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The Culture of Money
De'Andre Salter
In this impassioned faith-based financial guidebook, Salter (Success Factors) calls for “economic revolution in Black America,” challenging Black Americans to realign views surrounding money and wealth to an “economic ideology for all Black individuals to know more, own more and pass down more.” He issues a dire warning about the state of Black wealth, predicting an “economic tsunami” that will widen the already drastic gap between racial groups in the U.S., potentially eliminating Black wealth altogether. To combat this massive transfer of capital, Salter asserts the Black church must take on a leadership role to ensure money behavior shifts in alignment with the financial goals of the Black community as a whole.

Salter aims to transform “the culture,” or the way many Black Americans think about money and wealth, and he spins some familiar financial and budgeting advice into something more specific and relevant for his intended audience, “the open-minded who want to be challenged to adopt a better, more faithful way to prosper.” Each chapter addresses a widely-held harmful money practice or misconception within the Black community, primarily inadequate financial education, lack of equitable ownership, and poor estate and retirement planning.

Salter offers The Culture of Money as an economic wake-up call to not only the Black community, but also the Black church, at a time when “many of the poorest Americans are abandoning the Black church en masse.” Salter calls for a theology that makes “room for building up financial resources for the people” and warns that “If the Black churches die, Black culture is over as we know it.” These strong words may give some readers pause, but he backs his assertion by highlighting the importance of the church and religious leaders in building community, sharing resources, and organizing for a better world. This rousing guide addresses serious concerns for readers eager to improve the cultural and financial health of Black America.

Takeaway: This guide challenges Black readers to shift ideas about wealth, not just for personal gain but for advancement of Black culture.

Great for fans of: Daymond John, Tiffany Aliche’s Get Good with Money.

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

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The Square Up: A DI Mahoney Mystery
sj brown
This fourth installment in Brown’s Detective Inspector Mahoney series follows DI John Mahoney and an extensive team of detectives and forensic investigators as they track down a possible serial killer linked to multiple murders in modern-day southern Tasmania. Alongside newly promoted Detective Sergeant Kate Kendall, and recently confirmed Detective Constable David Gibson, Mahoney quickly becomes immersed in the gruesome murder of a wealthy businessman, found bound and mutilated in a dark, symbolic manner. The investigation kickstarts a cat-and-mouse game with a vengeful killer who manages to stay one step ahead of Mahoney and his crew until an intense, unexpected finish.

Brown, who is native to the island, brings southern Tasmania to life with local color and destinations, notably Opossum Bay, the Derwent River, and Mount Wellington. The dialogue, especially amongst detectives, is authentic to the area and adds an element of immersive familiarity, inviting readers into the milieu: “‘Good on you and all that, getting into the Squad. Suits you,’ Herrick affirmed. ‘Not for me though, mate. Need to keep on the regular shifts for me footy.’”

The investigation drives the plot, of course, though Brown takes the time to offer insight into the hearts and minds of his investigators. A sleep deprived Mahoney, who had “read a bit about Hobbes and Locke without fully comprehending their ideas,” struggles with recurring dreams linked to his anxieties surrounding the case, while DS Kendall challenges misogynistic attitudes as she climbs the ranks in the male-dominated Serious Crimes Squad. New to the team, Gibson struggles with making the jump from patrol officer to detective while trying to prove his worth to the experienced Mahoney. The prologue and some other chapters are told from the killer’s point of view, which raises the stakes and adds an extra level of thrill to the case. Fans of crime thrillers and cozy mysteries alike will revel in this realistically complex police procedural.

Takeaway: A vivid, convincing Tasmanian police procedural boasting sharply characterized investigators.

Great for fans of: Garry Disher, Barry Maitland’s Crucifixion Creek, Candice Fox.

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

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Incomplete
Joel David Levin
Levin’s relatable debut is a heartfelt coming-of-age story that channels the passions of adolescence into musical revelations. High school English teacher Brian Smith, named after Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson and still an unapologetic “Beach Head,” has put his musical past as bassist and songwriter of his own punk band, Call Field, well behind him in the ‘00s. But when one of his students sees Call Field’s one-hit-wonder song “Incomplete” on YouTube, Smith is forced to confront his “rock and roll PTSD”: the painful memories of his departure from his band.

