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Dynamicist
Lee Hunt
Mathematics matter as much as magic in Hunt’s inventive adult fantasy, a modern take on the wizarding school. Robert Endicott, a bright 18-year-old, enrolls at the New School to train to become a dynamicist, a mathematician who calculates careful “empyreal manipulation” to change the world in a precise way for a precise cost. Robert and his cohort spend more time working equations and contemplating the commodities market than mastering the dark arts. After a visionary dream, he becomes convinced that he and his fellow students are being hunted. As the students stare down the imminent 24-hour test that will determine whether they’re qualified to continue at the school, protesters take to the streets outside, denouncing new technological innovations.

Hunt proves himself a detailed worldbuilder, lavishing pages on futures trading and farm technology. This makes for a slow opening, but the story picks up once Robert meets his fellow students, each vividly drawn and transcending type. The group’s dialogue is raucous and its camaraderie affecting. Robert also experiences love, spurred by a pair of female classmates who seem to be stalking him, and rage, which stirs powerfully in him when a woman named Syriol is assaulted on campus. Syriol is an all but voiceless victim who “probably doesn't understand how she feels” and is healed by Robert’s unexplained love for her, a depiction that undermines Hunt’s earnest efforts to critique rape culture and the objectification of women.

Concerned with economics, architecture, and its protagonist’s philosophical musings, the novel moves deliberately, caught up in mind and milieu rather than plot. Readers eager for a thoughtful challenge to genre conventions will appreciate Hunt’s rigorous reimagining of how a society with access to magic might endeavor to train and regulate its users. The abrupt conclusion wraps up too few mysteries, setting the stage for the second book in the series. In Hunt’s immersive and intricate world, the big picture occasionally gets lost beneath the fine details, but this is a compelling story for readers who crave complex worldbuilding.

Takeaway: This intricate, philosophical update to the wizard-school story will appeal to fans of cerebral fantasy.

Great for fans of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet.

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

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Mindfulness at the Park
Teresa Anne Power
Power and Allen’s delightful second Little Mouse Adventures picture book (after Yoga at the Zoo) brings Little Mouse and his best friend, Mr. Opus the cat, to the park with Tammy and her mom, the humans whom Mr. Opus lives with. Little Mouse and Mr. Opus have just learned some new yoga stretches with Tammy. They also learned about mindfulness, a way of staying calm and focused no matter what is going on around them. When they get to the park, they all practice together again. Little Mouse meditates so deeply that he doesn’t realize Mr. Opus and the family have left until he opens his eyes. But instead of panicking, he uses what he’s learned about mindfulness to stay calm and find them.

The witty writing and Allen's colorful, fun illustrations will entertain young readers as they teach the steps of calm breathing. Allen creates pretty, serene settings in the park and the family looks peaceful and happy. Young readers will giggle at the idea of Mr. Opus getting so relaxed he falls asleep on his face, and be relieved when Little Mouse and his new canine friend are reunited with their people. The pictures of Little Mouse and Mr. Opus practicing their breathing are charming and will keep children engaged.

Power’s simple steps for focusing on breathing and calming the mind are easy for young readers and their parents to practice together. As she leads readers through taking deep breaths in and out and counting to five, lovingly describing the family’s relaxation, both children and adults will find it easier to reach a more peaceful state of mind. This is an ideal read-aloud that will help readers of all ages find a few moments of calm in a stressful world.

Takeaway: At bedtime or anytime, this entertaining and calming lesson in mindfulness will help readers of all ages find a little peace of mind.

Great for fans of Gabi Garcia’s Find Your Calm, Michael Gordon’s I Am Mindful.

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

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Too Good to Be True: Scottsdale and Privatization in the 1980s
Paul Redvers Brown
Brown (coeditor of Water Centric Sustainable Communities) meticulously recounts the privatization of the Central Arizona Project Water Treatment Plant in Scottsdale, Ariz., exposing the triumphs and pitfalls of the complex Reagan-era project. Taking advantage of a variable-rate, tax-exempt municipal bond to save costs, Scottsdale hired Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM), a Boston-based environmental engineering firm, to design, build, and operate the plant. Brown was on the front lines as CDM’s corporate planner: young, ambitious, often idealistic, and “in so far over [his] head.” Brown narrates an educational play-by-play of how CDM, hesitant to enter a market it knew little about, hired numerous experts and came away from this first privatization of its kind with greater knowledge of the mechanics of project development, financing, problem-solving, and managing risk.

