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TWO DAYS AND ONE SUITCASE: The True Story of One Family's Choice of Friendship and Goodwill During World War II
Anne E Neuberger and Helen Hannan Parra
Based on a true story, this novel details the horrors of Japanese Internment Camps in the United States through the eyes of a young child. At the tail-end of World War II, twelve-year-old Helen Hannan’s father takes a job as a lawyer with the War Relocation Authority, representing Japanese-Americans who are reentering society after their imprisonment at the hands of the U.S. government. Helen and her siblings are stunned to discover that the camps exist and then horrified by the conditions. Soon, the family is stationed at the Camp Granada War Relocation Center, in Colorado, where Helen is impressed by the resilience and faith of the interned citizens. After the camps close, with the spirit of injustice still in the air, Helen takes it upon herself to document the true conditions of the centers. The result is this lightly fictionalized novel, published nearly 75 years later.

Aimed at young readers, Two Days and One Suitcase frankly explores disturbing aspects of this history (the lack of privacy in the camps, the mandated communal bathrooms, the government’s stripping of safety and sovereignty from its citizens), Neuberger and Parra don’t delve too deeply into the specific atrocities. The result is successful—age appropriate without shying away from the harsh realities. The authors include some overtly educational elements, with many chapters focused on vocabulary expansion, an introduction that lays out the historical basics, and an appendix.

The story follows a young woman’s observations over a short time period, meaning readers should not expect traditional plot progression, and the lack of a distinct beginning, middle, and end may be discouraging to young readers.There is very little in-depth focus on anyone but Helen and her sister–her father’s work, though interesting, remains in the background. But this is a fast-moving, thoughtful book, one that finds a young woman driven to memorialize a blemish on American history—and offering an education to readers today.

Takeaway: This true story, following a young woman’s drive to document injustice at a Japanese internment camp, is a staunch reminder to stand up to prejudice.

Great for fans of: Matt Faulkner’s Gaijin, Barry Denenberg’s The Journal of Ben Uchida.

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

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Good Night Phobos, Good Night Deimos
Tim Baird
This whimsical science fiction picture book parodies the classic Goodnight Moon, following a bedtime routine— this time, of a settler on Mars. Dedicated to the kids on Earth who are “destined to explore beyond our planetary gravity well,” Baird (The Dragon in the Whites) bids good night to some very specific Martian objects: a rover, a tardigrade, a cube of rehydrated meat. With colorful digital illustrations and a cheeky, humorous bent, this book will appeal to aspiring astronauts and their parents alike. Equal parts droll and relaxing, Baird’s scientific riff on an old standby is a nice addition to the nighttime canon.

Despite its early grade length and style, Baird’s language may be too advanced for a young audience. Words like “communicator,” “rehydrated,” “tardigrade,” and “rover” may require some extra explanation, and even the most precocious children (and their parents!) are unlikely to know that a “hab” is an artificial Martian living habitat. But despite (and perhaps because of) the book’s sophistication, Baird also provides a unique educational opportunity for kids interested in space travel. The storyline is simple to follow without being simplistic, and the illustrations provide helpful cartoons of interplanetary settings and items.

Some of the written structure and rhymes in the book are imperfect (for example, iron and Saturn). But the illustrations are colorful, clean, and professional, offering welcome, eye-catching renditions of Martian landscape, many of those complex terms, and the hab’s fascinating interior. The pages without illustration are near blank, which is jarring; if anything, even more emphasis on art would elevate the work. The drawings aren’t always well-integrated into the e-book (some of the landscape style pages are cut off at odd places), but the design on the close-ups is flawless. This is a well-drawn, well-executed, humorous book with a scientific spin, perfect for children interested in space exploration or general STEM.

Takeaway: This update of a beloved bedtime story combines humor, science, and interplanetary travel, perfect for budding astronauts.

Great for fans of: Tony Mitton and Ant Parker’s Roaring Rockets, Clayton Anderson’s Letters from Space.

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

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Fate of the Unwilling
Amy L Wheeler
This twisty psychological thriller and love story—which jumps between Gig Harbor, Washington, and New York City—follows abused amnesiac Daphne as her memory slowly comes back, revealing a dark conspiracy that makes her doubt the motives of everyone she knows, even as the police doubt her. Daphne ends up in the care of Silas Wayland, who appears to have a job in the intelligence community. Silas's brother Max is the detective investigating the case, and the pair share a damaging secret from their past. In fact, everyone has a secret and a backstory, and Daphne's returning knowledge—and records she may have hidden away—remain a threat to people in her still-hidden personal and work lives.

