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How Dare We?: Courageous Practices to Reclaim Our Power as Citizens
Paul Cienfuegos
This impassioned guide to the reclamation of civilian power stands as a culmination of Cienfuegos’s four decades of activism and leadership. The founder of Community Rights US, which “works with communities to pass locally enforceable laws protecting people and nature from destructive corporate practices,” Cienfuegos has dedicated himself to fighting against corporate “personhood.” Currently, he believes we face “the largest social and economic and environmental emergency since the Civil War.” Crafted to help inspire “we the people” to realize the principles on which the nation was founded, How Dare We? compiles speeches, podcast scripts, articles, and essays Cienfuegos has written throughout his career, illuminating the political history of how we got here, and the perennial promise of America itself.

Cienfuegos’s passion is to drive social change by encouraging citizens to stand up corporate governance—“to make this democratic republic live up to the ideals that we were taught about in school.” Chapters examine how to campaign for change, a multifaceted and highly practical approach to how Democrats could handle the issue of logging, and a deep dive into the “two national constitutions” of the U.S., starting with the Articles of Confederation, a “profoundly more democratic document” in contrast to what was later ratified, “a constitution that is all about the rights of property and says almost nothing about the rights of people.” His prose is inviting, crafted to be persuasive to open-minded readers rather than just to rouse the spirits of longtime fellow travelers, and he’s deft at incorporating historical argument and precedent.

Cienfuegos writes with hope in the national spirit but also clear eyes: though he holds pride in America’s revolutionary history, he simultaneously also condemns the country’s “assaults on the world’s people and nature.” How Dare We also emphasizes the practical, especially “place-based and scale-sensitive” organization and activism. Cienfuegos offers concrete, achievable steps citizens can take to brung about change and hold elected leaders accountable.

Takeaway: Rousing, clear-eyed dispatches from the fight against corporate dominance of American government.

Great for fans of: Paul Starr’s Freedom’s Power, Stephen Duncombe and Steve Lambert’s The Art of Activism.

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

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Sandpointed: Collected Works/Sandpoint Monday Writers
Desiree Aguirre, Jackie Henrion, Sandy Lamson, Robens Napolitan, Sandra Rasor, Rhoda Sanford
In a remote town up in the Idaho Panhandle, a group of six women, who call themselves the Sandpoint Monday Writers, have created a community of “word workers” for whom writing “connects their inner and outer landscapes.” Sandpointed shares an inviting selection of this group’s collected works of poetry and prose. Because the authors work in tandem and share prompts, certain images recur from writer to writer throughout this collection; readers will encounter crows, cats, porcupines, and gardens throughout, but they will also be introduced to six different perspectives on women’s stories, the paradoxes of the dichotomy between humanity and nature, and the presence of the profound in the domestic and mundane.

While these poets share certain objects and subjects, their work varies significantly in form and style, with Jackie Henrion’s surrealist, Beat-inspired verses taking on a poetic splatter, and Robens Napolitan’s subtle, soft poems, featuring lines like “I still finger words, turn them over [...] // taste them with the tip of my tongue” use deft metaphors to draw a connection between self and language. Meanwhile, Rhoda Sanford’s contributions include mainly stories about pioneering women ancestors and other figures in her lineage. With this amalgam of Idahoan voices, the collection establishes a profound regional identity rooted in matriarchal power and nature’s capacity to inspire awe.

In Sandpoint, residents are at the mercy of the landscape, which offers chaos and serenity in the same breath, but also a wordless sustenance and nothingness which all the authors draw upon as a muse, each in their distinct writing style. “If I am to be a multitude,” Henrion writes, “a truce must be embraced,” and it is a truce between humanity and nature made with poetry. Residents and visitors of Sandpoint will appreciate the attention to landscape, milieu, and the drift of mind and heart of the region, and the stirring expressions of love of northern Idaho.

