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Compassion Mandala
Pamela Logan
In a memoir resonant with authentic devotion to serving others, Logan (Tibetan Rescue: The Extraordinary Quest to Save the Sacred Art Treasures of Tibet) painstakingly chronicles the work of the American charity she created to aid the deeply impoverished Kham region of Tibet. After becoming fascinated by the fighting styles of other countries, Logan initially explored the area of Kham to discover more about their warriors. Immediately drawn to help the region’s poorer residents, Logan left her aeronautics career and began volunteering, eventually starting the Kham Aid Foundation. Logan tells the moving stories of raising money for conservation projects, assistive equipment for disabled people, and education, as well as acquiring sponsors to give individual children educational scholarships.

Logan acknowledges that humanitarian work in the region is often dirty and difficult, but she always maintains a positive viewpoint, and the individuals she helps seem to share her attitude of hope and thankfulness. Sometimes her narration is a little dry and removed, but when she lets herself get personal, her writing shines. Readers with some background knowledge of politics in Tibet and China will have the best grasp of the nuances of Logan’s work. Those unfamiliar with the region will still appreciate the comprehensive firsthand exploration of areas both troubled and beautiful, as well as the helpful maps.

Throughout, Logan takes time to detail the importance of establishing trusting connections with locals, the complicated nature of international relations, and the speed with which networks and contacts can change. Although she delves into the corruption of government officials stealing money earmarked for the children and shares cautionary advice for Americans doing humanitarian work in China, Logan also brilliantly reveals the rewards of her labors: babies’ lives saved at birth, educated girls who achieve great success. The resilience and beauty of the Tibetan people stand out in this sweeping account.

Takeaway: Readers curious about daily life and humanitarian work in Tibet will be swept up by this marathon account of the Kham Aid Foundation’s founding and work.

Great for fans of Charlie Carroll’s Peaks on the Horizon: Two Journeys in Tibet, Gillian G. Tan’s In the Circle of White Stones: Moving through Seasons with Nomads of Eastern Tibet.

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

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The Write to Happiness: How to Write Stories to Change Your Brain and Your Life
Samantha Shad
This cogent guide to storytelling also advocates the use of writing as a tool to improve one’s life through the written word. Shad identifies the “rules of writing to happiness” in straightforward steps, with an emphasis on using creative writing to view life’s problems through the lens of narrative. The first section is an excellent resource for aspiring and novice writers, with chapters that explore storytelling, developing characters, and plotting. Shad effortlessly expands and builds upon each element of writing as the book progresses. Having addressed the “how” of writing, the second section explores the “why.” Shad delves deeper into explaining her belief that one can rewire the brain through expressive writing, thus writing oneself to happiness.

The detailed chapters on the basics of writing will appeal to novice writers just beginning to explore the craft. Shad begins at the very beginning, discussing where ideas come from, how to develop a protagonist and antagonist, and how to structure a plot. Her style is engaging and entertaining while staying highly informative and providing firm guidance: “There are no awards for having the most characters, subplots, and storylines. Aim to go deep, not wide.” Shad encourages the reader to jump ahead in certain areas of the book to try their hand at a particular exercise. This will go over well with readers who are hands-on learners and with writers already well-versed in the basics.

This guide caters to writers in the broad sense of the word, providing useful analysis for professionals, as well as for people who journal and write recreationally. Novices can rely on the wealth of information presented as a learning tool, and seasoned authors can peruse the work as a refresher course or learn more about writing and the brain. The writing exercises and worksheets are relevant to all skill levels. Readers with interest in creative writing or journaling will find this tool well worth investigating.

Takeaway: This resource for aspiring writers is also a self-help book for anyone seeking self-discovery through the art of writing.

Great for fans of Julia Cameron, Chris Fox, Ryder Carroll.

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

Daniel Scratch
Don Jones
Jones’s languorous, meditative epic fantasy follows its titular character, Daniel Scratch, an orphaned teenager descended from powerful witches. At age 13, Daniel is sent to pursue his magical education in a fantastical tower, alone but for his friend and mentor, Kirmin. Daniel is studying to be the adherent of the Axis of Endings, one of the world’s great magics. This affords him control over endings big and small, from lifestyles to lives. The rest of witchkind binds Daniel to the tower, hoping that doing so will bind death. Once Daniel becomes an adherent and is able to send his spirit beyond the tower, he uncovers a horrible crime that shines a light on his complicated family history and tests his new abilities.