Lee brings to life the many damaged characters with lavish prose: Daphne is described as "relying on the push-up bra and lace panties to build a costume of the confident woman she wanted to be." She does an especially good job with Silas, who is deaf, depicting his disability with humor and sensitivity. The burgeoning love affair between Silas and Daphne, as they attempt to cope with each other's wounds, comes across as real. The bond stands in stark contrast to the relationships Daphne had in her old life. It becomes increasingly clear that she’s now a different person. Not all of the subplots are neatly resolved, and the plotting occasionally relies too much on coincidence. However, the reemergence of Daphne's personality meshes beautifully with the solution to the mystery of her disappearance.

Indeed, it's the merger of plot and personality that gives this mystery its special flavor. Lee springs one surprise after another, leading readers to believe they have a handle on who Daphne is, only to deftly pull the rug from under them. The richly drawn characters—good and bad—all get what they deserve in the end, as the slyly surprising thriller comes to an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion.

Takeaway: Fans of romance and subtle psychological mysteries alike will find much to love in this thriller.

Great for fans of: Gillian Flynn, Mary Higgins Clark.

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

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Pearls of Wisdom from Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz : Torah Giant, Preacher & Kabbalist
Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz
Translated into English for the first time by Rabbi Yacov Barber, this collection makes available to new audiences the thinking of one of the great Torah scholars, the 18th century Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz. The writings are divided into two parts: one focusing on the Torah specifically, and the other exploring more general topics, including Shabbat, exile, and the Messianic Era. Each chapter examines verses in-depth, analyzing language choice, studying potential discrepancies, and artfully answering lingering questions. As a preeminent Halachic authority, a revered Talmudist, Kabbalist, and prolific author, this accessible compendium of Eybeshitz’s work adds fascinating new layers to study for those who are interested in Jewish tradition, Jewish law, and world history.

In the Talmudic tradition, much of this extensive work involves questioning (and subsequently resolving) specific apparent inconsistencies of language and studying apparent abnormalities in texts and holiday traditions (“Why does the Torah use the word walk in connection with mitzvot that are illogical?”). Despite this collection’s appealing title, these teachings are not for those unacquainted with the Talmud or for readers seeking an introduction to Judaism or general spiritual and religious advice. They are complex, and to fully appreciate Eybeshitz’s seforim, readers will need a solid grasp on canonical Jewish thought, specific Torah verses, and modern-day Jewish scholarship.

However, for those who are interested in deep, textual study of the Torah and its teachings, this is a welcome addition to the canon, translated with clarity and coherence. Eybeshitz pulls from a variety of sources and covers topics as widespread as Creation, Shabbat, and the coming of the Messiah with deft, logical prose. The style is in the traditional question-and-answer: In each short section, Eybeshitz poses queries based on earlier commentary or the Torah itself and, several dazzling paragraphs later, arrives at a resolution ready to be considered and debated by scholars of today or centuries from now.

Takeaway: A great Talmudist and Kabbalist of the 18th century, translated into English at last.

Great for fans of: John H. Walton & J. Harvey Walton’s The Lost World of the Torah, Mark Gerson’s The Telling.

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

Birth Order
Audrey Miller
Miller’s engaging debut takes readers on a turbulent ride of secrets and betrayal set against a backdrop of royal intrigue. Clementine Sloane, newly wed to August, the Prince of Wales, is pregnant with twins and due to deliver in a few weeks when a fall launches her into preterm labor and kicks off much subterfuge, all centered around the newly proclaimed Succession to the Crown Act of 2013 that allows for the firstborn male or female child to inherit the throne. When an emergency caesarean section produces an unexpected male twin as the firstborn, Clementine’s childhood friend and obstetrician, Dr. Angela Francis, who has sworn to protect her against all odds, is quickly swept into the conspiracies that threaten her own life and those closest to her.

Clementine, a “beloved, working-class commoner who won the heart of the future King of England,” plays the quintessential fiery princess in this diverting yet somewhat predictable thriller. She is fiercely protective of her children, head over heels in love with her husband, and plagued by the paparazzi, who will stop at nothing to smear her name in the press. Surrounded by a cast of royals who spend their time conniving or even turning to desperate measures to escape blackmail, Clementine and Angela try to navigate the deception surrounding the royal birth — both women suspect that birth order was purposefully reversed in order to put a male on the throne.