While sometimes oversharing extraneous details such as lunch meeting menus and flight schedules, Brown expertly evokes the 1980s era of greed-is-good corporate efforts. Illustrating the Scottsdale project’s backstory, Brown conjures the context and flavor of every step of CDM’s operation, including negotiating a construction agreement, examining Colorado River water quality issues, and recovering after the liquidation of its construction partner. All these proceedings are overseen by a cadre of colorful characters. Comfortable revealing personal details, Brown shares his own doubts peppered with bursts of determination.

Readers interested in large-scale construction and resource management projects will absorb Brown’s thorough overview of the Scottsdale project, the wins and the setbacks, and the intricacies of tax rates and sales documents. Professionals in any field can apply Brown’s information to a general business context, the enormous number of steps involved in corporate negotiations, and all the ways things can go wrong. This is useful and often gripping reading for MBAs and executives as well as urban planners and officials.

Takeaway: Readers interested in large-scale construction and resource management projects will be fascinated by this intricate recounting of privatizing a water treatment plant in the 1980s.

Great for fans of David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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

Herald
Lee Hunt
The searching, surprising second volume of Hunt’s Dynamicist Trilogy (after Dynamicist) finds the stakes higher, the pacing more assured, and Hunt’s challenges to the orthodoxies of fantasy storytelling more provocative. Favoring mathematics and thermometers over magic wands, Hunt’s students of “dynamics,” his world’s highly regulated wizardry, confront the mysteries introduced in the first book: What is the meaning of protagonist Robert Endicott’s “heraldic” dream? How can he prevent the mysterious cloaked figure who kills students from murdering his friends? And, just as pressingly, how can gifted, science-minded magicians help a riot-prone population that has been taught to fear all innovation?

Hunt’s not stingy with answers as his story widens in scope to include political conspiracy, a cult, and the threat of war. He renders scenes of action with crisp power, albeit with an overreliance on onomatopoeia such as “BRRRRAAAAA” and “CRRRACKKKKKKKKKKKKK,” and the action sequences are winningly varied. Readers will enjoy a tavern brawl, a fracas at an underground cult meeting, a confrontation with a legendary magician, and a desperate battle against monstrous “skolves,” in which Robert and his classmates must cooperate with everyday soldiers who are understandably skeptical of magic schoolboys.

The most memorable elements of the series remain Hunt’s philosophical provocations and his vividly detailed magical system. It’s a joy to see the characters dig into the study and theory of magic as well as the cultural consequences of its use. Engaging deeply with how heroes’ actions affect the lives of everyone else, this sequel finds Robert discovering the complex truths about why his world fears change. Even the cultists, he realizes, have their reasons. That richness occasionally comes at the cost of narrative momentum, especially in the first half, but the story picks up speed again for a climactic conclusion. This is an exciting, expansive, and ultimately satisfying exploration of the meaning of heroism, the economics of magic, and the role of innovation in society.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a thoughtful take on the wizard-school story will enjoy this mix of philosophy, mathematics, and action.

Great for fans of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts.

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

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Root and Branch
Preston Fleming
A security contractor risks his life to uncover a government conspiracy in this exciting near-future political thriller. Following an EMP attack launched by Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea that wrecks cities on both coasts of the United States, Congress and the president (whose name and political party are never given) roll out draconian measures to suppress an ostensible uprising by American Muslims. Roger Zorn, a retired 60-something CIA agent, contracts to provide the government with his Triage technology, which evaluates the likelihood that a person being interrogated will commit violence in the future. When Triage is used to justify an enormous volume of forced repatriations, Roger grows uneasy and launches a secret investigation, aided by bold White House lawyer Margaret Slattery. He quickly learns that a horrifying fate awaits the supposed deportees. As his knowledge grows, he is forced to choose between his moral obligations and his safety.

Roger is a likable protagonist whose conflicted feelings and the weight of his deceased father’s worldwide fame drive his choices. While he maintains some skills from his spy days, he never strains credulity with otherworldly physical feats. The perspectives of people caught in the anti-Muslim sweeps—including Amjad Ibrahim, a Bengali-American immigrant arrested following his son’s radicalization, and Carol Nagy, the daughter of Roger’s former colleague and an active left-wing protester—provide nuance and emotional weight. The focus, however, remains squarely on Roger, his business, and his investigation.