The story looks back to follow a young Smith as he struggles through his adolescence and early college years, honing his musical talent while dealing with insecurities and heartbreaks. Levin captures the mind of an adolescent boy with sensitivity, infusing awkward moments with gentle humor and the darker ones with empathy and compassion. Brian’s richly detailed inner life is the book’s primary focus, leaving its secondary characters less developed. Some readers will want to know more about the band’s other members or Serena, Brian’s unrequited love. However, Brian’s relationship with his father is dynamic, loving, and deeply musical.

The other key relationship, of course, is with music, and Levin’s book is a rock fan’s delight. Though the Beach Boys are the primary musical lens, references to and insights about other bands and songs abound. The invented Call Field material is convincing, as Brian shares both his song lyrics and the creative process he uses to write them. Levin himself also highlights his work’s construction, often directly addressing the reader, making heavy use of reflective foreshadowing, or acknowledging the limits of nostalgia. His work here is indeed “incomplete,” though, as the story only covers the beginning of Call Field’s rise to fame, leaving the rest of the story for a follow-up. By exploring music as a path toward personal growth, this sensitive, lyric novel offers a refreshing twist on the standard bildungsroman.

Takeaway: A Beach-Boy loving ex-punk rocker reflects on life, love, and music in this engaging novel of the rise of a band.

Great for fans of: Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Rachel Cohn’s Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

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

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Beyond Balancing the Books: Sheer Mindfulness for Professionals in Work and Life
George Marino, CPA, CFP
This inviting, clear-eyed guide from CPA and mindfulness coach Marino offers readers a step-by-step plan to becoming more mindful and present—more in the now—in their professional lives. Incorporating empowering questions, mindfulness exercises, and everyday practices of presence, Marino lays out an interactive roadmap for professionals to take the anxiety and stress out of their daily careers and begin to “awaken to a deep,abiding peace and joy—even as you are challenged and snapped at.” Offering clear comparisons and examples, and drawing on the work of the likes of Eckhart Tolle and Daniel J. Siegel, Marino makes the case that mindfulness practices can break professionals from a state of depression, stress, and anger and help lead them into a more fulfilling daily routine not only at work, but in their personal lives as well.

Marino opens by showcasing the polar opposite approaches and outcomes of a professional who works mindlessly and one who works from a place of mindfulness and “feels a sense of satisfaction with her work,mainly because it is aligned with her state and purpose.” Chapters focus on awareness, being aware of one's emotions, setting goals, and compassion for oneself and for one’s colleagues. “Compassion is innate to humans. However, many of us don’t know that yet,” Marino notes.

While much of the book focuses on creating a more organized—and more “intentional”— professional life for a target audience of CPAs and career-focused individuals, Marino’s meditations, probing questions, and instruments (including steps for increasing emotional intelligence and practicing compassionate forgiveness) apply to almost anyone facing a demanding job. As Marino points out, work increasingly overflows into home life, as millions check email or work overtime and late nights. Readers looking to incorporate mindfulness and a deeper understanding of the self and their own life goals will benefit from this look at achieving a fuller balance.

Takeaway:A welcoming, comprehensive guide to practicing mindfulness and presence in professional life.

Great for fans of: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

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

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The Road to Sugar Loaf : A Suffragist's Story
Eric T. Reynolds
In the town of Sycamore Falls, Kansas, an intrepid woman does everything she can to secure the right to vote for women. Reynolds’ second novel, after (The Artifacts: A Flint Hills Story ) follows Kathryn Wolfe, co-owner of the Main Street Bookshop, on her journey to suffrage, as well as summiting the local hill that she’s always wanted to climb. In brief, almost micro chapters, Reynolds spins an uplifting tale of a fictionalized suffragist, inspired by historical events and suffragists from history. With Sugar Loaf Hill functioning as a metaphor for the struggle, The Road to Sugar Loaf is an approachable text for those learning about the movement or interested in putting themselves in a suffragist’s shoes.

Kathryn deeply loves her town and Sugar Loaf Hill, but Reynolds’s sparse prose doesn’t offer the lived-in detail to summon up a sense of her milieu. The story, which expands to touch on divorce and other issues, is told primarily in dialogue (with the occasional telegram), an approach that emphasizes the social nature of Wolfe’s work but leads to some awkward expositional conversation while leaving it to the reader to fill in the blanks of what characters look like and why they do the things they do.