Miller exposes the risqué side of the royal family and modern-day London, replete with underground sex clubs, last-ditch efforts to save old family fortunes, and graphic murders. Inevitably, the iron fist of The Corporation (the nickname given to the realm’s decision makers) rules throughout, harshly dictating every detail, from the twins’ names to where they will be raised. Despite tidiness of the ending, Miller’s characters are allowed some panache to add color to the plot of this royal mystery.

Takeaway: Readers who enjoy royal intrigue with a sprinkling of lasciviousness will soak up this thriller.

Great for fans of: Lucinda Riley’s The Royal Secret, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan’s The Royal We.

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

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MANTIS: Mulhenney & Poole
Steve Pitzel
This violent and riveting noir thriller—second in the Mulhenney & Poole series—follows an investigative reporter and medical examiner in 1968 California on the bloody trail of a killer leaving horrifically maimed bodies in her wake. A parallel story features Alena, a woman with physical disfigurements and psychological damage, and her involvement with a brutal mob family. Meanwhile, the characters face history and the fallout from the assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. The three women battle their own inner demons as their tasks, and obsessions, bring them toward an explosive finish.

Zell’s fascinating characters will grab readers’ attention. Sara Poole is an especially rich personality, full of startling and yet believable contradictions—a dispassionate scientist who nevertheless is capable of terrifying violence. Deanne Mulhenney is also fully drawn, with an engaging mix of ambition, talent and fear. But the most remarkable is the chilling Alena, who’s given a backstory from the grimmest days of World War II. The various plotlines get a little tangled, and it can be hard to keep track of everyone's motives (including the factions in internal mob wars), but the leads never fail to enthrall.

Zell excels in bold staging, and the frequent scenes of sex and violence are equally lavish. One death has "blood gushing between the fingers he clasped tightly to his throat… Zasha drew a pistol from the waistband of her pants and shot the dying man through the forehead," and a scene between lovers is comparably evocative: she felt "fingers on the back of her thighs, sliding her dress up to her waist...the warmth of her fingers traveled slowly, surely, then deeply inside her." These scenes, like another that walks a fine line between seduction and rape, may offend some readers but pack a serious punch. The engaging cast and their predilection for sumptuously presented sex and violence make this a definite page turner.

Takeaway: Fans of character-driven thrillers with passionate action will revel in Mantis.

Great for fans of: Robert Ludlum, Lee Child.

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

Click here for more about MANTIS
Welfare Cheese to Fine Caviar: How to Achieve Your Dreams Despite Your Upbringing
THOMAS C WIDEMAN
"Welfare Cheese to Fine Caviar" is an apt title for this stirring, powerful memoir. Wideman takes the reader on a moving rags-to-riches story, as seen through his eyes: He shares his personal life story of starting out in poverty, being raised by a single mother, and eventually enjoying a flourishing career, a beloved wife, and two sons. For Wideman, "riches" came in the form of personal achievements, a successful family life, and the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles and hardships along the way.

"Dear Father, where are You taking me?” Wideman asks at the book’s start. “You started me out in a single-parent home with three younger brothers. Each of my brothers had a different dad. Where was mine?" As that opening suggests, the stories and memories that follow are deeply personal and presented with insight. Wideman edges this memoir toward the realm of business self-help with some interactive elements, such as ending each chapter. In the "Reflection" sections, Wideman breaks down what he hopes readers will take away from the text and presents questions to contemplate; in the "Application" passages, readers are invited to consider how and where they can apply Wideman’s lessons to their own life. "Caviar Time," meanwhile, presents practical exercises, such as standing in the mirror saying affirmations, while "Professional Tidbits" provide pro tips on navigating the business world. Throughout, Wideman showcases his determination to prevail over setbacks or shortcomings, such as being bullied, being judged for his race, or being passed over for opportunities.

Readers looking for inspiration will appreciate Wideman's straightforward account about how adversity only made him push harder to achieve a better life. Though this memoir best suits a younger audience, such as high school or college-aged strivers, the message and motivational language can resonate with older readers, as well, looking to pursue a new career path or achieve a lifelong dream no matter their background or financial circumstance.

Takeaway: This inspirational memoir makes a good gift for young readers with big dreams starting out on their career paths.

