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Way Too Fast: An American Reckoning: The Life and Music of Danny DeGennaro
John J. Farmer, Jr.
Blending biography, memoir, musical studies, and innovative storytelling techniques, Farmer invites readers into the world of the first-rate but little-known guitarist and songwriter Danny DeGennaro, exploring through DeGennaro’s life and music a turbulent era where genius can so often languish in obscurity, all while celebrating the pleasure of seeing “one of the best bands on earth play in a local bar for free.” Born in 1955, Danny DeGennaro was raised in Levittown at the infancy of suburban life in America. His supportive father, a member of the then-booming post-war industrial middle class, could provide the means to nurture his musical talent. “Perhaps no generation in American history had been born into such limitless-seeming promise,” Farmer writes, and throughout he ties that promise to DeGennaro’s own.

Through his adolescence, DeGennaro dazzled with his performances at casual gatherings and in bands in his teens and twenties, DeGennaro won a devoted fandom after joining the band Kingfish in 1979. Farmer twines elements of memoir throughout this portrait, touchingly recounting first meeting DeGennaro as Farmer grieved his wife’s sudden death 1993. First, he heard DeGennaro’s guitar, coming from a waterfront bar in New Hope, “a sound that is as sad as the world, as sad as everything you’ve lost, because it is also as beautiful.”

DeGennaro “inspired loyalty” among many, Farmer writes, and he offers deep dives into those relationships. The story of Farmer and DeGennaro come together again in a happier time in the author’s life nearly twenty years later, when he finds the guitarist having suffered both in health and career. Readers will cheer on DeGennaro in his battle for his sobriety to the bitter end, which comes too soon, with his murder in 2011. This elegiac, formally inventive work examines shifts in culture over a generation, plus changing views of war, the invasion of drugs, and always, no matter the circumstances, the life-affirming power of music.

Takeaway: This innovative biography and memoir celebrates a singular guitarist and his passing era.

Great for fans of: Jim Abbott’s Jackson C. Frank: The Clear, Hard Light of Genius, Steven Blush’s Lost Rockers.

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

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Becoming a Warrior: My Journey to Bring A Wrinkle in Time to the Screen
Catherine Hand
Hand’s upbeat debut memoir offers readers a story of an unpredictable, vibrant life threaded by a childhood dream kept alive for over five decades by one woman’s faith in herself. In 1963, when she first read Madeleine L'Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time as a middle-schooler, Hand dreamt of starring as the protagonist, Meg, in the film, describing the book as “a portal into a wondrous, mysterious universe that set [her] curiosity on fire.” Over fifty years later, Hand realized her dream as one of the two producers for the movie. Becoming a Warrior chronicles the switch-backed journey of Hand’s life over half a century, with an emphasis on the ups and downs of the dream she never abandoned.

Most people grow out of childhood dreams over time, but Hand’s ambitions matured with her—through all her years as a young Hollywood executive assistant, stay-at-home mom, radio producer, and political appointee under the Obama administration, Hand’s dream of bringing L'Engle’s beloved fantasy to the screen grew and shrunk in scope and plausibility, but she never let it go. Beyond an exacting account of what it takes to produce a blockbuster—from acquiring film rights to casting to working with Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey to post-production—and working as a woman in Hollywood in the 1970s and 1980s, Hand’s memoir is also a record of how she built an identity by pursuing her goals despite numerous professional obstacles and personal challenges.

Hand writes with positivity and grace, crediting much of her success to the mentors and friends she generously describes in her memoir, particularly L’Engle, and her first boss, Norman Lear. Film industry enthusiasts, A Wrinkle in Time fans, and those interested in the painstaking process of making a big-budget film in Hollywood will delight in Hand’s accessible storytelling and the rewarding tale of a dream coming to fruition.

Takeaway: The inspiring story of one woman’s dream to make a movie from Madeleine L'Engle’s classic novel.

Great for fans of: Naomi McDougall Jones’s The Wrong Kind of Women, Christina Lane’s Phantom Lady.

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

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House of Pain
Karolina Wilde
Wilde’s polished debut, a dishy gothic fantasy page-turner, grabs from the start with sharp prose, weird magic, cutting remarks, a frank and buoyant sex-positive outlook, and a creepily enticing summoning ritual certain to lead to unexpected consequences. Set in a hothouse magic school where horned-up students enjoy public sex, discussing their professors’ endowment, and competing in a high-stakes campus-wide Game, House of Pain centers on Alecto, a half-witch of less power than the purebloods and legacies surrounding her at Venefica Academy, where she’s a second year student in the Inner Circle of the House of Snakes, taking classes like “History of the Sexuality of Witches” and being targeted for humiliation by handsome blackguards like Blaze.