Takeaway: This poetry anthology from Sandpoint, Idaho, explores women’s stories on nature, grief, and community.

Great for fans of: Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr’s American Women Poets in the 21st Century, Robert Mezey’s Poems of the American West.

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

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Stalked By Revenge
Lynn Lipinski
The third in Lipinski’s Zane Clearwater Mystery series continues the story of Zane, his pregnant sister Lettie, and their loved ones as their mobile-home lives balance on a razor’s edge. After holding Lettie prisoner, Zane’s half brother Clyde was sent to prison, and the family thought they could move on. But ominous signs emerge, starting with Zane being suspended from his police training program on fabricated accusations, followed by Lettie receiving a baby rattle with sinister messages. These suspenseful portents precede an upcoming new trial for Clyde—after his previous one was overturned—leading Zane, Lettie (and her boyfriend Angel), and Zane and Lettie’s grandmother Verda to fear for their lives. When Clyde escapes after his bail hearing, others presume he’ll want to get as far away from Oklahoma as possible, but Zane and Lettie know that nothing less than a showdown is coming.

Readers accustomed to slick spy or law enforcement novels may be surprised to find themselves in the middle of an urgent blue-collar fight for survival. Both Zane and Lettie have been in trouble with the law in the past, Lettie is expecting a baby at sixteen, and they (and Angel) live with Verda in a mobile home park. But Lipinski shows that not having much doesn’t stop this family; they love each other deeply and will improvise from what they have to survive and stick together.

The story references events that occur in previous books, but Lipinski takes care to ensure everything that matters most is clear, so Stalked by Revenge can work for new readers. The compelling family dynamics at the heart of the story remain easy to relate to, despite all the thriller-novel tragedy this family has endured, and the thrills are enriched by Lipinski’s firm grounding in class, milieu, and life as it’s actually lived. Each character exhibits convincing strengths, weaknesses, and perspectives that make them vulnerable and resonant. The showdown’s gripping, but it’s the people that power this humane nailbiter.

Takeaway: This character-rich rural noir finds a family facing a revenge-minded half sibling’s jailbreak.

Great for fans of: Vicki Hendricks, Harry Crews.

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

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Tree of Redempion
Jim Davidson
Davidson’s debut offers a humane story of friendship, familial bonds, old vendettas, and mystery, all set against the flats of Southwest Texas, where dark clouds are “the only thing breaking what appeared to be a limitless horizon.” A storm certainly is gathering: former pro-baseball player Chris Hamilton travels to Laredo after receiving word that his mentor, Armando “Chico” Guerra, has suddenly died. The death has been ruled natural—Armando was found in the desert, miles out of town—but family employee Edurado suspects murder, and Armando’s sisters insist that Chris is welcomed into the Casa de la Guerra. Though Chris only intended to stay in town for a day to pay his respects, he is compelled to stay until the mystery is solved and his friend's killer is brought to justice.

Davidson does an exceptional job with character development throughout this story. Themes of romance, family, friendship, and community enrich a story rich in Hispanic tradition and culture, as Chris launches an amateur investigation. Chris must look up a "ghost" from his past, and soon discovers that uncovering more about his mentor's life also uncovers aspects of his own family– and a reminder that family is who you make it, and that it’s never too late to fix broken bonds.

Tree of Redemption is a slow burning thriller that will pique the interest of readers who favor character-driven drama with elements of empathetic literary fiction over plot-first thrillers. Davidson creates a protagonist that readers will find highly relatable and endearing, bringing his milieu and relationships to life with telling detail, engaging dialogue, and a welcome sense of life as it’s actually lived. Readers will find themselves just as invested in finding out whodunit as with how everything will work out for Chris and his newfound friendships in the end. This mystery thoughtfully crosses genres as well as cultures, and will hold attention until the satisfying conclusion.

Takeaway: A culture-crossing Texas mystery, rich in character, connection, revenge, and romance.

Great for fans of: Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone, Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes.