The plot is brisk without feeling rushed. Readers might wish for more detail of life in America following the attacks, but the action and unfolding schemes are gripping, and the characters are richly developed. This well-constructed thriller will keep readers hooked while painting a terrifying portrait of unethical politicians using a time of crisis to undermine the rule of law.

Takeaway: Thriller fans with a taste for politics will devour this exciting investigation into dangerous government overreach and the mangling of civil liberties in a time of crisis.

Great for fans of Tom Clancy, Cory Doctorow, Dave Buschi.

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

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In the Realm of Ash and Sorrow
Kenneth W. Harmon
Harmon (The Amazing Mr. Howard) skillfully mines the brutality of WWII and the desire for redemption in this ambitious story of tragic characters overcoming hate, cultural indifference, and duty. American bombardier Micah Lund hates the Japanese, whom he blames for his brother’s death. After his plane is shot down over Hiroshima, he falls to his death onto a city street right in front of war widow Kiyomi Oshiro and her perceptive eight-year-old daughter, Ai. Now a hitodama ghost, Micah observes the living. He is attracted to the somber Kiyomi and sees how she is mistreated by her in-laws, who are arranging a new marriage for her. When Kiyomi and Ai are able to visit Micah in the dream world after falling asleep, the trio form a caring relationship.

Harmon treats his characters with tenderness and empathy, showing both sides of a vicious war through their experiences and perceptions. In his portrayal, the Americans cruelly retaliate for the shock of Pearl Harbor by targeting a city full of civilians, while the proud Japanese antagonize an opponent with vastly superior weaponry. The suffering Japanese citizens, patriotic yet practical, starving and weary, just want their lives back. Women especially are weighted down by patriarchy, hierarchy, and duty. Kiyomi is constrained by both war and tradition. When a kindly farm woman offers her a chance to leave the city, Kiyomi contemplates rejecting her long-held obligations—and then the Americans drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Ai and the ghost of a Japanese-American soldier, Frank, teach Micah about marriage, religion, and beliefs in Japan. Micah reevaluates his prejudices and misconceptions as he transforms from a gung-ho soldier into a sympathetic eyewitness to the horrific devastation of the obliterated city, searching through the Japanese spirit world for the ghosts of people he’s come to care about. Any reader will be moved by this graceful, original take on Japanese-American relations and life in Japan during WWII.

Takeaway: Enthusiasts of history, drama, the supernatural, and traditional religions will be moved by this bittersweet novel of war, love, and understanding.

Great for fans of Hiromi Kawakami’s Manazuru, Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro mysteries, Ana Johns’s The Woman in the White Kimono.

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

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The Longest, Darkest Night!
Peter B Lewis
A group of nocturnal forest creatures learn about lunar eclipses in this educational picture book. In a frozen woodland on the winter solstice, the forest’s animals and trees join in on a night of storytelling. The eldest of the forest, Grandpa Cedar, is excited to share a story , but all the animals—Ms. Owl, Young Weasel, Madam Opossum, Mr. Racoon, and Brother Fox—are too scared to listen, as they see the moon slowly disappearing. Even the maple tree shivers with fear. After several tries, Grandpa Cedar is finally able to get through to the other animals. The wise old tree explains the total lunar eclipse, bringing comfort to the entire forest.

LePere’s radiant illustrations of the animals, trees, and colorful changes of the moon seamlessly complement Lewis’s words. Attentive readers will enjoy tracking the visual progression of the eclipse across each page, while Lewis’s explanation of the phenomenon is clear and easy to understand. The longer words might intimidate early readers, so this book is best read aloud or shared with older school-aged children.

The reactions of owl, fox, weasel, raccoon, and opossum show a delightful range of how people can react to the unknown—hesitation, calm, panic, fear, and denial—and might provide a helpful guide for children who need help navigating new things and places. The core message encourages readers to tune in and listen to nature. Grandpa Cedar’s knowledge and wisdom also highlight the importance of listening to the sage advice of elders, especially when a strange or confusing event is happening. As a bonus, the book includes peer-reviewed back matter that can help the reader learn more about the moon, celestial events, and nocturnal animals. Parents and teachers seeking supplements to STEM curricula or gifts for young naturalists will appreciate Lewis and LePere’s engaging, colorful narrative.