The gothic setting is rich in detail: magical bureaucracy and legality, Lithuanian spell words, peculiar artifacts, taciturn ghosts. It creates a compelling backdrop for Daniel’s development, in the process emphasizing his loneliness and isolation. His parents didn’t teach him many things they should have, his undead grandmother is cryptic, and he struggles to catch up with what the rest of witchkind already knows, all while developing control of immense magics. Romance, friendship, and family are absent from his life; even among his fellow adherents, Daniel stands alone.

Jones does an admirable job of describing the perils and pitfalls of power in this captivating story. At one point, Daniel considers using his abilities to end an argument, only to reflect that conflict can have a purpose and should be resolved naturally. The true meaning of ending is explored and expounded, stressing the importance of free thinking through viewing the challenges and experiences of the main characters. These ruminations, and the sections detailing Daniel’s education, are at times exposition-heavy, but this work is generally best suited to readers who enjoy slow immersion in rich prose. Adult and teenage fans of thoughtful fantasy will love exploring this beautifully described world of arcane powers.

Takeaway: This meditative look at power will engage readers who like their fantasy with a side of philosophy.

Great for fans of Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

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

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Limerick Comics
Robert Hoyman
Hoyman’s playful but informative debut collection introduces children to the joy of limerick poetry while delivering fun facts about an array of subjects from everyday life and history. Every page contains a fully illustrated limerick mini-comic and additional information about the poem’s meaning, inviting readers to soak up knowledge. The varied topics include the jewelry-packed tombs of ancient Egypt, the origin of roller coasters in Russia, the biological importance of a pesky fruit fly, and Joseph Aspdin’s creation of Portland cement in his own kitchen.

Each illustration employs traditional cartooning, eye-catching colors, and outlandishly hyperbolic imagery that brings some humor to an otherwise ordinary lesson. A glossary is also included to help those who are hungry for learning but may stumble over terms such as bioluminescence and shtick. Alongside pages on science and history, such as one discussing how the first mail systems worked via stagecoach, steamships, and the Pony Express, Hoyman includes limericks about food safety (with vivid illustrations of moldy cheese), the dangers of smoking and benefits of getting adequate sleep, and the role of local government in the community.

Even when discussing complex subjects, Hoyman keeps the language simple (“A caveman all covered with dust/ Could briskly make flint stones combust”). Young readers will have no trouble enjoying and absorbing the entire collection, whether by picking a poem at random or reading from cover to cover. With the subject matter changing from page to page, the book excels at keeping readers’ attention while planting the seeds for an early appreciation of poetry, art, history, science, and civics. This witty and fun little book, displayed on a Kindle or Nook or read by flashlight, is sure to delight any reader who gives it a look.

Takeaway: For young readers and parents alike, this collection of factoid limericks will be a great introduction to poetry while delivering interesting knowledge and good laughs.

Great for fans of Mick Twister’s There Was an Old Geezer Called Caesar: A History of the World in 100 Limericks, Garrison Keillor’s Living with Limericks, the Oxford English Dictionary in Limerick Form project.

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

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Wander New York
Reese Traves
It’s a busy day in the Big Apple for Fitz the fox and his mother in Traves and Traves’s whimsically illustrated, engaging, and information-packed debut book. A yellow cab whisks Fitz and his mother into Manhattan, where they take a ferry to their first destination, the towering Lady Liberty. From there, the foxes travel by foot and subway to other iconic New York City tourist attractions that include the Brooklyn Bridge (depicted as blissfully car-free), dinosaur fossils at the American Museum of Natural History, and a bustling Grand Central Station. Fitz even learns how to use his map and find a route to the Bronx Zoo after he and his mother miss the Central Park Zoo subway stop.

This charming picture book allows readers to experience New York City vicariously as they join Fitz on a trip that is both fun and educational. Reese Traves’s friendly narrative and Jon Traves’s detailed, colorful illustrations capture Fitz’s sense of adventure as well as the quintessential character and energy of New York City. The young fox’s realistic experience in the city encompasses a range of emotions, such as the delight of climbing a “ginormous” rock and curiosity about Grand Central Station’s leaf and acorn motifs.