This inventive school, alive with engaging students and rampant talk of sex and blood magic, will delight readers looking for a boldy uncensored take on fantasy mainstay while likely singeing the ears of readers who aren’t. To secure an advantage against the other houses in the Game, the Snakes witches perform a summoning ritual, calling forth what they hope will be a gorgeous “guardian” free of the character flaws of the likes of Blaze. It’s a laugh-out-loud moment, then, several chapters later, when an impossibly alluring newcomer turns up in one of Alecto’s classes. His name: Rogue Smolder. He’s a demon—and he’s Alecto’s new study partner.

Sexy, funny, fast-paced, and committed to jolting genre expectations, this first book in Wilde’s projected trilogy is decidedly not for everyone, but readers on its wavelength will savor it and impatiently wait for more. For all the adult and even satirical elements, the story itself—especially a surprising slow burn romance—is heartfelt and exciting, and Wilde proves deft at plotting out twists, reversals, betrayals, and revelations that honor the beloved magic and prep school stories that House of Pain both celebrates and interrogates. There’s detentions, memory orbs, and forces beyond everyone’s control—including lust.

Takeaway:This dishy, sex-positive magic school fantasy/romance will dazzle the readers on its wavelength.

Great for fans of: Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti’s Zodiac Academy series, Leigh Bardurgo’s The Ninth House.

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

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She Rules: What You Didn't Know is Holding You Back in Business
Sara Roach Lewis
Feminist business coach Roach Lewis’ debut offers readers a pathway to entrepreneurial success that deviates from what she identifies as a patriarchal, militaristic, Sun Tzu-quoting methodology that has dominated the field of business coaching since its inception. This alternate path is built on six “she rules” that offer readers strategies to expand their revenues and engineer a lifestyle for continued personal and professional growth. Citing substantial research and drawing on conversations with other successful women in business and her own career, Roach Lewis posits that “gender equality can solve all of the world’s problems,” and one of the best ways to bring about that equality is by “empower[ing] women to [...] make more money.”

Roach Lewis’ approach isn’t new. Readers will find many of her “she rules” familiar, including No.3 “Be Willing to Adapt and Calibrate,” and No. 4 “Attitude Is Everything.” The value in Roach Lewis’ guide stems from her contextualizing of these ideas into a feminist business framework that positions awareness, inclusivity, and empathy as assets required for a thriving entrepreneur. She declares that “military business strategy doesn’t serve anyone anymore” and that business owners’ time is better used learning how to be vulnerable in their leadership and to create harmony between work and home life through the use of boundaries. Roach Lewis assures readers that by following these rules, they will learn to “relax into their zone of genius” and “embrace all [their] dimensions.”

Roach Lewis does acknowledge her racial and socioeconomic privilege, but there are times when the guide lacks suggestions for people who do not have access to the same resources as Roach Lewis does. Beyond that omission, there is ample material within her rulebook for any entrepreneur, whether they’re in the start-up stage or a seasoned CEO, who wants a fresh, feminist perspective on business growth and the future of entrepreneurship.

Takeaway: A women-centered rule book for entrepreneurs seeking business growth via feminist business strategy.

Great for fans of: Rachel Rodgers’s We Should All Be Millionaires, Brené Brown's Dare to Lead, Kim Scott’s Radical Candor.

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

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The Effortless Perfection Myth: Debunking the Myth and Revealing the Path to Empowerment for Today’s College Women
Caralena Peterson
Peterson’s debut courageously confronts the sexist, pervasive, double-standard-driven lie plaguing women in college: that if you appear effortlessly perfect to others, you will be rewarded with happiness. Drawing on interviews from women college undergraduates, extensive research ranging from Instagram posts to the history of feminist theory, and her own experience as Duke alumnus, Peterson dissects how “the Myth’s promise [is] empty” and argues that choosing to believe in and to strive toward the appearance of Effortless Perfection “is to choose a default option devoid of substance” that can result in dangerous outcomes—not the least of which is neglecting to think independently.