Takeaway: Young readers with an interest in the natural world will enjoy learning about a rare celestial event.

Great for fans of Ellen Jackson’s The Winter Solstice, Katy Hudson’s A Loud Winter’s Nap, Wendy Pfeffer’s The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice.

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

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WORKAHOLICS ADRIFT:
Judy McCandless
In this candid memoir, McCandless recounts how she and her husband left their comfortable life to sail the Pacific Ocean, traveling from San Francisco to Guam via New Zealand, Australia, and many islands between 1984 and 1991. McCandless and her husband, John, were on the American dream treadmill: both had well-paying corporate jobs that required long hours, and evenings were spent with John sitting in front of a television while McCandless drank. The couple often dreamed of quitting their jobs and voyaging across the ocean. When they attempted a trial sail, Mother Nature and McCandless’s alcoholism tested their resolve. Despite the difficulties, then and later, the couple boarded their 35-foot sailboat and fully embraced a life they found far more meaningful than the rat race.

There is much to admire in the McCandless’ courageous decision to set aside financially success lives and fulfill their passions for traveling and sailing. McCandless shares both the highlights of their journey, such as their visits to islands and different ports with their “yachtie” friends, and the downsides, which included hiring Dan, an unreliable crewman; dodging large ships and suffering through storms; and arriving in Guam to a $29,000 tax bill thanks to their accountant’s incompetence. Readers might wish for more insight into how others experienced their interactions with the author throughout her years at home and abroad.

It could be argued that McCandless’s story is a “what-not-to-do” guide; exhibit A is the couple developing near-fatal cases of malaria after skipping their anti-malaria medication because it upset John’s stomach. However, McCandless’s courage in facing her demons and changing her life is inspiring. Most compelling, perhaps because of McCandless’s brutal honesty, is her sincere encouragement to follow one’s dream, as one never knows what the future holds.

Takeaway: Anyone dreaming of making a significant change in their life will find McCandless’s candid memoir inspiring.

Great for fans of Frances Maye’s Under the Tuscan Sun, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki.

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

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Till Medicine Do Us Part
Christiana Jones
Jones’s modern romance explores the social pressures and interpersonal consequences Black women can face when trying to balance family and career. Ambitious Dr. Makayla Jackson works double-time to meet the incredible demands of her role as an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, fighting to have her hard work and talent recognized despite racism and sexism. Unfortunately, her husband, Jason, a stay-at-home dad, and their five-year-old daughter, Kiara, become less and less of a priority. When Makayla learns she’s pregnant, she hides it from Jason, knowing it will mean either giving up the promotion she’s been working toward or asking him to give up plans to restart his own career. Finally, family tensions reach the boiling point. Jason takes Kiara and moves out, forcing Makayla to reevaluate her priorities.

With friends only appearing late in the story, the majority of the secondary and background characters consist of coworkers and patients, the latter of which receive a disproportionate amount of Makayla’s on-screen attention and empathy. Not everyone will sympathize with the level of her ambitions or the missteps she makes along the way, including some very poor financial decisions. Though Jason’s career and history receive much less focus, readers will adore him for his patient and understanding nature and applaud the changes that save their family without Makayla having to give up her career.

The narrative benefits from a steady pace and consistent voice, and Jones skillfully draws on her own experiences as a physician to highlight the rewards and challenges of the profession. Makayla’s indecision and unwillingness to let go of the image she’d created for her future, despite her workaholism’s effect on her family, are as frustrating as they are understandable. Working mothers will relate to this story of an overworked, overwhelmed woman trying to meet the demands of personal ambition, breadwinning, and quality time with her family.

Takeaway: Many women will relate to this story of a Black female doctor juggling her responsibilities to herself, her job, and her family while contending with bias at work and unhappiness at home.

Great for fans of TK

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

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The Persistence of Memory and Other Stories
Jan Maher
Maher (Heaven, Indiana) comes out swinging in this diverse short story collection whose 12 entries each explore some facet of memory. Unsurprisingly given that theme, the stories feature a number of elderly characters, including dementia patient Robert (“Turn, Turn, Turn”), recently widowed Tilda (“Independence Day”), and bike-riding Marie (“The Persistence of Memory”). But Maher breaks away from the expected, also introducing characters such as laid-off English professor Sally (“Vitae”) and earnest Yanka, a servant girl who is unable to speak (“A Real Prince”).