The visual emphasis of certain words in the sometimes stilted rhyming text adds a dynamic element: “It said CLOSED?! The train did not STOP?!/ This is not opportune./ We are LATE and the Central Park/ penguin feeding is soon!” The use of various modes of transportation will intrigue children who live outside cities and feel warmly familiar to urbanites, and trivia notes in tiny type will appeal to factoid fans. The friendly anthropomorphic characters will captivate children’s attention and spark conversation. This is a perfect story for children looking forward to, or anxious about, a proposed trip to New York.

Takeaway: This enticing child’s-eye-view of New York City is perfect for young tourists getting ready to explore the city.

Great for fans of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?, Salvatore Rubbino’s A Walk in New York.

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

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How the Deer Moon Hungers
Susan Wingate
Wingate (Storm Season) spins pure literary heartbreak in this wrenching coming-of-age tale set on an island near Seattle. MacKenzie “Mac” Fraser’s parents are separated; her seven-year-old sister, Tessa, is seriously annoying her; and her best friend, Gemma, is bugging her to try smoking pot. These mundane problems are transformed in an instant when Tessa is mowed down by a drunk driver and Mac is caught holding Gemma’s pot. Mac is sent to juvenile detention, and her mother, blaming her for Tessa’s death, throws away Mac’s possessions and gives away her beloved cat—but those are the least of Mac’s worries once she gets to the abusive environment of juvie.

Wingate’s top-notch worldbuilding skills easily draw readers into her well-plotted, often brutal story. The graphic descriptions of sexual abuse may trigger survivors, but Wingate pulls no punches in fully delivering the horrors of prison rape (committed both by those in authority and by prisoners), urging readers to empathize with and understand Mac as well as anyone sentenced to that traumatic environment. She allows readers to experience events from multiple characters’ perspectives—including Tessa’s as she’s dying—but the tale is primarily told in Mac’s pained and ultimately resigned voice.

The lyrical prose will enchant readers, and the searing plot twists and a surprising yet emotionally satisfying wrap-up command close attention. Survivors of dysfunctional families and traumatic, tragic events will find many of their experiences reflected. Though Mac is a teen, her story may be too emotionally devastating for many readers close to her in age, but adult and new adult readers will fall headlong into it. No one who picks up this heartrending story will emerge from it unchanged or unmoved.

Takeaway: This powerful and poignant novel is ideal for new adult readers seeking to immerse themselves in rage, grief, and pain.

Great for fans of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die.

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

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South Korea: The Price of Efficiency and Success
John Gonzalez and Young Lee
Gonzalez, an American educator with extensive experience teaching in South Korea, and Lee, an actuary and analyst, conceive of this thoughtful study of contemporary South Korean culture as something like a gift, an opportunity to show Gonzalez's “appreciation” to a country that had “opened its doors” to him. That spirit of thankfulness does not preclude this self-described “outsider” from offering his host country warnings about what he fears South Korea may be losing in its drive toward efficiency and success. Gonzalez and Lee have spirited praise for South Korea’s traditions and its recent rise to global dominance as an innovator and exporter of technology and pop culture, but they also sound an alarm about the possible harms of a cultural emphasis on materialism.

Concerned that a nation enjoying growth and international prestige is losing ground in happiness, the authors note that many young people see success as reserved for those who are already wealthy. Other factors, they suggest, might be the nation’s low fertility rate and aging population. They argue that a cultural emphasis on efficiency and speed is the cause of several deadly industrial disasters. Meanwhile, globalization introduces ways of life that oppose traditional values such as respect for the elderly.

Gonzalez takes a first-person approach to a wide-ranging work that would be more persuasive if it foregrounded Korean voices and avoided sweeping statements such as “Koreans have an innate desire to reach consensus.” However, readers will appreciate his celebration of South Korea’s adoption of new technologies, spirit of collective sacrifice, and enduring traditions. Those who agree with the authors' beliefs about the cost of material success will appreciate this compilation of statistics, anecdotes, observations, and food for thought.

Takeaway: This study will interest Westerners looking for a sympathetic and self-aware outsider’s take on 21st-century South Korean cultural shifts.