Peterson’s analysis is ambitious in its attempt to flesh out how young women are manipulated by this ideal of perfection, covering their “relationship with self-esteem, confidence, assertiveness, body image, hookup culture, belonging, and mental health” in meticulous detail, alongside the psychological and physiological effects of adhering to “the Myth.” Crucially, Peterson includes perspectives from Black and LGBTQIA+ students, as well as those belonging to other historically underrepresented groups, to expose the Myth’s ubiquitous presence in the lives of undergraduate women. Although the statistics paint a bleak picture of the aftereffects of perfectionism, this playbook does offer hope: Peterson is confident that raising awareness of how the Myth functions can transform students’ worldviews toward one of “individualized agency and empowerment”— ultimately a move away from the expectations of patriarchal society.

Among the strongest advice are suggestions addressing mental health issues and on how to use counter-narratives to the Myth to develop an identity based in authenticity. Though Peterson positions her guide as useful for “today’s generation of college students,” some readers may find its length intimidating; with that said, readers willing to dive deep into its inner workings will come away with the tools and wisdom essential to pursuing the college experience with clear eyes and a balanced, healthy approach.

Takeaway: An illuminating, in-depth analysis of the ideal of “perfectionism” for young women in college.

Great for fans of: Paul Dolan’s Happy Ever After, Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies.

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

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Life Travel And The People In Between: A Memoir
Mike Nixon
Nixon’s journey around the globe begins at the Comfort Inn in Norfolk, VA, where he worked after high school and where “the world first came to [him]. Meeting thousands of guests from far-flung locales stirred in him the feeling that “everyone's experiences and purpose overshadowed what I was doing.” So, encouraged to abandon his comfort zone, he took on a study abroad program in the Dominican Republic which catapulted the next decade of his life around the world. Nixon recounts joining the Peace Corps after college, being stationed in Paraguay, and finding a job in Nicaragua planning school trips, and finally joining the Navy, where he was stationed in Japan and traveled around the greater part of southeast Asia.

His travel stories range from hilarious, such as being accidentally poisoned by ingesting a venomous scorpion, to heartwarming, such as inspiring a group of kids in Paraguay to place in national business competitions. Around the world, he was often the only Black man in the room–at times, perhaps, the only one in some cities, a reality that Nixon discusses with frank insight and wit, as when he describes being routinely asked about American celebrities :“Had I been related to The Fresh Prince, my black ass would’ve been trying to get a role in a movie instead of passing out surveys in rural Paraguay.”

The stories jump around some within a general chronological structure, but the path to Nixon finding his true passion never wavers. Each new city scratched off the map offers an opportunity for growth that makes it clear how he grew from a desk clerk dreaming about the world to a seasoned globetrotter savvy about work visas and how to ride an elephant. The vivid descriptions and accounts of engaging conversations will encourage readers to leave behind their comfort zone and leave them wanting to explore everything the world has to offer.

Takeaway: Nixon’s eclectic mix of trave; stories will inspire dreams of exploring the cultures of the world.

Great for fans of: Torre DeRoche’s Love With a Chance of Drowning, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

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

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Drawn in Ash
John Otte
Otte, author of the Failstate series among other titles, swings big with this science-fantasy epic of resistance, a false utopia, oppressed beliefs, and a touch of royal romance. Everys, a secret “scribbler” of forbidden magic runes, still holds faith in the Singularity, the god of the Siporans, Everys’s people, though she feels “He” has allowed the Siporans “to rot for four hundred years” under the oppressive rule of the Dynasty. Fate upends her life—and the future of her people and the Dynasty itself—when, in the aftermath of an apparent terrorist bombing, Everys is taken into custody by Dynasty troops and then quite unexpectedly wed to the king.

The sprawling story that follows turns on faith, surprise alliances, suppressed histories, secret magic and high tech programs, and affecting “talk of destiny and purpose” as Everys—note the name’s similarity to the biblical Esther—must find a way to save her people while helping King Narius navigate the many dangers facing the Dynasty. As the new queen she must deal with the mystery of the fate of her predecessor, the seemingly transactional nature of her relationship with Narius, plus the politics, intrigue, and assassination attempts facing the royalty of any empire that rules through force, all as she faces serious questions of allegiance to a seemingly defeated god. That fascinating element gives Otte’s narrative power, and the details of Everys’s rune writing—and her people’s enduring faith—prove resonant.