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

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Wingless : Veil Series
M. K. Dockery
Dockery debuts with a slow-burn fantasy series starter, packing kingdoms’ worth of mystery, magic, murder, and machinations into a remote cliffside holding and the impenetrable woods far beneath it. The warlord Dathka Jen, leading his horde of Sepheran warriors, has come to the Twin Keeps with a command from the distant emperor: collect Rennah, the slave girl that Dathka had instructed the Kesten family, the local rules, to care for years before. After a strange, bloody incident involving ravens, though, the Kestens put that girl to work in Rough Keep, judging her a sorceress, with some Kestens eager to kill her. What Dathka or the Empire want with Rennah is unclear, especially to her.

That’s the early hook of a tense, surprising fantasy that blends earthbound politicking and Keep life with the most high-flying of winged action. Rennah’s fate and the mystery of her past will keep readers turning the pages, but plenty of other simmering conflicts preoccupy Jen and the Kestens both: Dathka’s elf-hating Sepheran chafe at obeying the empire’s orders, and the Keeps are a source of the illegal nepenthenica herb that, among other effects, drives Sepheran into rages. Meanwhile, the younger Kestens have schemes of their own, another army approaches, and the elves of the Fogwood have an agenda, too.

Dockery builds this world through scenes and conversations, teasing out backstories and hidden drives, plus the shrouded past of a land whose rulers have forbidden knowledge. The worldbuilding is unpredictable and accomplished. Seasoned readers of lengthy fantasies will feel right at home, though Rennah, the novel’s heart, is often sidelined during all this setup, but eventually, hearteningly, seizes her place in her world and narrative. Dathka, though, proves a complex and engaging perspective character, working against his own instincts for purposes that get more interesting the more Dockery reveals. Winged and bird-related magic is appealingly depicted, and the rousing climax, cliffhangers, and glimpses of the broader world make the buildup worth the investment.

Takeaway: This tense kickoff to a fantasy series takes wing with worldbuilding and mysteries.

Great for fans of: Glenda Larke, Gail Z. Martin.

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

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Robert's Rules of Order Fast Track: The Brief and Easy Guide to Parliamentary Procedure for the Modern Meeting
Jim Slaughter
Crisp, clear, and always on-point, Slaughter’s “fast track” guide to parliamentary procedure exemplifies, in its inviting lucidity and respect for everyone’s time, just what productive meetings should be like. Slaughter (author of Notes and Comments on Robert's Rules) boils Robert’s Rules of Order down to a set of essential procedures and concepts, adaptable to the needs of a diverse array of organizations, in the interest of getting meetings on track, establishing fair and orderly processes for arriving at group decisions, and instituting formal practices to protect organizations and their members. Writing with upbeat directness, Slaughter explicates how quorums, motions, the taking of minutes, and the ordering of business all work—and can work for your particular org.

He also demonstrates why they work, illuminating throughout the first-principles logic behind the rules of order, noting without condescension that the quorum, for example, “protects the organization by preventing a very small number of members from taking action on behalf of the entire organization.” In short, this compact guide offers order without fuss, always with an eye toward how meetings are run today, and what steps individual organizations can take to ensure productivity and fairness. (Rules that seem strict “are necessary to be fair,” Slaughter explains, because “you can’t easily have a conversation with a thousand people.”)

Especially helpful are up-to-date chapters covering meetings in the age of Zoom, including the challenges of voting “virtually,” why it’s best to set shorter speaking limits than at an in-person meeting, and this resounding truth: “one person having a Wi-Fi issue cannot be the basis for repeating everything.” Slaughter also sometimes addresses realities beyond the formal rules of order, like the fact that attendees at virtual (or hybrid) meetings are likely to be less engaged, possibly more churlish, and generally harder to rouse into a feeling of community. His tips for handling all this are clear-eyed, practical, and worth implementing, much like the Rules of Order themselves.