Great for fans of Geoffrey Cain’s Samsung Rising, Boye Lafayette De Mente’s The Korean Way in Business.

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

The Magdalene Deception
Gary McAvoy
In this gripping conspiracy thriller, McAvoy (And Every Word Is True) applies his love of ancient manuscripts and historical documents to weave a story that spans from the early days of the Catholic Church to the present. Father Michael Dominic, an assistant archivist of the Secret Archives of the Vatican, has stumbled upon a relic’s trail that’s tangled up with blackmail and death. Hana Sinclair, a journalist for the French newspaper Le Monde, is investigating France’s involvement in the funneling of Jewish assets through Swiss banks during WWII. When their investigations invariably link, the two join forces for answers, while a mysterious foe lingers in the background.

Separately, Hana and Michael’s stories are balanced and intriguing. Together, a forced romantic subplot derails and disengages the reader. The two only share fleeting moments of genuine interaction. The inclusion of Swiss Guard Karl Dengler and Brother Calvino Mendoza’s attraction to Michael mainly serve to show him as desirable while setting up the real romantic subplot. The insertion of a well-intentioned coming-out scene appears unearned in a friendship that hasn’t matured enough to warrant such a display of trust.

Welcome historical context is sprinkled throughout the novel, which includes vivid descriptions of real-world celebrations, history-inspired prophecy, ancient texts, Wikipedia articles, sections of epic poems, and newspaper clippings. Every detail has been carefully curated to immerse the reader in the story, and McAvoy makes sure to leave breathing room for readers to absorb each new piece of information. The rich settings, elegantly described through architecture and antiques, anchor the reader in time and place. Consistent pacing complements the narrative. Only the awkward personal relationships undermine the tension. This story brims with intrigue, danger, and the fight for a religion’s soul.

Takeaway: Steeped in Vatican and WWII intrigue, this history-rich thriller will appeal to readers eager to unravel conspiracies and explore the past.

Great for fans of Raymond Khoury’s The Last Templar; Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail; Ian Caldwell’s The Fifth Gospel; Dan Brown.

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

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The Slaughtered Lamb Bookstore & Bar
Seana Shelby
Kelly blends suspense and the supernatural in a fast-paced, lighthearted paranormal romance packed with action. Sam Quinn became a werewolf at 17 after a brutal rape that left her emotionally and physically scarred. Now 24, she runs a combination bookstore and bar catering to the supernatural community. This quiet life is interrupted when an unfamiliar wolf assaults her during an evening run and she loses a protective amulet she got from her mother, one whose power she never realized. Now exposed to psychic bombardment from enemies she didn’t know she possessed, Sam has to trust her friends to become true allies as she fights for her life.

The action begins almost immediately, giving readers a scant taste of Sam’s everyday life before repeated crises encroach. As the book opens, her relationships seem casual, with people being kept at arm’s length, but her acquaintances are happy to come to her rescue even when she’s in significant danger. Over time, as Sam is attacked again and again, the emotional impact of the onslaught starts to wane. The relentless pace is also reflected in her romantic life; her love interest, Clive, eventually admits he’s been fascinated by her for a long time, but the development of their relationship feels startlingly abrupt.

Despite the plot’s demanding pace, Sam is a sympathetic protagonist, more so as the book progresses. Though she initially appears to depend on her friends’ kind assistance, the narrative traces her burgeoning confidence as she matures and discovers her own strength. She grows on a personal level as she allows herself to open up and become vulnerable to the people who care about her. This adventurous story will have readers rooting for a strong heroine as she blooms through confronting danger and surviving adversity.

Takeaway: This action-packed paranormal series launch will appeal to readers who enjoy a plot-driven, female-centric journey of growth with a side of romance.

Great for fans of Patricia Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series.