At its best, though, the novel showcases a keen eye on social and emotional relationships in small towns and the way women work together. The extended chapter where Kathryn pickets in Washington, D.C., as a “Silent Sentinel” is an unflinching look at the abuse and ridicule the women went through during the tense time before the Nineteenth Amendment was created and later ratified. Full of characters who grow, evolve, and change their minds, readers who love an ensemble cast with a strong main character will enjoy Kathryn’s story of triumph, as she stands in for so many women who organized and labored in their small towns to get suffrage for all women.

Takeaway: This novel of a Kansas suffragist’s climb toward justice emphasizes the hard work and conviction it takes to change minds.

Great for fans of: Sally Nicholls’s Things a Bright Girl Can Do, Laura Moriarty.

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

I Am Here: Postcards from My Daughter in Spirit
Judith Jones Togher
In her debut memoir, Togher presents wrenching and honest meditations on how to live after the passing of someone you love. When Togher’s daughter Suzanne was 8 years old and reeling from the death of a close family friend, Suzanne said to her mother: “...if I ever die, I will never leave you...We will always be together—we will make a pact.” Thirty-one years later, Suzanne passed away after a series of health complications. Togher’s memoir details her conviction that Suzanne kept their pact, and she offers what she sees as Suzanne’s communications from the spirit world—the “physical phenomena, sights, odors, movement of objects, and the playful use of lights”—as case studies for readers seeking ways to cope with loss. She encourages readers to be “open to the possibilities of the universe” and to interpret, say, a penny on the sidewalk as a message of support.

To some, death is a taboo subject, but Togher writes of her experience with courage and deep emotional intelligence. Her memoir reads as a therapeutic expression of her grief, a practical guide for readers seeking comfort after loss, and a celebration of Suzanne’s life. Togher gives concrete advice about her own grieving process, but also affirms that people grieve differently. While she feels spiritually connected to Suzanne still, and gives ample examples of how she has maintained contact with her in Spirit, she recognizes that “not everyone will wish to, or try to, see or hear messages from the other side of the veil” and acknowledges that that “is perfectly okay.”

Togher emphasizes the ways that someone can deepen their relationship to a loved one who has passed through automatic writing exchanges, mediums, and the messages that she calls “postcards” that suggest a presence and affirm that death does not mean someone is truly gone. Togher exemplifies how “the grief of your loss really can be made manageable and perhaps even turn to joy.”

Takeaway: Readers facing loss will find comfort and beauty in Togher’s enlightening approach to grief.

Great for fans of: Gail Caldwell’s Let’s Take the Long Way Home, Laura Lynn Jackson’s Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe.

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

The Long Winding Road of Harry Raymond: A Detective's Journey Down the Mean Streets of Pre-War Los Angeles
Patrick D Jenning
This colorful anecdotal history of crime in pre-war Los Angeles presents a lively cast of cops, criminals and reformers who, for better or worse, gave us modern Southern California. Most of the action is seen through the eyes of Harry Raymond, a police detective and private investigator, who is involved in many of the period’s key cases. Raymond gains and loses many jobs due to the turbulent politics of the time, when the line could be vanishingly thin between policeman and felon. The corruption eventually boils over into a violent confrontation that almost costs Raymond his life, and marks the end of an era.

Jenning is a meticulous researcher who delves deeply into the minutiae of California crime and politics. An account of an apparent child murder does a neat job of covering both the panic the death inspired as well as the limits of forensics at the time. He is especially effective at capturing the era’s pervasive corruption, as in a darkly funny tale of a politician being set up with a "dissolute" woman to embarrass him. Readers also get the dish on Raymond's brushes with celebrity, such as the attempted kidnapping of movie star Mary Pickford. Sometimes, a surfeit of detail overwhelms the narrative, but the stories are always engaging, and dozens of period photos help readers put faces to names

The crime scenes are anchored in social history, offering Jenning a chance to dig into topics like Los Angeles's attempts to stop dust bowl refugees from entering California, which resonates with current headlines. Indeed, Angelenos became obsessed with protecting themselves from wicked Eastern U.S. cities. Readers meet preacher-reformers who battled vice—and who accuse Raymond of corruption. The charges fascinate, even as Raymond himself never fully comes into focus: Was he a hero or opportunist? But this ambiguous figure proves a grand "spokesman" for this scrupulous history that rounds up so many other ambiguous figures, as well as the political and criminal battles they fought.