Takeaway: This admirably clear, concise guide to Robert’s Rules of Order will get meetings on track.

Great for fans of: Arthur T. Lewis and Henry M. Robert’s Robert’s Rules Simplified, Leslie Bendaly’s On Track.

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

The Delivery Man : The Art of turning ideas into product in Silicon Valley
Sebastien Taveau
With an encouraging tone and an insider’s savvy, Taveau illuminates the nuts-and-bolts reality for developers of the apps and technologies that shape our world. "Everyone wants to be an innovator,” Taveau writes in this inviting, first-hand look into the behind-the-scenes reality of what it takes in Silicon Valley to transform an idea to a finished product. But, drawing on his experiences at a host of startups and companies, some epochal and some not, Taveau warns that vision itself isn;t enough to ensure success at final launch. “It was mostly the timing of the idea implementation determining if it was innovative or just better done than the others,” he notes. The Delivery Man shines a light on that crucial implementation in the development of ideas and products, and the men and women who play a crucial role in realizing a vision—and actually delivering it.

Both a memoir and a source of practical advice for readers interested in working in the industry, The Delivery Man provides a comprehensive breakdown of the steps and roles crucial to creating a successful tech product. Taveau chronicles his humble beginnings in start-ups, his record of expertise and innovation working from the ground up with companies like PayPal Mobile and Zelle, offering clear-eyed lessons from those experiences—and from challenges, triumphs, and disappointments alike. Each chapter ends with a "key takeaway" (“It’s going to be messy. Just accept it.”) or important advice, though the book’s power is in its detailed, engaging narrative and Taveau’s welcome frankness.

This in-depth account from a seasoned professional in the field is a valuable resource for anyone interested in becoming a part of a startup team, improving the work of their current team, or just interested in understanding the techniques, processes, and decision-making of the industry shaping our lives. Taveau captures not just the everyday work of implementing ideas, but the drift of mind of those who do so.

Takeaway: An informative memoir on the inner workings of startups and the people who make visions reality.

Great for fans of: Jimmy Soni’s The Founders, Nir Eyal’s Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products.

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

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True Winter (A Series of Four Seasons Book 1)
Q.K. Petty
Petty inaugurates the “Series of Four Seasons” with this gripping story of ancient societies, deadly artifacts, and two estranged half-brothers, Orion and Eden, one of whom personifies death, and the other life. Eden tracks down Orion on the present-day Gulf Coast with the hope that Orion will join the artifact-hunting organization, the House of David, to help locate a dangerous artifact known as the Chains of Peter before it falls into the wrong hands. Usually, Eden’s missions don’t demand much interpersonal connection: “Get in. Get the artifact. Get out. Maybe kill a few guys in the process, I don’t know,” he muses. But enlisting Orion complicates matters as Eden pursues the Chains to prevent the mysterious Whiteface and his masked killers at Seditio, another ancient order, from using the Chains to bring on global destruction.

Petty’s story flows with purpose and power, immersing the reader in adventure, conspiracies, and crisp, vital action, all without relying on adventure-tale clichés. Writing compelling fight scenes can prove challenging for even the most experienced authors, but Petty demonstrates a sure hand, capturing violence and suspense with crisp clarity and inventive wit. That action, while rousing, is always tied to character. Petty is unafraid to be grisly in these scenes that highlight Eden’s acceptance of death through and willingness to kill to protect his brother and the people around him.

While the setpieces excite and reveal the novel’s relationships, at times the pace can seem too quick, as the story hurtles readers from one intense scene to another. The novel’s revelations, and the crucial connection between the half-brothers, might have greater impact with quieter moments, in which this agreeable cast can catch a breath and make sense of it all. The quest and the bloody, surprising, tinged-with-comedy action, though, is the draw here. Orion’s crash course introduction into Eden’s—and, now, possibly his—world is memorably wild. Maybe there will be more binding in spring.

