutting people down with “a 40-millimeter anti-aircraft glance.” Even more than flight, that relationship—and that crack prose—powers this thriller to a satisfying climax that sets up more to come.

Takeaway: This high-flying thriller sets a pilot in flight against crime—without need of a plane.

Great for fans of: Dale Brown, Ward Larsen.

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

Click here for more about DIVISIBLE MAN
The Vegetable Grows and the Lion Roars: My Peace Corps Service
Gary R. Lindberg
Lindberg recounts his heartening West African adventures in the Peace Corps of the 1960s in this memoir that illuminates the service experiences of American volunteers in the Ivory Coast, running health and agricultural education programs and working to build schools and gardens, while also offering insights into the place, people, culture, and era. Powered by Kennedy-esque optimism, Lindberg—known as “Monsieur Gary” in the Ivory Coast—taught and led residents of the Gagnoa region in the cultivation of jardins scolaires, or “school gardens,” a trial project created to encourage the eating of vegetables. Lindberg’s efforts emphasized local favorites tomatoes, okra, and eggplant.

Drawing on diary entries and his own copious photos, Lindberg’s account provides a clear account of Peace Corps life and efforts, circa 1966, from training to teaching to implementation of ambitious plans, with upbeat acknowledgements of the challenges he faced (such as getting families to maintain their planche gardens) and cultural differences he encountered. (Ivorians, he notes, “thought Americans chewed gum all the time, carried guns everywhere, wore blue jeans, spoke in local dialects instead of English, and threw away cars instead of repairing them.”) Lindberg writes with warmth and empathy for the villagers he worked with, never condescending and always taking efforts to understand their perspectives.

Readers eager to understand the nuts-and-bolts specifics of early Peace Corps missions, and how volunteers adapted their aims and practices for specific populations, will find this a valuable contribution to the public record. Also memorable: Lindberg’s account of one colleague’s desire to protest the Vietnam War during a West African visit from Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Lindberg writes more to inform than with a storyteller’s sense of drama, though photos both illustrate the text and demonstrate a good eye for the arresting image, and for many readers what’s most engaging here will be Lindberg’s quick prose portraits of the people he meets.

Takeaway: This striking memoir offers a clear view of Peace Corps life and efforts in the Ivory Coast of the mid-60s.

Great for fans of: Peter Hessler’s River Town, Sarah Erdman’s Nine Hills to Nambonkaha.

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

The Secrets of the Kings
Nora Delzelle
In Delzelle’s solid debut supernatural thriller, a modern-day chemist inherits an ancient Egyptian relic that attracts a millennia-long vendetta amongst deities. Alex Kincaid is baffled by a letter she receives from a stranger named Amos Fowler, who bequeathed her a box of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Drawn to a golden funerary mask that she learns depicts Horus, the Egyptian god of order, Alex puts it on–only to find the mask turns invisible and imbues her with fighting skills and near invulnerability. Before she knows it, Alex is using those skills to fight the dark forces that have started hunting her.

Delzelle provides a squad of well-constructed characters who both help and hinder Alex as she navigates her mysterious and magical predicament. Chase, her blind date, mugs her, then hits her with a car, but claims he is being controlled by someone else–though his attack is particularly traumatizing given the devastating car accident Alex endured three years before, causing her to undergo a cornea implant. In her dreams, Alex meets the soul of the deceased Fowler, who tells her she is now the new mask bearer for Horus and must dedicate herself to the defense of order. But she is warned against the servants of Set, the god of chaos, who has been at war with Horus for over four thousand years: “from the very start, order and chaos were locked in a struggle for supremacy.” Helping Alex are her carousing best friend Emily, who seems to disappear when Alex needs her most, protective co-worker Lynn, and handsome co-worker Gabriel.

While the setup is familiar, this polished story’s mythology is teased out with steady pacing, crisp prose, and a variety of twists that will please readers of urban fantasy–especially those drawn to strong female protagonists–right up until the satisfying ending.

Takeaway: This polished supernatural thriller finds a young chemist caught up in a battle between the ancient Egyptian pantheon.

Great for fans of: Ilona Andrews’s Magic Bites, R.M. Schultz’s Eve of the Pharaoh.

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

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SEGMENT OF ONE
Michael Grigsby
Grigsby uses his career in marketing analytics to craft an intriguing scenario where a retired marketing executive named Nick Vanderoff aids in tracking down a serial killer. Vanderoff is a loner whose lack of sensitivity alienated him from his daughter and put him on suspension from his job as a teacher. However, he bonds with his granddaughter Holly, a 12-year-old math genius struggling to fit in after skipping two grades. The serial killer is a math teacher named David Bar David who lost his pregnant wife to a school shooting–and takes his bloody revenge by way of a particular spiral mathematical sequence called the golden phi. He works with his pedophile brother Solomon and calls himself the Gun Crier.

When Nick's statistical models correctly predict David’s target sites, the killer retaliates by kidnapping Holly. There's an unspoken similarity between Nick and David in that they both are more comfortable with numbers than people, but, ultimately, Nick fighting for his granddaughter's life and his efforts to awkwardly connect with others sets him apart from the psychotically broken David. The accounts of Nick’s efforts to predict and understand the killer are compelling, and when Grigsby focuses on him, Holly, and David, the narrative is lively and tense.

When the narrative veers off into a burgeoning romance for Nick or the many other side characters, the dialogue feels less confident and the characterization two-dimensional, such as the FBI agent of Chinese descent who speaks in broken English. The danger to Holly is often uncomfortably lurid, serving to obscure the motivations and reactions of a villain who otherwise has a pained, interesting backstory. Still, the procedural aspects of the narrative are unique thanks to their reliance on statistical modeling, and much of the character-building goes above and beyond in creating fully-realized heroes and villains.

Takeaway: This surprising, occasionally lurid thriller finds a retiree tracking a killer through marketing analytics.

Great for fans of: Guillermo Martinez’s The Oxford Murders, John Sandford’s Rules of Prey.

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

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