Takeaway: Fans of both history and noir fiction will revel in the many true-life crime accounts in pre-war Southern California.

Great for fans of: John Buntin’s L.A. Noir, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy.

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

Click here for more about The Long Winding Road of Harry Raymond
Forever My Always: For The Soon To Be World Explorer
Eevi Jones
Jones’s (The Magic of Choice) sweet children’s book encourages young people to explore the world and take chances to become the “truest version” of themselves. Reminiscent at times of the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Jones uses simple rhyming verse to offer kids of all ages essential advice about overcoming challenges, choosing the right friends, and how to “trust in their own magic.” One of the most welcome, important–and hardest to grasp– components of Jones’s message is its warning against the pitfalls of privilege: “Gain confidence through your success, not entitlement and birth. For through the daily and smallest of wins your true self–it will emerge.”

Jones’s distinctive, starkly black-and-white illustrations, with some enticing pops of red, depict a young boy and girl in various stages of exploration and amusement: playing in the mud, working together to complete a joint mural, watering flowers, and helping each other navigate a rock wall labeled “friendships.” Weaving together these warm scenes is a red string originating from an oversized ball of yarn, with every strand representing essential personality characteristics to develop, including love, friendship, courage–and even mistakes, as the story points out that “pushing through struggles” provides growth opportunities. The children's faces are clear and expressive, giving younger kids and parents plenty of chances to contemplate and talk about their feelings.

For parents who feel emotional when envisioning their babies venturing out into the world, this touching story will likely trigger a tear or two. However, it will also give adults important opportunities to talk to youngsters about crucial life skills, like growing confidence and overcoming fear. With distinctive illustrations and mostly smooth, easy-to-follow rhymes, Jones’s uplifting tale will inspire curiosity in young people–and leave parents wishing they could go back in time to impart knowledge to younger versions of themselves.

Takeaway: This delightful story encourages children of all ages to explore the world and take chances to become the “truest version” of themselves.

Great for fans of: Emily Winfield Martin’s The Wonderful Things You Will Be, Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein’s The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes.

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

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Touch
Rebecca Miller
Miller’s debut paints a dark, sensitive portrait of a broken family as they struggle to help a boy who is just as broken as they are. After her mother’s death, high-school student Meg, a budding and talented artist, sees her life unravel, losing all inspiration and drive. Her family is in tatters: Her father is increasingly distant and plans to move the family across the country, and her teenage brothers live just to annoy her. Meg knows she must pick up the pieces of her old life. When she runs across a reclusive classmate named Shawn, she is instantly drawn to him, and she puts pencil to paper, inspired to draw again. But Shawn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that could threaten their relationship and even Meg’s life.

Miller writes with heart and conviction, situating believable characters in a realistic world and letting Meg and Shawn’s curious relationship blossom over the course of the novel in prose that’s by turns tender, taut, and suspenseful. Raw and unflinching, Touch captures the realities of facing trauma, as Meg and Shawn discover shocking truths and attempt to care for each other. Amid the drama, Miller transports readers to the fictional Jessup, Missouri, attentive to the candy apples and country bands at a county fair or the rough character of some of its inhabitants: “The fight was all anyone talked about: Bobby’s punch to Damian’s gut, his jab to his face, Damian’s shot to Bobby’s jaw …”

Some heavy-handed symbolism involving hummingbirds and self-help books dulls the impact of a story whose shattering events and realizations should have plenty of power on their own. The novel could easily be broken into two distinct parts, given its multiple emotional climaxes. Despite its structural quirks, fans of gritty coming-of-age stories set in middle America will find much that’s moving and urgent in Touch, especially as its characters find ways to care for each other.

Takeaway: A raw coming-of-age-debut that finds moving hope as its young characters face trauma and dark secrets.

Great for fans of: Crystal Chan’s All That I Can Fix, Kyla Stone’s Beneath the Skin.

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

Click here for more about Touch
Alberto
John Jimerson
Given as a gift in a stocking, Alberto the rabbit, a button-eyed stuffed animal, is immediately beloved by the little boy who receives him. Alberto and the boy spend all their time together, enjoying each other’s company (despite the boy’s nighttime drooling), though Alberto’s time alone with the boy’s other toys, listening to the boasts of electric cars and boats proves dismaying. But one day Alberto meets an old toy horse who tells him that when a kid loves a toy enough that toy can become real. What follows is Alberto’s at times harrowing journey to acceptance, love, and becoming real. Accompanied by simple yet expressive digital illustrations, this adaptation of Margery Williams Bianco’s The Velveteen Rabbit is a triumphant tale of the meaningful connections kids make with their toys.