The wealth of themes, characters, crises, and intriguing connections to the story of Esther means that, despite brisk scenecraft, the length is epic, with much to keep track of—the story can feel dense when it covers scheming and geopolitics. Still, Otte has created a compelling protagonist whose relationships with both her god and her husband prove rich and rewarding. Seasoned fans of dystopian adventures, especially with underpinnings of biblical allegory, will find much to savor here.

Takeaway: An unexpected queen must save her people, her empire, and her faith in this dystopian epic.

Great for fans of: Jill Williamson’s Kinsman Chronicles, Karen Hancock’s Legends of the Guardian-King series.

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

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The Life - A Journey Of Self-Discovery
Sagar Constantin
Constantin opens her In-Between series—which explores the afterlife and what matters most in this existence—with the story of Eva, a journalist returning from an assignment when her plane crashes, landing her in a coma and sending her soul to the In-Between, an enigmatic place between life and death for people not yet ready to leave their earthly lives. When she wakes up to a warm, intensely white light after the crash, Eva is dismayed to learn that her soul has been “suspended.” She now faces a choice: return to Earth or continue her otherworldly journey to a place where she will wait to be reincarnated. But if she chooses to move on, what will happen to her young son, Luke?

Eva’s contemplative journey, though painful at times, will resonate with readers wondering about their own purpose. As she struggles to make sense of her surroundings, Eva’s In-Between guide, Thomas, and new friend, Annabel, try to answer her questions without influencing her ultimate choice. In the process, Eva comes to grips with having spent her life avoiding uncomfortable emotions and working too hard to please others, learning from “The Master” of the In-Between that “When a challenge is great, we must look into our hearts. That is always where the answer lies.” But Eva is certain her heart lies with her son, and the overwhelming pull of motherhood beckons until the very end, when she makes an unexpected and somewhat shocking decision that results in unforeseen consequences for Eva and all she holds dear.

This is a weighty story, despite some welcome comic relief (Eva’s In-Between room comes packed with her favorite fashion accessories, and there’s even a bar in the sky with an endless drink selection). But Constantin’s message is one of uplifting hope: in the end, being true to yourself is what’s most important. Readers of inspirational metaphysical fiction will leave the story eager for the next installment.

Takeaway: Facing impossible choices in the afterlife, a mother discovers what’s most important.

Great for fans of: Michael Poore’s Reincarnation Blues, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall.

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

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23 Reasons to Fall in Love with Hangzhou
Natasa Vujicic
Serbian-born Vujicic tells the story of how she moved to the Chinese city of Hangzhou, capital of the Zhejiang province, and became enamored with its landscape, culture, and people. Now she invites readers to fall in love, too. Complete with her own gorgeous photographs capturing and celebrating the city, she lists 23 reasons why the reader ought to visit and discover the place for themselves. From reason number one, the Qiantang River and the light shows that line it, to number 23, the history of the city as one of the original centers of human civilization, she makes a powerful case for the beauty of this city and its surrounding environment. Readers will feel her grief when the loose narrative closes with her husband’s work taking the family away from Hangzhou.

Vujicic praises the people of Hangzhou as polite and helpful but avoids Orientalist tropes with anecdotes showing the humanity of those she interacts with, including their frustration at times, like the server at the restaurant who she mistakenly asks, in her “best Chinese,” for e-mail rather than soy sauce. She also relates legends and history of Hangzhou, making clear that this place isn’t simply physically lovely and abundant in great food but also is home to rich, fascinating traditions which, at times, foreigners can participate in, such as ringing the bell at the temple of wealth.

In addition to all Vujicic’s vivid descriptions of landscape and people, her food descriptions and pictures make a reader’s mouth water (and, at times, as when she describes stinky tofu, inspire distaste). From cuisine to environment to culture, it is obvious before she says it that she felt she “simply fit in China like a Lego brick.” A western reader contemplating exploring Hangzhou will find Vujicic’s brief guide to the city and its attractions invigorating and inspiring. And if Western travelers are not contemplating exploring Hangzhou, they will after reading this book.

Takeaway: One woman’s story of how she fell in love with Hangzhou—and why readers might, too.

Great for fans of: John Rydzewski’s China Diaries & Other Tales From the Road, Monique Van Dijk’s Hangzhou.