Takeaway: The intense, bloody start to a promising thriller series of ancient artifacts and societies.

Great for fans of: Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series, Tom Knox’s The Babylon Rite.

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

Find the Moon: A believable story that stays with you
Beth Fehlbaum
When her mother offers her as payment for using up the drugs she’s dealing, Kylie Jean Briscoe decides “not again” and flees with her three-year-old sister Aliza. Their neighbor Mrs. McCain rescues them by shooting the assaulter before cops arrive. Kylie moves in with her loving grandparents LeeAnn and Oliver Briscoe in Texas, but is heartbroken as she’s separated from her sister, whose father is awarded her custody. At her new school she’s befriended by Ethan Asher, the son of her new English teacher, Bev Asher, but she feels drawn to Casey Tucker who’s lost his mother in an accident, not realizing her sympathies are undeserved.

The novel, Fehlbaum’s fifth, is narrated by Kylie and her voice comes across as true and authentic. The use of the present tense gives the narration a sense of immediacy and the reader experiences the events as happening in real time. The characters are interesting and the author is successful in portraying Kylie’s great love for Aliza and how deeply responsible she feels for her well-being. Fehlbaum also succeeds in portraying the protagonist’s trauma and her resulting doubts about self-worth, her guilt and the memory of her sexual abuse well, without relying on any direct delineation of the sexual assault, thus enhancing the effectiveness of the tale.

Fehlbaum handles issues of trauma and healing with sensitivity, and the novel’s humanity and insightfulness do not come at the expense of narrative momentum. The pacing, in fact, is taut and brisk, and will keep readers turning the pages, eager to see Kylie’s life of hard choices build to some much-deserved peace. One incident involving Kylie’s uncle using her help to nab student drug peddlers strains credulity, as it puts her in danger again, but this incident doesn’t mar the overall story or its impact. Readers will find this tale of deep sisterly love and human resilience a heart-warming and inspiring read.

Takeaway: A heart-warming and inspiring tale of sisterly love and resilience.

Great for fans of: Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Patricia McCormick’s Sold.

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

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CATECHISMS
James W Bennetts
Bennetts follows The Name Game with a thoughtful, twisty thriller centered on a desperate investigator, a shocking cover up, and an intricate plot for revenge. Following on the heels of a botched investigation resulting in an escaped con artist, detective Paige Wright is trying to recover a career left in ruins. The murder of a former priest at a Catholic university offers her a chance to redeem herself, but soon bodies are piling up, and ghosts from the past haunting more potential victims. When the priest is revealed to have been a child abuser before being defrocked, Paige suspects revenge as the motive—and it appears the list isn’t fully checked off yet. Among a scheming entrepreneur, a regretful campus president, and a bravely defiant foreign exchange student, Paige begins to piece together the identity of this avenging angel dancing closely with the devil.

Bennetts’s mystery, structured as a tense cat-and-mouse affair, asks more pained, incisive questions than the typical whodunnit, raising themes of sin and forgiveness, justice and the lack thereof, whether God can forgive what humanity cannot. Paige and others explore such issues in passing, while working the case’s engaging specifics or plotting the epic acts of revenge that power the story, but these haunted inquiries will likely stick with readers even after the final pages. Those details are unflinching, as Bennetts frankly faces memories involving child sexual abuse, passages that, while wrenching, honor the trauma of abuse.

Bennetts is skilled at writing from a perspective of helplessness, from a child that has been abandoned by the system and left to their own devices, to a detective facing abuse and injustice. The pace is quick, despite the darkness of the story, and Bennetts excels at depicting shoe-leather detective work. The stakes steadily rise and the climax is a surprise, tinged with bleak irony, offering food for thought about revenge and redemption.

Takeaway: This tense page-turner pits a detective against a murderer and the cover up of priest’s abuse.

Great for fans of: Donald Cozzens’s Under Pain of Mortal Sin, Daniel Silva’s The Order.