Though the illustrations are colorful and lively, and the plot moves along at a good pace, the book, which is marketed as “designed especially for children who are in between reading picture books and chapter books,” struggles to find its footing in form. The narrative is broken up into micro-chapters which interrupt the smooth reading experience of a picture book, and make it feel longer than it really is. Even for older or more advanced readers there’s too much text on a page to read confidently, and one double-spread near the end would require a reader to be extremely comfortable with text of different sizes and directions.

Best read aloud by an advanced reader or read slowly for those still getting used to reading, Alberto is still sure to delight young readers with its tale of whimsy and love. While the story tackles some heavier topics, such as grief and sickness, its heart is in the transformative friendship between Alberto and the little boy, and it rises to a heartfelt ending full of joy.

Takeaway: A heartfelt ode to the transformative bonds between child and toy, adapted from a classic.

Great for fans of: Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny series, Emily Jenkins’s Toys Go Out.

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

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Wishing You Harm: A Brooke Roberts Mystery
Nancy Labs
Labs’s knotty first entry in the Brooke Roberts mystery series finds a young widow near Philadelphia caught in a cat-and-mouse game of intrigue over a magical medallion. Two months ago, Brooke’s husband Karl Erikson, a painter 24 years her senior, died in an apparent accident falling down an embankment and drowning in a creek. Now, during a retrospective of his work at the local art gallery, the couple’s house is ransacked, the burglars obviously looking for something in particular. Detectives are alarmed at the potential of someone wishing Brooke harm and reopen the case of Karl’s death, and soon Brooke learns that Karl, a committed atheist, had been attending church and lectures about Biblical connections to the occult.

Brooke dives into the search for answers, learning that Karl had possession of a troubling item—a medallion used in occult rituals—recently appraised by antique dealer Mordecai Simmons, who believes it could have been cursed and belongs under lock and key. While readers will likely be eager to learn more about the paranormal elements and potential cult mysteries, Labs introduces a multitude of robbery suspects, stretching out the story: Karl’s adult children Stephanie and Brett (who has recently joined a secret society); his ex-wife Janine and her husband Greg; his art student Rob; plus Brooke’s uncle Nelson; gallery owner Madeleine and her drunk husband Sidney; patronizing Historical Conservancy Director David Price; and a vociferous television producer and occultist Elena Voss.

Readers will trail the characters (and their histories) down their circuitous paths in this elaborate mystery. As the truth trickles in, and the question of who broke into the house and wants the medallion crystallizes, Labs ramps up the entertaining intrigue with sprinkles of Renaissance history and long-hidden secrets, including surprising connections to 20th century American political unrest. Readers will enjoy the inviting tone and promising mystery, but they should not expect a supernatural extravaganza.

Takeaway: This thriller follows a widow’s quest to understand why her husband owned a potentially cursed medallion.

Great for fans of: Steve Zuckerman’s The Ruthless Relic, Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House.

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

Click here for more about Wishing You Harm
sour cream and vinegar
the deplorable poet
The self-identified “deplorable poet” doesn’t quite live up to his name in this thoughtful, sometimes pained collection, a follow-up to the more avowedly political Social Distancing This!: A Confessional Imagist View Without Political Correctness. As his pen name suggests, the author, a specialist in criminal studies and forensic behavioral science, feels at odds with contemporary American society, but readers hoping for (or dreading) a MAGA screed may be surprised by what he actually offers: a searching, occasionally self-damning portrait of a man facing grief, the fear of abandonment, and the possibility that he has been corrupted like the criminals he has faced in his day job.

“The beast in me/ Wears a leash/ Called self-control,/ Which is guided/ More by self-perseverance / Than moral convictions,” he writes. Those lines—jagged, abrupt, scraped of ambiguity—exemplify the poet’s work, as does their bent. Throughout, the author returns to the theme of mastering his darkest impulses, of fearing that he bears a “Curse/ of/ Caine/ A Stench/ That cannot/ Be/ Removed.” This raw, confessional approach compels both as poetry and as unstinting self-portraiture. “Did I Forget You” incisively questions the limits of his own perspective; “Cornfield of Abandonment” takes on bereavement but also a broader sense of being alone and adrift, imagining Hell as a place “Where/ Communication/ To our/ Creator/ And the/ Ones we Love/ Ceases.” At times, his touch is light, as when he muses “I Believe/ Jesus/ Has/ Unfriended/ Me.”