Great for fans of: Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won't Get You There, James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

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

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Nights of the Moonless Sky: A Tale from the Vijayanagara Empire
N S Vishwanath
Vishwanath's debut novel is a tense political drama set in medieval India. While a war of succession rages across the nation, a similar conflict plays out on a smaller scale at the Madhuvana estate. Lord Rajanna has been killed under suspicious circumstances, and local officials decree that his wives must commit ritual suicide at his funeral. The youngest wife, Aadarshini, refuses to give in and hatches a plan with Rajanna's bodyguard, Azam Khan to escape her demise. As various factions battle over the estate, Aadarshini must gather her allies to outwit a spying priest, find her son, and take back her home.

Exploring the intricacies of the historic empire of Vijayanagara, Vishwanath creates an immersive story filled with vibrant details of daily life, from a message system that stretches across the Empire to traveling theater troupes complete with made-up boys in the role of a monkey army as they perform the Ramayana. Front and center, though, is the drama of succession. Alternating chapters show the perspective of the treacherous priest Prabhakara Swami as he and Aadarshini engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse for control of the estate. Much of the plot depends on near-misses and mistaken identities, which at times stretch credulity–Aadarshini initially seeks Prabhakara Swami for aid, only to pass him unrecognized on the road; Azam Khan delays his journey by a single day and arrives to find his village in ashes. While sometimes over the top, the story generates a compelling tension that will keep readers hooked.

Aadarshini is a captivating protagonist whose growing strength and ruthlessness is tempered by her love for her son and for the bodyguard Azam Khan. Torn between love and duty, the doomed romance brings a tenderness to an otherwise brutal sequence of events. Emotional, tense, and richly detailed, this dramatic thriller presents a microcosm of larger historical events.

Takeaway: Fans of historical political dramas full of powerful women will love Aadarshini's arc as she grows into her fierceness.

Great for fans of: Philippa Gregory’s White Queen, Indu Sundaresan’s The Twentieth Wife.

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

The Amazing True Stories of Pepito The Squirrel
F. Jordan Erebia
Erebia debuts his True Tail Tale nonfiction series with this story of the frolicsome Pepito, a lame squirrel who made the author’s acquaintance by crawling onto his boot. This delightful adventure follows the author, a retired physician, as he nurses Pepito back to health with love, shelter, and creative physical therapy. Erebia illustrates Pepito’s comeback with adorable photographs featuring the squirrel’s process and antics – including his penchant for hide and seek, love of pineapple, and even a tired squirrel yawn. Social media links for Pepito invite readers to stay connected.

Animal lovers will be charmed by Pepito’s underdog charisma — “Pepito The Squirrel, was crawling towards him / Determined to catch up, while dragging his hind limb” — and cheer him along as he perseveres through physical exams for broken bones and bouts of exhausting rehab. The bond between man and squirrel is evident, as Pepito ventures away just long enough to try out new activities before bounding back “to rest in his arms, where it all began.” Erebia documents Pepito’s convalescence without wasting time on pity, stressing the squirrel’s hard-wired zip and innate need to safely interact in nature, while devoting plenty of space to Pepito’s performances (“He loved taking photos; he was quite a ham”) for his social media followers.

The rhyming text is stilted and at times feels forced — “Once, he got lost, it took hours to find him / The man gave some thought, and looked on a whim.” Still, the end result is a playful narrative that eschews formality for fun, and there’s ingenuity in rhyming squirrel with deferral. Not to be underestimated or taken lightly, Pepito has overcome Herculean odds and adapted to serious challenges. Erebia has literally stumbled onto a story worth celebrating, and Pepito’s vivacity is guaranteed to make readers of all ages swoon.

Takeaway: Animal lovers will cheer this squirrel’s recovery, captured in photos and light verse.

Great for fans of: Diane Trull and Meredith Wargo’s DAWGS: A True Story of Lost Animals and the Kids Who Rescued Them, James Herriot’s All Things Wise and Wonderful.

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

More Amazing True Stories of Pepito The Squirrel
F. Jordan Erebia
Pepito the squirrel is back in this rollicking sequel, this time accompanied by new playmates for readers to relish. Erebia returns to the story of his adopted rodent buddy on a morning when Pepito is nowhere to be seen—“He searched the whole day, and the next morning / But, Pepito was gone, without any forewarning!” Fortunately, Pepito soon returns alongside Colita, his new girlfriend. This pair are only the start of a squirrel extravaganza that lands in the sanctuary of the author’s yard, delivering pages of entertainment, feasting, and captivating photographs.