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

Higher Connections: Observations of a Certified Public Pothead
Eric and Alexandrea Right
This playful testament to and consideration of the high life from the pseudonymous Right finds laughs and inspiration in his experience—as a fortysomething husband and father and productive member of society—with marijuana. “Cannabis has been a positive influence in my life,” he declares, offering comfort and connection that other common ways to meet those needs, like religion, have never yielded him. A smart early passage contrasts more socially accepted ways of unwinding with what he argues weed users get from their herb. Partaking, Right states, “results in funny, crazy, and intense discussions” and “insane connections with anyone around,” while ensuring users get “a great night’s sleep” and wake up “totally refreshed and ready to tackle the day like the king or queen that you are.”

That exemplifies the tone of this loose, high-spirited book. Telling the story of how embracing weed during the pandemic brought him peace he never knew he could have—and possibly saved his marriage—Right makes a case for pot without overpromising or resorting to Freshman Composition canards. Charming occasional sidebars from Right’s wife, here called Alexandra, back up his claims while gently, amusingly offering a second perspective. A thumbnail history of pot and some speculation about the nature of the soul prove less illuminating than his frank, insightful rundown of marijuana’s effects on him personally. Right writes movingly of it helping him feel more open to other people, more aware of individual steps in everyday processes, and more in touch with his own thoughts.

Most powerfully, both husband and wife describe the shutting down of the “elevator music” that plays in their heads, those ambient worries and concerns. A cleverly structured chapter documenting misadventures while high, including an out-of-body experience, is often laugh-out-loud funny, while the more speculative material (Are we living in a simulation? What happens after we die?) is most involving when connected to life and family. Unless, perhaps, the reader is high.

Takeaway: This celebration of life with marijuana is most persuasive on stress relief and human connection.

Great for fans of: Amanda Siebert’s The Little Book of Cannabis, Michelle Lhooq’s Weed.

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

Bravo Zulu: My Search to Save Classic Warbirds
Vanessa Leising
Yagen’s charming debut charts the course of his life’s work in finding and restoring vintage warplanes to their original, air-worthy conditions. With an impressive collection of over 70 antique warbirds from WWI and WWII, stored at the Military Aviation Museum founded by Yagen in Virginia Beach, this volume spotlights 19 of his most beloved aircraft. Throughout the carefully detailed pages, readers will find stunning photographs of these airplanes in action as well as concise accounts of their history, including their often painstaking journeys to flight-ready restoration.

Acknowledging the difference between restoring an antique airplane for display purposes and making it flyable is the essence of Yagen’s legacy—he believes these warbirds “cannot be fully appreciated unless you see them where they belong: in the air.” This is a privilege he offers readers, alongside an extensive photograph collection of each airplane both on the ground and in flight. With an eye for accuracy, Yagen also details the specs of each aircraft and their individual careers, from original manufacturing to post-war use. One such plane, the Supermarine Spitfire MK IXE, fought in 100 combat missions and later served as an attraction in a children’s playground before Yagen added it to his inventory.

Through Yagen’s intriguing accounts, readers gain a cockpit perspective of history. This is the locus of Yagen’s passion: to him, these warbirds are “more than just metal, fabric, and wood. They are time machines that provide a tangible link” to such a pivotal time in the twentieth century. Aviation enthusiasts, WWI and WWII history buffs, and lovers of airplane restoration will delight in this catalog, as visually stimulating as it is rich in detail about the history, mechanics, and reconstruction of these legendary aircraft. Yagen’s expensive, arduous pursuit in bringing “these historic warbirds back to life” comes alive in these pages and gives readers a chance to imagine flying like “an ace of aces, Prince of the Skies.”

Takeaway: A passionate chronicle of restoring vintage warplanes to flyable condition, with vivid photographs.

Great for fans of: Nicholas A. Veronico’s Hidden Warbirds, and David Mondey’s British Aircraft of World War II.

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

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Orcas Forever
Marie-Paule Mahoney
Mahoney’s inspired decision to focus on an orca family reunion provides middle-grade readers with an immediate connection to the gentle, intelligent marine mammals wrongly called “killer whales.” Orcas Forever is a hopeful sequel to Whale of Wonder (2020), which follows the real-life journey of Tahlequah J35, who swam for 1,000 miles while carrying her emaciated newborn in a display of grief that brought global attention to the environmental factors decimating the orca population. Orcas Forever charts another extraordinary interaction. Now a matriarch of her extended family unit (known as the J pod), Tahlequah returns home to the Salish Sea to meet up with the other Southern Resident orcas.