Readers will be impressed by Maher’s range and elegant writing as she expertly moves among characters at all different stages of life. In “Livia’s Daddy Comes Home from the War,” four-year-old Livia pieces together bits of memory with childish sincerity in an effort to identify the stranger in her home. In “Answering,” the narrative voice of routine-loving widower Harold is so present that the reader can’t know whether his conversations with his organs (heart and gallbladder included) are the result of a troubled mind or just an effective literary device. In “Dancing in the Dark,” Maher easily switches between the voices of almost-divorced Claire and Victor. In “Half-Full,” the ostensible narrator is almost completely overshadowed by their dying, joke-telling mother’s strength of personality, a perfect echo of the family dynamic.

The collection covers a wide array of circumstances and emotions, though overall the tone trends towards nostalgia and grief. There are no perfect characters in these stories, just people whose memories haunt, inspire, or elude them. Thanks to Maher’s introspective style, they’re interesting enough to care about—even the nameless narrator in “Ashes to Ashes,” who mourns the loss of a garden. Moments both big and small are captured in this heart-wrenching collection, perfect for those who are grieving, growing, or just wanting to get lost in the past for an afternoon.

Takeaway: Soul-searching readers will find lots to connect with in these thoughtful, family-oriented stories exploring the theme of memory.

Great for fans of Jordan Kisner’s Thin Places: Essays from In Between, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky.

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

Lifelike
Peter J Dudley
A young runaway must unlock the secrets of her creative magic to save the souls of dozens of young women in this darkly fantastic YA adventure from Dudley (the New Eden series). Budding artist Jewel runs away from home to start her journey to fame in San Francisco. When she meets Damon, a mysterious painting instructor, he takes her under his wing to teach her how to control her magical painting ability. But this is not the first time Damon has seduced a young woman, and she encounters the spirits of his former students trapped in the paintings in his home. It becomes a race against time to free the spirits of the trapped girls as Damon’s dark past is revealed and Jewel learns what he is capable of.

Dudley writes with a good sense of pace, and the novel’s premise is imaginative. Jewel is a likeable protagonist, although her godlike artistic talent and her perpetually flawless good looks might not endear her to teen readers looking for relatable protagonists. Damon’s romanticized characterization early in the book does a little too much to foreshadow the revelation of his malevolence, and he tends to steal scenes as the antagonist. Dudley’s tone can be uneven: while some passages ripple with intensity and lyricism, others lack nuance, blunting the impact of the story.

Where Dudley succeeds is in creating a tense, mysterious atmosphere. Damon’s style of magic, trapping his victims in his paintings by stealing their spirit while painting their portraits, is inspired. The trapped women themselves are well-rounded and intriguing side characters. The novel’s themes are pertinent in the #MeToo era; part of the book’s appeal is Dudley’s Lolita-esque dissection of the machinations of a much-older predator. This tale is both cautionary and empowering, and YA readers in search of a topical urban fantasy will find a lot to love.

Takeaway: Teen readers seeking an empowering tale about female solidarity against predatory men will appreciate this suspenseful urban fantasy.

Great for fans of Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Cypher.

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

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Social Work
Thomas Duffy
Duffy’s seventh novel (after 2018’s The Separation) is a gentle, earnest slice-of-life drama chronicling the awkward personal connections that arise in therapy. Marc Ziller, 28 and recently stabilized after a suicide attempt, initially resists group and individual therapy with social worker Lauren Davidson. As he begins to navigate reentry into life outside the hospital, including a new job, he finds Lauren a useful resource even as she puts the brakes on his pursuits of fame and a dating life. Meanwhile, Lauren starts a new romantic relationship with Ahmad, a man she meets on a dating site, but she considers pursing a friendship with Marc despite her professional boundaries.