Erebia’s playful pictures steal the show in his lighthearted adventure, and animal lovers will devour the escapades of Pepito and friends. Fun facts like “A group of squirrels, is called a scurry” and the star’s affinity for rolling in peat moss and loam will charm younger fans and provide teaching moments. The eccentricities of Erebia’s rhythmic text sometimes distracts from the merriment (“Pepito would climb walls, right up he’d go / He’d leave behind, the ground below”), but the message comes through, inviting readers into a squirrel’s daily life. Pepito’s single-mindedness during pre-winter acorn burying is amusingly paired with his distinctive stunts—“It really was funny, he’d poke and he’d dig / And, when he was done, he’d dance an old jig."

Though geared for younger audiences, this squirrelly promenade has staying power and will hit the spot for anyone who enjoys carefree animal play and is amused by (or tolerant of) doggerel. From their discriminating palates (“he also went nuts, For almonds, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts”) to their penchant for wrestling, Pepito and his entourage entertain. Erebia’s affinity for nature highlights the special attachment between humans and animals, and his affectionate carousing with Pepito is aptly memorialized in the abundant action shots that are the hallmark of Erebia’s True Tail Tale nonfiction series.

Takeaway: A spirited adventure of squirrel horseplay, complete with educational tidbits and enjoyable photos.

Great for fans of: Nick Newman and Karin Mitchell’s The Rhino Crash, Beverly Keil’s Diary of a Dumpster Pup, Belinda Recio’s Inside Animal Hearts and Minds.

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

OOF
Strobe Witherspoon
Witherspoon’s timely metafictional novel explores the ways (mis)information can shape public discourse in the digital media age. The story chronicles what happens when a chapter of FLOTUS: A Memoir—the fictional autobiography of a former first lady of the United States—gets leaked to the public. The leak kicks off a deadly Online Outrage Fiesta, or OOF, that eventually leads to tragedy for Witherspoon himself, a story told in the book via “news articles, blog posts, tweet storms, emails, transcripts” and other media errata.

Witherspoon (the real one, not the one in the book) creates a sense of authenticity through skillful recreations of media sources. For example, the narrative starts with the story of the book itself as it might appear in Publishers Weekly before moving on to news reports, podcasts, and blog posts about the leak--and then the reactions on Twitter. The autobiography at OOF’s heart chronicles years of abuse and neglect the First lady suffered at the hands of her husband, but in the ensuing chaos kicked off by the revelations, the main victim is Whiterspoon, who the novel’s The New Yorker calls a “foreign policy analyst, turned novelist, turned meme punching bag.” OOF showcases a variety of voices, tones, and approaches to mass-media storytelling. Sometimes sad and sometimes hilarious, the wildly entertaining result illuminates the dark side to fame, circa 2021.

Eventually, as the story edges toward the dystopian, it all gets to be too much for the fictional Witherspoon, who declares “I must take responsibility for my destiny. This circus must end. Words are not enough. Update forthcoming. :)” In the fiction, this engaging book about our online lives is not available in the United States. Fortunately, that doesn’t apply to the real world. This readily purchasable novel will appeal to anyone fascinated by the impact of social media and mediated perception.

Takeaway: This highly mediated satire cleverly apes an “Online Outrage Fiesta.”

Great for fans of: Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.

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

Click here for more about OOF
Things That Go Bump in the Night: A Trilogy of Terror
Jenny Hayes
In Bratton’s short stories, teenagers go missing, dolls come to life, and saying “Bloody Mary” into a mirror isn’t going to make things better. The horror tales gathered together in Things That Go Bump In the Night are quick to read and often lightning fast in their pacing, especially the three shorter stories contained in “Dollhouse,” the book’s final section. Full of references to horror legends, urban legends, and fringe science, the stories cover a lot of ground in just a few pages, sometimes featuring nods to each other.

Despite being marketed for young adults, only the first story, “Who’s At the Door” seems fully crafted for a teen audience. Clearly influenced by RL Stine and Christopher Pike, authors that Bratton cites as favorites, this suspenseful tale of a teenager, a doorbell, and the supernatural is the collection’s most fully developed, offering engaging twists on a perennial ghost story. The Silicon Valley-set “Parasomnia” takes on the tension between science and the paranormal, with an edge of romance, but its fleeting attempts to explain scientific concepts key to the narrative (“hypnopompic hallucinations”) confuse rather than clarify. “Dollhouse” actually has three stories within it, tales so short that there’s not much room for a sense of unease or terror to develop.