Using scientific observations as her starting point, Mahoney depicts the reunion of the J, K and L pods as a joyous and raucous celebration of their return from the Pacific Ocean to their home base in the Salish Sea (bordered by Washington State and British Columbia). The exquisite illustrations of Ginger Triplett are especially important during this meeting of the pods, as she can take a moment that might sound menacing—orcas displaying their six foot high dorsal fins in what looks like a standoff—and turns it instead into a rousing celebration of movement, with swirling water cresting into white.

Triplett renders the orcas’ emotional life without anthropomorphism, inviting young readers into an luminous realm of seaweed and jellyfish, where sunbeams create glowing shafts, followed by a scene of orcas exuberantly leaping from the water to dance in the sunlight, their massive bodies briefly, seemingly weightless. Wildlife nonfiction with a strong current of empathy is Mahoney’s forte, and her orca books have a particular urgency. Presenting orcas as inherently social creatures, with sophisticated systems of communication and navigation, Mahoney makes a heartfelt plea for their preservation, and for a healthy ecosystem where all underwater life can thrive.

Takeaway: This rousing tale of orca families makes compassionate environmentalism hit home.

Great for fans of: Amanda Abler’s The Spirit of Springer, Sharon Mentyka’s Chasing at the Surface, and Rosanne Parry’s A Whale of the Wild.

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

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Harrowing Roses
Barbara Cooper
Cooper’s debut combines mystery and romance as it follows a young woman searching for her missing cousin at her family’s country estate. After being abandoned by her father, 22-year-old Dana and her mother return to his family’s estate to visit, only to discover her younger cousin, Debra Lee, has been missing for two days—and the police seem unable to help. Dana takes it upon herself to search for Debra Lee, in the process enlisting the help of the enigmatic Henry, a young man staying on the outskirts of the estate near the cabin of her lover, Jonathan. But despite Henry’s willingness to assist, Dana soon discovers that all is not as it seems with her mysterious assistant.

Readers will be swept into the tension and feel as if they are walking the wetlands alongside Dana, and Cooper’s evocative narrative sets a swift pace for the story. The characterization is strong even as the cast has been crafted to keep readers guessing. Henry, mercurial and ruled by his otherworldly intuition, is certain that Dana solicited him because she believes in his supernatural powers, and he is rewarded when his abilities lead him to Debra Lee. But just as Dana is drawn to Henry, she and readers both will wonder how he found Debra Lee so easily—and if he is using his psychic abilities to manipulate her.

Though Dana’s relationships with both Jonathan and Henry deserve more attention to detail, Cooper’s deliberate ambivalence towards the minutiae will compel readers to fill in the gaps, upping the intensity behind the characters’ motives and the real reason for Debra Lee’s disappearance. Cooper’s skill with suspense powers the novel and readers will relish the edgy undercurrent pulsing throughout the pages. Cooper’s capable intertwining of Henry’s psychic manifestations and his desire to control Dana immerses readers in a gripping and inventive thriller.

Takeaway: The tense story of a woman searching for her cousin falling under a mystery helper’s spell.

Great for fans of: L.T. Ryan and Brian Shea’s Drift, Georgina Cross’s The Missing Woman.

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

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Klippe the Viking
Bjorn Fyrre
Klippe, a young viking, doesn’t feel that she belongs—she can’t keep up at school, she doesn’t understand the other kids’ jokes, and she can’t play the games. But in this simple yet powerful story, Klippe soon makes friends and enjoys important realizations about herself and her peers along her journey to self confidence. Readers will find a friend in Klippe in Fyrre’s (Jern the Viking) empathetic story of a shy girl who grows to realize her own strengths beyond her preconceived limitations. Full of heart and understanding, Klippe the Viking is a straightforward reminder that everyone has strengths, and the best of friends are the ones who highlight those qualities for you to discover.

Self-growth and recognizing one’s strengths is not a simple topic to tackle in a narrative for young people, but Fyrre’s story does so capably, though the dialogue veers between the casual (“Wow, that was amazing”) and the curiously formal (“I do not understand it either”), often with uncertain punctuation, especially periods in place of commas, that gives the characters’ short utterances a sense of stiff finality. Adults reading out loud can work around this, but young readers feeling out the rules of English dialogue may be confused.