Duffy’s narrative alternates between Marc and Lauren’s separate lives and their minimally therapeutic sessions together. However, it rarely takes the opportunity to explore their internal lives, and their mutual interest isn’t entirely supported by the story. Despite long, uninterrupted stretches of dialogue, the character voices are not distinct from one another, and the language often feels stilted (“We want to shed positivity on the group by showing them an example of someone who is actually doing well”). Conversations are imbalanced; pages of mundane chatter don’t advance the story, and big life decisions are made within a few lines. Lauren’s approaches to both social work and her personal life seem antiquated for contemporary New York City, and her relationship with Ahmad comes off as transactional and devoid of emotional spark.

Marc’s life outside of his sessions contains a good deal of humor: he hopes to date a television producer and become a star of her dating show Uninhibited Morons, makes clumsy attempts to date a customer from his retail job, visits a singles’ group, and playfully banters with a fellow patient. Marc’s frustrating experiences with dating while keeping his diagnosis of mental illness secret are relatable and the narrative never judges him for his choices even when things go poorly. Readers craving an offbeat happily-ever-after will find satisfaction in seeing Marc finally make the right romantic match.

Takeaway: Duffy’s compassionate depiction of a bumpy but successful recovery after a suicide attempt will be deeply relatable to people on a similar path and those who love them.

Great for fans of Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Phillippa Perry and Junko Graat’s Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy.

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

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20/20
B SHAWN CLARK
Debut author Clark introduces young readers to survivalism in this warm-hearted tale of a boy’s adventures during a time of climate upheaval. In a future world under constant threat from storms and floods, an elderly white man known as Captain begins to record memories of his childhood in 2020s Miami. As a boy, Captain meets two survivalists, a white man named Harrison and a Native American woman named Calusa, who show him the basics of off-the-grid living. When a massive storm ravages their neighborhood, the unlikely trio bring their community together to build self-sufficient homes across Florida.

Clark’s handling of racial matters, while well-intentioned, is somewhat flawed. The explicit use of racial slurs and hateful language, clearly intended to demonstrate their hurtfulness, feels gratuitous. Clichés abound as a Native American medicine man takes Captain’s sister on a vision quest (after which she changes her name to White Feather) and pronounces Captain “one of us” even as Captain continues thinking of Calusa as an “Amazon Warrior Princess.” The apparently surprising sight of a mixed-race group working harmoniously together feels more 1920s than 2020s, as do a reference to Captain’s mother being a “candy striper” at a hospital and the boy’s use of phrases such as “hauled off to the hoosegow.”

In the first half of the book, Harrison introduces his ardent student (and thereby the reader) to practical concepts of self-reliance: filtering water naturally, growing vegetables, generating electricity, and so on. The action picks up as the big storm approaches. The framing device for each chapter, in which the elderly Captain encounters something that triggers a childhood memory, eventually becomes wearing. However, the childhood scenes themselves are educational and often uplifting, grounding optimism in realistic ways for individuals to help one another. This tale about the importance of living at one with the planet will strike a chord with readers eager for pointers to a more sustainable present and future.

Takeaway: This road map to living harmoniously with the planet educates young readers through an uplifting story of communities coming together.

Great for fans of Johann Rudolf Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson, Darren Simpson’s Scavengers.

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

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Surrounded by Others and Yet So Alone
J. W. Freiberg
Attorney and former social psychology professor Freiberg (Growing Up Lonely: Disconnection and Misconnection in the Lives of Our Children) assembles a sparkling collection of exceedingly erudite essays on human nature as seen through the lens of some of his most memorable legal cases. For over three decades in Boston, Freiberg worked for child protective social service organizations, adoption agencies, and many psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers. The majority of his stories center on children and the social and psychological stresses that litigants experience and inflict on one another in legal proceedings.

One of the most heartstring-tugging pieces is “The Girl Who Inherited France,” the story of a bright six-year-old whose mother dies suddenly from a stroke. In a protracted custody battle, her stepfather fights to keep custody of the little girl he considers his daughter. Another story likely to elicit tears is “Three Souls Caught in a Spider’s Web,” the tale of a bakery owner and battered wife who helps her isolated stepson to find a forever home. The author’s passion for his subjects will readily be shared by the reader. The theme of solitude and loneliness connects the essays, but each one takes a different approach, and each child is a sympathetically depicted individual.