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

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Whispers of a Gypsy: A Supernatural Dark Thriller of Suspense and Horror
JT Patten
This exercise in terror from Patten (author of the Sean Havens Black Ops series) weaves a tale of heritage and a horrifying "curse" bestowed upon the male family members of the Skinner line. In present-day Illinois, tragedy strikes in the Skinner household with the death of patriarch Yitzhak, the kids’ mischievous zayde, a Romani who’d faced extermination, twice, in the old country, first at the hands of Nazis and then the Russians. Soon after, Yitzhak’s son, David, turns his violence and anger upon his own wife and children. Little does his family know that this rage stems from fear: the family owes a debt to a mysterious neighbor, known only as Mr. Mortimer, aka the Monster, who’s just biding his time to collect.

Patten has created an in-depth look at family bonds and duty with fully fleshed out characters that the reader will either love or hate in equal measure. Following young Dwight and his "superpowers," along with Mr. Mortimer's backstory and creation, this is a page-turning horror thriller full of dark presences, morbid details, and serious treatment of Romani culture, despite the “Gypsy” in the title. Incorporating real historical events and putting a horrifying twist on the narrative, Patten has written an engagingly horrific tale full of revenge and retribution. The shocking discoveries and steady pacing will keep readers on the edge of their seats as Mr. Mortimer's true identity and mission is revealed. With dueling narratives twining the present day with the 20th century’s most wrenching horrors, plus strong mystery elements, the character's lives are fully explored between the pages of this blacker than black narrative. Twists and turns are a constant, all the way to the shocking conclusion.

Fans of character-driven, fast-moving horror will enjoy Patten’s tale, which occasionally offers carnage for shock value without compromising the narrative’s persuasive reality. This is a dark, haunting read, not for the faint of heart, but with humanity at its core. Readers of action-packed dark horror will be onboard.

Takeaway: This polished horror story explores family obligation and the overwhelming costs of revenge.

Great for fans of: Dan Simmons’s Carrion Comfort, Bari Wood’s The Tribe.

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

LEAVING PHOENIX
JAFE DANBURY
Danbury (The Other Cheek) offers a heart-tugging narrative of mystery and love, centered on Phoebe LaFlamme, a 25-year-old red-haired firecracker who lives with her adoptive father. Phoebe gets the upset of her life when she receives a letter from her long-lost biological grandfather. After searching for years to discover some key to her past and the mystery of what happened to her biological parents, Phoebe now sets out on a journey to find the letter's author. Choosing to go by her original name, Phoenix, she doesn’t plan on finding out the sinister story behind her mother's passing or the other truths surrounding her birth.

With an intense and fascinating narrative that grips readers from the start, Danbury weaves a tale of a lost soul finding their way in an uncertain world. The deep plot keeps attention from the start, though for all its surprises it’s grounded in character and place. Lovingly detailed descriptions (cars, guitars, road-trip tunes, one “weathered giant of a cactus”) lead the way in moving the story forward as Phoenix travels across Arizona to California, the road and environs vividly evoked. The pacing, though a bit slow at times, won’t hinder readers of touching travelogs and thoughtfully earthbound mysteries. The story turns on a jolting family secret, which Danbury handles with sensitivity and insight, the suspense never at the expense of her cast’s humanity.

The result is a well-edited story alive with striking images, sharp dialogue, and the pain and promise of self-discovery. Deep character development and welcome lighthearted moments lead the way in keeping the pages turning. The mystery is believable, and the characters are lovable with well-thought-out character arcs and a relationship to story development. Any mystery fan who loves a mostly fast-paced narrative with a splash of romance will find this is a rewarding addition to to-be-read lists.

Takeaway: This road-trip mystery of self discovery with a hint of romance will win readers’ hearts.

Great for fans of: Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich’s Hard Eight.