Bratton favors dialogue-driven storytelling, often even revealing the narrator’s inner thoughts this way, an approach not ideally suited to horror, as the emphasis on what people are saying over what they’re seeing, feeling, and doing doesn’t offer much opportunity for dread or terror to mount. Still, readers may appreciate Bratton’s quick doses of horror if they’re looking for paranormal mystery or a quick adrenaline rush. Able to be enjoyed in one sitting, Things That Go Bump In the Night will spook teen and adult readers, whether they’re afraid of their alarm system, nightmares, or that old doll in the attic.

Takeaway: These quick doses of horror have enough jolt to engage teen readers.

Great for fans of: Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone Inside Your House, Katie Alender’s Bad Girls Don’t Die.

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

Click here for more about Things That Go Bump in the Night
Wiggles, Stomps, and Squeezes Calm My Jitters Down
Lindsey Parker
Parker’s lively debut follows a neurodiverse child with heightened sensory experiences as she navigates her day. While eating breakfast, getting dressed, and playing at the park, the young protagonist explores her need to wiggle, tap, squeeze, stomp, and run, while her supportive mother works to help calm her. Before zipping around the kitchen, the unnamed narrator declares, “I get jitters down deep inside and it makes me want to run!” As the girl acclimates to the world around her, she discovers new techniques to relieve her jitters, including humming and running water. But when a sticky sandbox leads to sensory overload, she finds herself tested.

This is a lean, fast-paced, urgent tale with quick-moving prose. Rebecca Burgess’s illustrations are electric, complementing the high-speed storyline and finding a visual depiction of the sensations that accompany a heightened sensory experience. Sometimes, particularly in the sandbox scene, these images can become frightening–these portrayals of sensory overload may be scary for younger children. Most pages offer a lot of action, with some images achieving a balance between interesting and overwhelming, and others edging toward cluttered. For the most part, though, the illustrations are eye-catching, fresh, and emotionally engaging as they suggest the child’s experience. Squiggles, triangles, motion lines — she lives with a sensory cavalcade.

For a children’s book, Parker’s ideas are remarkably mature. None of the concepts are inappropriate for young audiences, but the lessons and values are as much for kids as for their parents. The sympathetic representation of the mother — who understands, encourages, and helps her daughter even through the most difficult of her urges — is a good reminder to parents who are raising neurodiverse children of the virtues of patience, calm, and sensitivity. Some of the story’s impact may be lost on toddler-age fans, but parents will find the message invaluable.

Takeaway: This fast-paced picture book is perfect for those looking to learn more about the daily experience of sensory differences.

Great for fans of: Jenn Bailey’s A Friend for Henry, Alicia Ortego’s Kindness is my Superpower.

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

A Shepherd of Wolves
R.J. King
King’s intense, character-driven debut examines the lives of a serial killer and a detective to reveal the conditions that made them into adversaries. Edmund Glass lives in St. Anna, South Carolina, with an insatiable hunger that leads him to bite, strangle, and devour various body parts of his victims before discarding the corpses. Detective Sergeant Raymond Wright protects St. Anna–a relatively easy job until human body parts start showing up around town. Wright embarks on a mission to hunt down this devious killer before more innocents end up dismembered.

King holds nothing back as he plummets into these men’s lives, giving readers the pieces to construct crisp images of their upbringings. Wright grew up in the segregated South, and King’s examples of torment and humiliation by bigoted white characters (who repeatedly use the “n” word and take pleasure in assaulting Black characters) paints a visceral depiction of racism. The plot also tackles child abuse in both the past of both men, while dropping ominous hints that Glass’s peculiarities and troubled mind will lead him down an evil path. Influential supporting characters—such as Wright’s best friend, Carl, and Glass’s love interest, Grant—bring intrigue and complexity into the lives of the leads, adding depth and feeling to the plot.

The present timeline, focused on Wright’s investigation in 2010, finds these lives intersecting. Unlike in most novels of cops and killers, some readers may feel the background chapters offer more drama and tension than the case the detective is working. Although the book’s present boasts engrossing scenes that will capture the attention of procedural fans, some border on repetitive. Still, this overall is a powerful exploration of two men and their inner demons, with one serving the law and the other viciously breaking it. Readers looking for a nosedive into what makes men monsters versus heroes will enjoy this unsettling thriller.