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

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Between These Walls
Michael Newman
Newman’s gripping debut novel draws on first-person accounts of people who survived imprisonment in concentration camps during WWII, creatively combining several plotlines into a compelling narrative. Parallel stories highlight Maj. Bruno Schmidt’s rise in the ranks of Hitler’s Nazi Party and attorney Arnold Weisz’s efforts to protect his family from Nazi persecution. Dr. Samuel Singer, a WWII U.S. Army surgeon, is stationed in Germany, where he adopts a baby, names him Daniel, and brings him home to New York. In 1973, when Daniel and his father travel to Israel to celebrate the 25th anniversary of independence, Daniel is recruited by the Israeli government to undertake a mission identifying high-ranking Nazis who escaped to Egypt after the war. Fifteen years later, Daniel, now an assistant museum curator, receives a mysterious package from Germany and must unravel its secrets.

Though Newman’s protagonists are fictional characters, he intertwines their stories with accounts of real historical figures. His extensive research focuses on the chilling rise of the Nazi Party and the horrors endured by Jewish residents of Germany as they were stripped of their rights and sent to concentration camps. He also examines the fight for Israel’s independence as people liberated from the camps travel to the Holy Land in search of safety.

Newman effortlessly uses flashbacks and other clever devices to tie the stories together. Each narrative is richly drawn, revealing the characters’ emotions and motivations while adding the perfect amount of historical background to make their experiences believable and real. The even pacing continues throughout the novel, conveying an undercurrent of suspense that develops to a stunning conclusion. This powerful novel will enthrall any reader of historical suspense fiction.

Takeaway: Fans of WWII fiction will not want to miss this gripping story, which brims with authenticity and suspense.

Great for fans of Hayuta Katzenelson’s The Jewish Spy, Pam Jenoff’s The Diplomat’s Wife.

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

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The Rose Vol. 1 A Dystopian Science Fiction Thriller
P.D. Alleva
This dystopian horror novel goes all in on its blockbuster premise: alien vampires called the Drac have infiltrated Earth, inciting global war and subjecting humans to genetic experiments. Human soldiers, thinking they’re following legitimate orders, capture pregnant women and children for Drac use. Sandy Cox, six months pregnant, flees a refugee camp but is caught and taken to a vast underground facility near Atlanta, where her baby is prematurely extracted and transformed into a bloodthirsty human-Drac hybrid. Now Sandy must rely on enigmatic freedom fighter Phil and other unlikely allies to escape the Drac city before it’s destroyed by a saboteur, even as a dispute between alien factions erupts into open fighting.

Staccato prose, a choppy narrative, and visceral descriptions grant this dystopian thriller both urgency and a sense of chaos, which contribute to the story’s air of intrigue and confusion. With multiple plot lines weaving throughout the increasingly frenetic tale, which is told from frequently shifting perspectives, it can be hard to keep track of the numerous characters and threats. Alleva rarely dwells on backstory or worldbuilding, leaving much to be explained late in the story, if at all.

Sandy’s maternal instincts serve her well in her efforts to protect her newborn child, and she has a fair amount of internal complexity, but many other characters are opaque or underexplored. For instance, Phil is distilled down to his unique weapons and impressive combat skills, with very little said about his background or purpose. This series opener clearly has ambitious plans to set up a conflict among the Drac with Earth caught in the middle, touching upon tantalizing ideas such as vast underground cities, a manufactured world war, and weapons on the moon, but the focus is always on the immediate action at hand. The mix of violence, horror, and melodrama has a certain gonzo appeal.

Takeaway: This action-packed struggle for survival on a devastated Earth invaded by alien vampires will pull in readers looking for no-holds-barred adventure and cinematic flair.

Great for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annhilation, L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth, John Ringo’s A Hymn Before Battle.

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

Rebirth of the Gangster Act 1
Chris Stensrud
The first comic by writer and blogger Standal, drawn by veteran illustrator Romera, deals with six characters escaping dark pasts and striving for the light as they interact with the criminal justice system. Marcus Thompson, lawyer and son of upstanding philanthropists Curtis and Andrea, is pistol-whipped during a robbery by a masked man later revealed to be Hunter Anderson. Hunter’s ex-junkie mother, Linda, and absent father, John, were betrayed in some way by Curtis, and now Hunter vows to get revenge. To do so, Hunter ingratiates himself with Marcus. Meanwhile, Det. Lorena Sanchez, who attended high school with Hunter, is hot on his trail.