Nevertheless, watching a character face disappointment and perceived ostracization and then put the emotional puzzle pieces together to figure out more about themselves is a beneficial tool for children. Kini’s charming digital illustrations show the playful, frustrated, and joyful side of Klippe and her diverse array of Viking friends, imbuing the story with emotional clarity and urgency—all while conjuring a northland forest of vibrant greens, lush red flowers, and irresistible waterfalls. Best suited as one tool within a larger social emotional toolbox, Klippe the Viking brings big ideas to the forefront, leaving room for discussion with an adult.

Takeaway: Shy or quieter kids will find encouragement in this young Viking’s journey to self-confidence.

Great for fans of: Kelly Cunnane’s Chirchir Is Singing, Dashka Slater’s The Antlered Ship.

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

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Hmong Reverse Appliqué: Cultural Meaning and Significance.
Linda A. Gerdner
Gerdner (Ethnicity and the Dementias), an expert in family caregiving issues in persons with dementia and especially Alzheimer’s, illuminates the history and culture of the textile art of the Hmong people in this beautifully designed study. Directed towards an audience familiar with needlework but not necessarily with the Hmong peoples, the book presents a series of striking handmade pieces, with eye-opening discussions of the symbolism of nature, family life, and spiritual beliefs woven into each. She opens by introducing the Hmong people’s history, their heritage prior to the devastating Secret War, and how the Hmong people have preserved their heritage through their artwork. Readers looking for a reverse appliqué how-to should note the subtitle; Gerdner’s emphasis is cultural, with Hmong Reverse Appliqué reading both like an academic survey and the catalog to a first-rate exhibition.

The photographs and images take precedence over the text, though each appliqué piece is described in detail, from the type of stitchwork and the fabric choices made to the symbolism of the shapes within the pieces. All images of the embroidery and of the Hmong people are clear and bright, with additional close-up images for important detail work, like decorative borders or intentional “mistakes” sewn within each piece to “let the spirit out of the work.” Gerdner often presents patterns in groups, highlighting individual approaches to motifs like X-shaped crosses or “cucumber seeds.”

Gerdner’s research into Hmong craftsmanship and culture is impressive, and she occasionally weaves in stories from her own travels and experiences with the Hmong stitchers, which add a welcome personal touch to the subject matter. While the descriptions of individual works can, by necessity, be repetitive, even casual readers with an interest in textile art will find the book gorgeous and informative. Ultimately, the Hmong peoples’ craftsmanship and resilience is reflected with respect, care, and insight.

Takeaway: These handmade creations from the Hmong peoples will inspire anyone interested in textile art.

Great for fans of: Clare Hunter’s Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle; Johanna Amos & Lisa Binkley’s Stitching the Self: Identity and the Needle Arts, Claire Wellesley-Smith’s Resilient Stitch: Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art.

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

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The Moment of Menace
Joe Rothstein
Rothstein draws on his experience as a political strategist and media manager to craft a political thriller of epic scale, his third in the series that kicked off with The Latina President: And The Conspiracy to Destroy Her. This entry picks up the story of the charismatic and resilient President of the United States of America—Isabella Tennyson or “Tenny”— as she puts forth a bold “Peace and Security” agenda whose centerpiece is a global disarmament treaty … all as she navigates a formidable group of conspirators who threaten to dismantle American democracy in order to further their own agendas.

What truly makes the narrative compelling are the strong female characters and the general diversity imagined by Rothstein in his fictional representation of American politics. Tenny, now in her third book, is a memorable and inspiring creation, rising again to the occasion even as she faces potential danger: the story begins with a series of high-profile political assassinations meted out by the covert global organization The Salvation Project, whose members argue that the world’s great powers have failed to act against matters such as climate change and environmental degradation. Tenny and her top officials and aides work together to squash a conspiracy that’s targeting them, while bucking conventional political wisdom by drafting a manifesto to change the world for the better—and protect a melting Arctic—through more peaceful means.

Rothstein’s interest in and respect for the Arctic, especially the beliefs and culture of Alaska’s Iñupiat, bring welcome gravity to a story often caught up in complex political matters–a story that ultimately is optimistic about the possibility of effective change emerging from leaders working within the system. The fast pace means that the details of specific issues—and some backstories and motivations—don’t get fully fleshed out. Still, with concise prose, rousing speeches, and extensive geopolitical knowledge, Rothstein weaves a compelling, idealistic thriller.

Takeaway: This sharply written political thriller finds a Latina president leading boldly and facing a conspiracy.

Great for fans of: Tom Rosenstiel’s The Days to Come, Nicolle Wallace’s 18 Acres.

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

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