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

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A Compromising Position
Diane Merrill Wigginton
Wigginton (Olivia’s Promise) introducesCatherine Lawrence, the newly appointed campaign manager for Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate, Russell Tillman, as she steps into her new role only a few weeks before the election. Following the deaths of her Grandma Alice and father, Catherine has lived a regimented life, closely abiding by a fifteen-year plan she developed with Alice upon her deathbed. Now that she’s made her plan a reality, Catherine finds something missing in her life, but with a busy lifestyle, Tillman down in the polls, and her own political ambitions on the horizon, there is no time for distractions or a relationship. That all changes when handsome blue-eyed surfer Jake Ryan moves into the condo next door. A slow burn whirlwind romance unfurls that leaves Catherine questioning the careful roadmap she’s followed for her life thus far.

Anxious about her new job responsibilities, Catherine struggles with the dynamic of her new relationship with Jake and knowingly gives him a back seat to her career. However, as the story progresses Jake’s sexy, surfer-boy appeal and easy-going nature steer Catherine in another direction. Although romance is central to the plot, after Catherine finds candidate Tillman in a “compromising position” with lobbyist Patricia Grant, a woman she doesn’t trust and workplace “arch nemesis," the story treads into suspense territory. Intermittent chapters alternating omniscient perspectives between Catherine, Jake, and at times Patricia, Russell and other key characters add layers of depth and angst that fans or romantic suspense will enjoy.

Set against the backdrop of Florida beaches and politics, this story is a page-turner; however, it’s a slow burn with moderate heat, filled with plot twists and tension-building scenes. Fans of romantic suspense and contemporary beach reads alike will find this enjoyable. Wigginton has created a story where two very different characters with very different lives come together in a beautifully written happy-ever-after.

Takeaway: Fans of contemporary romance and romantic suspense will love this story of opposites falling in love.

Great for fans of: Jenny Hale’s The Beach House, Cecelia Scott’s Cocoa Beach Boardwalk.

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

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Mick & Moira & Brad: A Romantic Comedy
Gerald Everett Jones
From the prolific Jones (author of the Evan Wycliff Mysteries series, among other titles) comes a witty and timely romance between a criminal defense lawyer who has kept her opera-trained singing a secret in her professional life, an eager and well-meaning talent agent, and a stiff, highly proper financial manager. Readers follow Moira, Mick, Brad, and a host of other engaging characters through their Los Angeles lives as Moira makes the life-altering decision to seize a wild opportunity. She’ll fill in for—and possibly impersonate, if necessary—an international music star who no longer can fulfill her upcoming obligations, a process that entertainment lawyer Mick assures her can make her a star, too … or that she can walk away from once her contract’s up. With little holding her back, save for her potential romance with the seemingly disinterested Brad, Moira leaps at the opportunity to pursue her dreams.

Jones’s prose is fleet and conversational, and the setting and scenes come across vividly. Characters are engaging and witty, especially in their responses to each other; Jones is adept at the parry-and-riposte nature of romantic-comedy dialogue, and his showbiz chatter likewise shines. At times, the character of Brad is opaque, his choices driving the story forward but not always clearly rooted in what readers know of him. Of course, that’s also how it feels to Moira, a cunning and smart woman, whose existence has been upended by surprising new obligations. Jones never lets the comedy—or the element of wish-fulfillment fantasy—inherent in Moira's situation obscure the real emotion at the story’s heart.

The stakes are high—millions of dollars are on the line—but the novel’s breezy, at times even low-key, with Moira already accomplished and established before her fateful choice. That means the narrative at times lacks urgency, but the wit, quips, and situations continually engage. Romantic comedy readers with a love for dry humor may find this right up their alley.

Takeaway: Romantic comedy readers will enjoy this story of a lawyer-turned-music star and her love triangle.

Great for fans of: Virginia DeBerry, Terry McMillan.