Perhaps because of the tall task of covering six significant characters and their tangled history in six short issues, several aspects of each character are clarified either late or not at all. Andrea isn’t given a name until page 81, and Linda’s illness is known to Hunter—and the reader—only as “some super-serious cancer.” Flashbacks interrupt abruptly and often look indistinguishable from the current day, and the cause of the old enmity between Curtis and John is not revealed by the book’s end. This can make for a difficult reading experience at times, but it’s also clear that the book is intended as part of a larger series, and there’s plenty to whet the reader’s appetite for future installments.

Romera’s dynamic black-and-white art fits both the noir aesthetic and the recurring theme of being “born out of darkness into light.” The multiple entwining arcs combine to evoke an urban setting rife with violence and decay; almost all the characters come from broken homes, and they all have something to hide. The haunted pasts and struggles of characters such as Hunter and Marcus, and the police procedures and investigations of Detective Sanchez and her colleagues, will appeal to readers of both superhero comics and noir-flavored graphic novels.

Takeaway: This illustrated crime thriller will entice fans of family sagas and tangled revenge plots.

Great for fans of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s The Fade Out.

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

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EMERGENCE
Shira Shiloah
Shiloah’s debut medical romantic thriller weaves romance and suspense into a contemporary drama about new beginnings. Dr. Roxanne Roth, an anesthesiologist in Memphis, Tenn., buries herself in work to distract from her grief over the untimely death of her fiancé, Mark. Resident doctor Justin Kirkland is the sexy love interest who convinces Roxanne to give romance a second shot. Just when her life starts moving in the right direction, a patient of Roxanne’s dies on the operating table. All eyes turn to Dr. D.K. Webb, a narcissist neurosurgeon with a string of operating room mishaps. Roxanne makes it her mission to prove that Webb is murdering patients.

The book opens strongly with an over-the-top characterization of D.K. and his psychotic tendencies. Readers who like their romantic thrillers heavy on the thrills will love to hate this ruthless villain. Unfortunately, he vanishes from the story for several chapters as Roxanne’s dramatic love story with Justin takes center stage. While this slows the pace, romance fans will enjoy the spotlight on Roxanne, a compassionate protagonist who thrives under pressure. Her scenes drive the plot forward as she fights to expose D.K.’s murders.

Shiloah’s experience as a doctor shines in the meticulous details and resonant dialogue. The intense operating room scenes are written with authority. Southerners will recognize and appreciate the famous Memphis landmarks such as the Peabody Hotel, Harahan Bridge, and the giant Bass Pro shop in the Memphis pyramid. Some scenes feel extraneous to the plot and delay the action, but readers who enjoy cheering for strong female protagonists will quickly champion Roxanne. The brutal serial killer is a strong foil for the sweet romance, creating a tantalizing plot for fans who like their happily-ever-after with a dash of medical malice.

Takeaway: This romantic thriller with a medical theme will satisfy readers who like bold female leads and dramas about overcoming the odds.

Great for fans of Kelly Parsons’s Doing Harm, Tess Gerritsen.

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

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All those tears we can't see (2nd edition)
Gita Audhya
Audhya’s tearjerker second novel (after In Pursuit of Love, Spirituality, and Happiness) explores the relationship between a contemporary Bengali immigrant and her American-born daughter. Shimonti Bose, raised in a middle-class Bengali family in India, got married and started life over in America in pursuit of the American dream. But Shimonti—now going by Samantha—feels torn between cultures, a divide that only deepens when she raises a daughter, Monica, who feels purely American and eventually starts dating Brandon, a white American man. Then Monica shocks and surprises her mother by accepting a journalist assignment in India. As she and Samantha travel separately through India, Monica begins to understand where her mother came from, while Samantha experiences being a stranger in a changed India.

Monica and Samantha both undergo transformations throughout the novel, illuminating the familial challenges of bridging cultures. Audhya has a gift for description and insight. However, her long asides grow repetitive after a time, and some of the dialogue sounds stilted. Her portrayals of Indian cities are rich and vivid, but readers may be jarred by equally vivid scenes of violence. Some Bengali cultural elements are described in detail for outsiders, but others go unexplained, leaving the book’s intended audience unclear. Indian and American racial politics play significant, sometimes contrasting roles in Samantha’s life. While she is conscious of being treated as an outsider in the U.S., she shrugs off anti-Black racism among Indians. She agonizes over Monica getting engaged to Brandon, threatening to bar Monica from her house and concluding, “I can never think of him as my own son.” Monica and Brandon’s romance is less than compelling; the key relationship is between Samantha and Monica, and the conclusion of their story will have readers weeping.