Though billed primarily as an analysis of loneliness, this is far from a dry textbook. Freiberg has a master storyteller’s skillful voice, easily drawing readers into his narratives and keeping them enthralled. He teaches through relevant examples rather than dry pronouncements and expertly gets to the emotional heart of each case, immediately garnering empathy for each person he profiles. The closing section has a more academic tone but is still very accessible and reader-friendly. Expertly written and perfectly paced, Freiberg’s work puts a human face on the law and will have considerable appeal for anyone interested in human nature both at its best and at its worst.

Takeaway: Anyone with an interest in loneliness, solitude, or the sorrows of children caught in litigation will be enthralled by these erudite and sympathetic essays.

Great for fans of Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, E.O. Wilson’s On Human Behavior.

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

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Beyond the Bake Sale, the Ultimate School Fund-Raising Book (Second Edition)
Jean C. Joachim
Joachim’s deeply informative guidebook takes readers through the inner workings of school fundraisers, ranging from small ventures such as wrapping paper sales to much larger fairs and auctions. Created to assist schools and parent associations in planning and execution, the table of contents is divided into seasonal and year-round events, taking readers through which ideas are best suited to each season and when to begin preparations. For each potential fundraiser, readers are walked through everything that will be needed: how and where to set things up, how many volunteers will be needed, how best to handle money, and how to maximize return on investment.

Using the in-depth knowledge gleaned from her 16 years of fundraising for schools, Joachim includes helpful perspective on best practices, potential pitfalls to be avoided, and how to improve from year to year. Additional notes at the end of each section detail ways the fundraiser can be stripped down to free or low-cost components, aimed specifically at making these ideas accessible to schools that may be starting from scratch and have limited financial resources available in advance.

Some of Joachim’s fundraiser suggestions will be difficult to implement outside of her home base—the New York City school system—without significant alteration, if at all: big indoor events may not be possible for open campuses where much of the school is outdoors, restrictions on sharing contact information would impede a school directory, strict policies around protecting students with food allergies would rule out homemade food, and so on. However, the sheer variety of ideas offered throughout the book allows readers to pick and choose, tailoring their fundraiser toolbox to the unique needs of their school. Thoroughness and attention to detail make this step-by-step manual one that organizers will regularly return to for inspiration and direction.

Takeaway: Parents and school staff engaged in school fundraising will appreciate this extensive guide to achieving a successful outcome from a multitude of fundraisers.

Great for fans of Sandra Pfau Englund’s School Fundraising: So Much More than Cookie Dough, Linda Wise McNay’s Fundraising for Schools: 8 Keys to Success Every Head of School Should Know.

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

Seaview Road
Brian McMahon
McMahon’s debut novel explores familial bonds, class divisions, and one woman’s complicity in hiding the circumstances of a man’s death. Katie Murray and her brother, Ryan, are enjoying their summer break from college, living at their family’s summer home in South Monomo, Mass. When Katie and Ryan venture out to a local hangout at Greenstone Lake, Katie stumbles upon men who are hiding Tim McNamara’s body in the brush. Escaping to the safety of her car, she encounters Eric Clarke, the estranged son of her neighbors, who encourages her to flee and covers for her, claiming to his friends that he didn’t see anyone. Eric reveals that the man responsible for Tim’s overdose death believes she saw him hiding the body. Katie must decide whether to reveal all to the police while fearing how that will affect Eric.

McMahon’s dimensional characters highlight the societal class differences in the neighboring towns of South Monomo and Worona. The clever inclusion of narratives from the killer, expressing his innermost thoughts and regrets, adds depth to his character while eliciting sympathy for the circumstances leading to his destructive behavior. McMahon’s exploration of the rifts within families magnifies the Clarkes’ efforts to distance themselves from their troubled, wayward son.

South Monomo residents’ snobbery and disdain for their neighbors in Worona is disturbing, but it sets the stage well for Katie’s awakening to her neighbors’ hypocrisy, and how the Clarkes’ quest for the perfect image came at the expense of their son. Katie’s journey comes to a head with a confrontation with the Clarke family about their neglect of Eric, which also offers a succinct reminder that the opioid epidemic’s impact isn’t limited to lower-class families. Fans of magnetic, topical contemporary fiction will be drawn to this immersive study of family and class conflict, complete with an undercurrent of murder.

Takeaway: This introspective view of class division and the quest for the perfect family is ideal for fans of gritty contemporary fiction.

Great for fans of Christina Clancy’s The Second Home, Barbara Elle’s Death in Smoke.

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

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