Curiously, the least engaging lines are the directly political ones, which tend toward generic gripes about “the media” or prosaic statements of principle: “There is no such/ Thing as a free/ Ride/ When it comes/ From big brother.” Welcome celebrations of dogs and Anne Sexton, plus parodies of “The Red Wheelbarrow,” brighten the mood, and the comic scenario in “The Devil’s Advocate”—in which Satan’s lawyer toasts the sanctity of attorney-client privilege—has welcome bite.

Takeaway: A collection of curt, incisive poetry that lays bare a self-proclaimed “deplorable"'s soul.

Great for fans of: Aaron Goldstein, The Conservative Poets: A Contemporary Anthology.

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

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More of Us to the West
Trinity Dunn
An unhappy wife who finds herself torn from life as she knows it is at the heart of Dunn’s fast-paced romance with elements of a thriller. Alaina Grace is simply trying to reignite her marriage when fate steps in with other plans. Due to a delayed flight, she and her husband, Chris, are forced to use standby tickets as they embark on a second-chance honeymoon in Bora-Bora. Alaina has the good fortune of getting bumped to a first-class seat next to her school-age crush, the one-time child actor and teen idol Jack Volmer, while her husband makes do with a seat in coach. When their plane crashes in a freak storm, Alaina is separated from her husband, injured, and stuck on an island with a group of strangers—including the familiar face of Jack. As they strive to survive, and she gravitates toward Jack, Alaina finds herself torn between her past and her present.

Dunn does an excellent job of capturing the voice of a discontented wife, trying to rekindle the spark. Alaina’s a complex yet relatable character who has come to that age-old milestone of wondering about the road less traveled: Her internal monologues make clear that she’s unsatisfied in her marriage to her husband of ten years. At times, her thoughts are riddled with insecurities, and other times they verge on the spiteful. But with an ensemble cast of characters who have to depend on each other for support and survival, this novel is more than just a love story.

Dunn writes it all with clarity and precision, creating a bond between the characters and the reader with her vivid imagery and skilled craftmanship. She’s masterful when transitioning between the past and present with flashbacks, intricately layering and revealing the plot. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns as the survivors face the challenges of wilderness life and, when it's all said and done, a satisfying cliffhanger ending.

Takeaway: A contemporary romance boasting a strong protagonist and packed with action, adventure, and suspense.

Great for fans of: Liane Moriarty, Jodi Picoult.

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

Click here for more about More of Us to the West
Stan, Stan, the Bacteria Man: a novelette
Stephen M.A.
M.A.’s provocative oddball short novel imagines what might happen if a humanoid form composed of shape-shifting sludge were to suddenly materialize in Washington, D.C. Stan the Bacteria Man first manifests in the Oval Office, where government officials promptly shoot him down. Undeterred, the curious creature reappears (and meets a similar fate) each day until he befriends a federal agent named Veylet, who attempts to understand this mysterious BOUO— “being of unknown origin.” In his travels, Stan also encounters the president of the United States, as well as an angry racist he calls “Jim Bean the human person,” who both shout vulgar and offensive phrases at him in all-caps text.

Stan’s presence and mysterious motivation are certainly intriguing, and M.A. has playfully crafted the story and prose to match its protagonist’s singular perspective. The text regularly refers to characters’ “mouth holes” and “nose holes,” and many sentences are riddled with copyright symbols following the names of fictional products, such as the H&K Kinetic Killer Parametric Orbital Scanner. At times funny or revealing, these quirks grow distracting over the course of a narrative that defies traditional plotting.

Each chapter opens with the declaration “Stan the bacteria man had a very bacteria plan, that man,” and until the final chapters M.A. leaves it to readers to work out what exactly that plan might be, or why Stan continually manifests, interacts, and tries to make sense of our world before getting shot or melting into a puddle. Alienating by design, the story still offers some moments of welcome warmth. Perhaps the strongest comes when Stan encounters “Dog the sniffer dog” and curls up next to him in a kennel. Stan is able to recreate the scent of the dog’s mother, and the two share a sweet cuddle. This wacky novella has plenty of witty set pieces and curious mysteries but doesn’t take pains to invite readers to its quirky wavelength.