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

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Blood Ties
L. Waithman
Waithman (King’s Chosen) kicks off the King’s Chosen series with dependable medieval fantasy beats enlivened by a rousing spirit of adventure. Ten-year-old Lucas mourns the death of his blacksmith father, killed in a confrontation with a mysterious man dressed in black. Father Ansan at the local monastery takes Lucas under his wing to teach him the ways of the sword-wielding warrior monks. But Lucas is different; he has unusually quick reflexes and heightened senses. When Lucas reveals that he heard voices from the monks’ sacred black stone, Father Ansan explains, “The stone speaks to those it chooses to be worthy.” Now Lucas hopes to one day serve in King Itan’s army. Discovery of the sacred stone has given Lucas the power of knowing with his mind without seeing with his eyes, and Father Ansan believes “He is the one we have been waiting for.”

The comfort-food plot moves quickly as Waithman follows Lucas’s adventures and the boy gradually discovers his lineage and destiny. It’s all told with vigor and engaging characterization, especially once Lucas joins a royal circus in the hopes it will bring him closer to King Itan. When word of Lucas’s skills reaches Itan, the king wonders if he could be either an elite born—a boy of noble blood trained to serve in the king’s guard—or a chosen one, a commoner with exceptional skills to fight in the king’s army. But before Itan can test Lucas, the boy is swept away, continually chased and threatened by the men in black.

Waithman crafts a solemn, engaging tale of a naïve and inquisitive boy who grows into a strong and capable young man. Despite the familiar setting and plot, lovers of classic high fantasy YA storytelling will eagerly follow the precocious and likable Lucas as he staunchly pushes through the many plot twists, betrayals, to face his mysterious past and claim his destiny with King Itan.

Takeaway: Likable characters and a spirit of adventure enliven this traditional fantasy

Great for fans of: Taran Matharu’s The Inquisition, Sara Holland’s Everless.

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

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A Philosopher on Wall Street: How Creative Financier Fred Frank Forged the Future
David Ewing Duncan
Storied investment banker Frank invites readers into his innovative career as a forward-thinking dealmaker in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and health care services industries. Filled with insight into Frank's life, exciting behind-the-scenes accounts of epochal Wall Street deals, and revelations about how and why industry-shaping investments do or don’t happen, A Philosopher on Wall Street is a rich, intriguing read about how the world actually runs—and what it takes to balance risk and reward to empower innovators to make that world better. Duncan brings vigor and clarity to a story centered on the biotech boom, the development of groundbreaking medications and technology, and Frank’s prescience at “leveraging billions of dollars to further innovation that at times seemed highly esoteric and risky but in the end proved to be right.”

Duncan recounts, with striking detail, Frank's Depression-era childhood, in Salt Lake City, military service, education (Hotchkiss, Yale), and career, highlighting his consultation on deals between major corporations where Frank was sought out for his unique skills in risk assessment, merging companies, and more. Correlations between Frank’s upbringing and success are highlighted: “I grew up in the West when there was this feeling that things were new and just getting started,” Frank states, noting that there, in the middle of the century, “It was much easier for someone to start a business, to strike out on his own, if you were willing to work hard.”

Such hard work is a recurring theme through Duncan’s many engaging anecdotes, which bring life to Frank’s early experience at Smith, Barney—where he became Wall Street’s first dedicated pharmaceutical industry analyst—then at a not-yet-behemoth Lehman Brothers in the 1970s, where Frank helped launch a biotech revolution, funding the genetic research that would quite literally change the world. Duncan ably captures the texture of Wall Street life in bygone eras, while presenting the science and the dealmaking with clarity and showmanship. Frank himself pens an engaging afterword. This inspiring biography will fascinate readers interested in finance, medicine, and bold innovation.

Takeaway: Exciting accounts of a pioneering investment banker and the biotech revolution.

Great for fans of: Robert Teitelman’s Gene Dreams, Sally Smith Hughes's Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech.

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

Click here for more about A Philosopher on Wall Street

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