Audhya connects the past and the present through highlighting both cultural comfort and dissonance in relatable terms. The strongest part of the story is the complexity of the relationship between a mother and daughter who love each other very deeply but struggle to understand each other. This endearing, sometimes tragic story will resonate with anyone who has ever had a difficult relationship with family, and particularly with members of immigrant families who are working to unite generations.

Takeaway: This powerful and insightful drama will appeal to members of immigrant families that are grappling with cultural divides across generations.

Great for fans of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.

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

Experiencing the Body and Blood of Christ
Andrew K Fox
Fox, a pastor and professor, delivers an outstanding and thorough analysis of the historical, contextual, and personal nature of Communion in relation to older Millennial and Generation Z students, investigating the sacrament and the retelling of the redemption story as a means of individual connection and community building. The work is aimed at ministry practitioners, who will find it an effective guide to learning about and connecting with young people who may feel alienated from or confused by this aspect of Christian practice. This exhaustive and sweeping assessment offers abundant resources relevant to Communion and current Christian generations.

Throughout the text, the reader moves through natural points of questions and answers, in an experience reminiscent of a classroom setting. Fox, acting as teacher and guide, includes many examples of the lived experiences of Communion as reported by students, faculty, and faith leaders. He provides a solid foundational understanding of Communion and its importance as a biblically and liturgically sourced celebration of the redemption narrative, through an extensive exploration of its origins in the early days of the Western Church to the present day. Clearly designed tables and figures reiterate the information provided in the text and will be useful for visual learners.

"Summary Thought” sections placed throughout each chapter help consolidate the analysis and discussion into bite-size paragraphs that can easily be revisited for further study. Covering topics as wide-ranging as church history, the importance of a biblically sourced theological lens, and the effects of a postmodern existence and culture on the sensibilities of current generations, Fox’s methodical outlines and meticulous examinations of history, theology, and lived experiences establish this comprehensive guide as a standout in its field. This informative and thoughtful exploration of scripture will greatly aid religious leaders reaching out to current and future generations of Christians.

Takeaway: This in-depth examination of Christian Communion is an indispensable guide for ministry practitioners and religious teachers.

Great for fans of Alexander Schmemann’s The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom; Rowan Williams’s Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer; Samuel Gregg’s Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization.

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

Re-Making the American Dream
David Vaught
Vaught’s earnest memoir of 11 pivotal years, starting with enrolling in West Point in 1965 and ending with working on Dan Walker’s campaign to be reelected governor of Illinois, focuses on his drive to hold corrupt American institutions to their stated ideals. When Vaught entered West Point, he was shocked that everyone was required to participate in religious events and “donate” to the chapel. Vaught was concerned that waging war went against Christ’s teachings, but the “mandatory state religion of the Army” required unquestioning obedience and never addressed his quandaries. He and a few friends decided to push for an end to compulsory chapel, but their requests were met with threats and retaliation. A legal battle ensued, motivating Vaught to attend law school and pursue a career in government.

This book is about advocating for change during a time when the country was divided culturally, politically, and generationally. The crisis in Vietnam was part of what drove Vaught’s efforts to extricate religion from the Army, as he believed that “compulsory chapel... was the fundamental flawed premise of West Point” and directly linked to a shift from civilian control of the military to the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, the writing sometimes obscures the story’s purpose, with tangled sentences distracting from Vaught’s strong morals and cogent points, and ruminations on the American dream interrupting the central narrative.

The story works both as autobiography and as a record of its era, with substantial research and factual material enhancing Vaught’s recollections. Though the later chapters are more personal and hold less of the legal-thriller tension of the West Point section, readers will admire Vaught’s willingness to devote his life to his causes. This narrative of idealism and “standing up to fallible men” will inspire readers to hold fast to their principles and speak up for what they believe.

Takeaway: This memoir of holding the American military and government to high standards will please readers looking for books with strong moral and civic ideals.

Great for fans of Nathaniel Fick, James Bradley.

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

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