Takeaway: Experimental fiction that charges proudly and playfully into the strange.

Great for fans of: Cesar Aira, Charles Yu.

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

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Fix This Next for Healthcare Providers: Your Business Is Like A Patient, You Just Have To Treat It That Way
Kasey R Compton
Healthcare entrepreneur Compton (Million Dollar Practice: Five Steps to Make Sure Your Group is on Track) presents her tried and tested method for healthcare providers to “grow their business without worry and stress” in this well-structured debut. She begins by refashioning Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into a “Healthcare Hierarchy of Needs”—with three foundational levels of sales, profit, and order—and goes on to offer a framework for healthcare providers to “diagnose” the fundamental issues having an impact on their practices. Drawing on her experience in the field, and frankly confronting mistakes that nearly resulted in a failed practice, Compton urges readers to zero in on their purpose, work unceasingly to “level up” their business, and stop sacrificing their own lives in the name of success.

Cleverly organized as a treatment planner, Compton’s no-nonsense, highly specific guide dispenses practical advice hand-in-hand with diagnostic tools and straight-talking questions about running a practice, like “Do you have an ongoing, working model to reduce bottlenecks, congestion points, and inefficiencies?” and “Is your practice designed to operate unabated when critical employees are unavailable?” Compton invites her audience to design a treatment plan centered on each individual practice’s strengths, goals, and interventions for success, while reminding readers that “your efforts, your interventions, and your time should all have one goal, and that is profitability.”

The key to that, Compton writes, is to “treat your business in the same way you treat your patients– with interventions.” Compton’s many real-world examples, distilled into those helpful “interventions” for readers and tailored for each of the foundational levels of hierarchy of needs, make this handbook stand out as a strong fit for her target audience. This guide lives up to its title—it offers a host of ready-made fixes tailored to the individual needs of healthcare entrepreneurs—while making Compton’s exhortation to “live life on your own terms because you have confidence in your ability to run your business” seem achievable.

Takeaway: An all-inclusive, step-by-step reference guide for healthcare professionals looking to take their business to the next level.

Great for fans of: Barbara Galutia Regis’ Surviving the “Business” of Healthcare, Laurie Morgan’s People, Technology, Profit: Practical Ideas for a Happier, Healthier Practice Business.

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

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Love, Only Better
Paulette Stout
After a devastating breakup, 28-year-old Manhattanite Rebecca Sloane is left sexually frustrated and questioning her own desires, or lack thereof, until a meet-cute with her elderly neighbor’s nephew, Kyle, sends her on a journey of self-discovery in this steamy, contemporary romance. Labeled a “frigid ice queen” by her ex, Rebecca participates in a research study in hopes of solving a “sexual problem” that has prevented her from ever experiencing an orgasm. However, after a series of embarrassing, “creepy” interviews, Rebecca leaves the study and decides to tackle her sexual dysfunction on her own, with a little assistance from Kyle, “a gorgeous young man in a black T-shirt.”

Stout is adept when it comes to exposing the vulnerability of her characters, and Rebecca’s feelings of inadequacy are evident from the opening lines, where she ruminates over an ex labeling her “frigid” and “an ice queen”: “It wasn’t as if the words were unexpected. Hell, Rebecca said them to herself a thousand times over. Only, this was different. Hearing someone else say them.” These feelings spur the plot while setting an impeccable start to a well-developed character arc. Stout excels at describing and dramatizing Rebecca’s issues, seizing a welcome opportunity to address common (but often avoided) issues surrounding female sexuality and intimacy.

Although much of the story’s plot revolves around sex, the steam between Rebecca and Kyle doesn’t truly rise up until later in the story, and most of the heat occurs during scenes of self-pleasure that range from moderate to scorching. Rebecca manages to ruin romantic moments with Kyle on several occasions, which may cause some readers frustration, while others will empathize with her apprehensions surrounding sex and the measures she takes to address her intimacy issues. High tension, flirty exchanges, and intense sexual situations that eventually lead to love make this book perfect for readers who enjoy angst-filled romance.

Takeaway: This steamy slow-burn weaves romance together with lessons on intimacy, women’s health, and the female body.

Great for fans of: Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Alice Clayton’s Wallbanger.

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

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