Takeaway: This dynamic crime thriller plunges into the environmental and psychological forces that create villains and heroes.

Great for fans of: Nadine Matheson The Jigsaw Man, Thomas Mullen’s Darktown.

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

Click here for more about A Shepherd of Wolves
The Place Beyond Her Dreams
Oby Aligwekwe
Oby Aligwekwe (Hazel House) transports readers in her debut YA novel, part fairy tale romance and part realistic fiction rooted in West African traditions and folk tales. Protagonist Ona has had the gift of “intuition,” or seeing into the future, since the age of seven; when her beloved grandfather dies, she realizes she can travel between her hometown of Ntebe and an idyllic dreamland called Luenah. In Luenah, she learns the power of manifestation– manifesting her thoughts in physical reality–and is sent back to Ntebe on a quest to find her purpose and “give something back to humanity.”

Aligwekwe shines in her development of characters, each offering an avenue to reflect on the ways social class unfairly dictates daily lives and relationships. Ona’s ultimate goal is to find “love and happiness,” but she’s not sure if that love will be with Albert–the handsome crown prince of Ide, a town involved in border clashes with Ntebe–or Okem, her childhood best friend and household servant. Will she find happiness with her one true love despite their differing social statuses, or become a Queen and bring peace to Ide and Ntebe? “I don’t know how people will feel about me marrying someone of a lower status than me,” Ona says. “They will castigate me and wonder why I gave up comfort.”

Although branded as fantasy, the majority of the narrative takes place in the real world rather than Luenah, a choice that might disappoint readers desiring the fantastic. Despite this, Aligwekwe deftly weaves commentary on colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism into an appealing and suspenseful story of love and whimsy. She presents many nuggets of wisdom as Ona seeks her life’s purpose, while emphasizing that “Two things must occur for love to be manifested. The first is to believe you’re worthy of love. The second is to love yourself.”

Takeaway: Young adults and older readers will be enchanted by this fantasy’s magic, romance, and life lessons.

Great for fans of: Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread, Nandi Taylor’s Given.

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

Click here for more about The Place Beyond Her Dreams
The Prize-Winning Story
KEN YODER REED
In this layered and ambitious Chaucer riff, Reed (Both My Sons) dares to set a pilgrims’ story-telling contest in the most heated of contemporary religious milieus: He’s imagined a squad of American fans of a Christian radio show called “For Zion’s Sake” touring Israel on the day of Donald Trump’s election. The tour leader, an end-times minded raid host named Vladdy, agrees to the idea of a contest, first proposed by Israel’s Major Eli Bloom, “Israel’s top expert on terrorism,” a guest lecturer celebrated by Vladdy for offering “None of this politically correct ‘Islam is the religion of peace’ stuff.” Vladdy’s enthusiasm for Jewishness is undercut by his cluelessness: Early on, he schedules a car trip with Bloom on Shabbat, and they end up hoofing it eight miles. Soon enough, though, Vladdy’s pilgrims are touring the holy sites and dishing a surprising variety of tales, among them a contemporary refugee drama, a scarifying account of an American serviceman’s deployments to Iraq, a meditation on the life of Corrie Ten Boom, and a fiery denunciation of sexual predation in the seminary.

As the tour (and the tales) go on, Vladdy finds his American assumptions about Israeli life challenged by exposure to the reality, especially as he faces a surprising confrontation involving his own family. The question What about the Palestinians? comes to haunt him, and the book builds toward a complex ending that laces the joy of the pilgrims’ faith and camaraderie with geopolitical tragedy.

No satiric novel about the Middle East could please all readers, of course, but Reed’s approach is smart and sensitive, even as he gleefully satirizes the relationship between American evangelicals and Israeli hardliners. His prose is sharp, even cutting at times, but there’s nothing parodic about many of his pilgrims’ stories, which take faith seriously. Even Vladdy, at first a caricature, emerges as a figure of pathos; it’s moving to see the scales fall from his eyes.

Takeaway: Inspired by the Canterbury Tales, this satire finds American Christians facing the reality of the Holy Land.

Great for fans of: Randy Boyagoda’s Original Prin, Terry Lindvall’s God Mocks.

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

Click here for more about The Prize-Winning Story

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