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Points in Time: A story of Faith, Family, Friendship, Forgiveness, Love, Life and Death
J. Nolen Clements
Clements’s deep dive into mid-century Mississippi offers a coming-of-age story that follows the growth of two boys, Daren Whaid and Jayson Chastain, from adolescence, through young adulthood, marriage, and parenthood, right up until their retirements. Through their childhoods, the boys' experience the trials common to many young, white men of their time and place: making good school grades, coming into their Christian faith, working part-time jobs, playing sports, meeting and wooing girls, facing the shadow of war, and growing conscious of the inequity of segregation. Even as rifts develop between them, Daren and Jayson continue to return to each other's sides as constant sources of friendship.

With great detail,Clements transports readers into these young men’s world, though his deep interest in side characters and heavy use of exposition to set scenes and establish the milieu leads to a story that’s more ruminative than a page turner. Clements is fascinated by the mundane or trivial activities of everyday life, such as what it was like to work at a Kreme Kone restaurant, which reinforces the title’s suggestion that it’s focus is on “points in time.” The novel’s often formal tone and grammar—most characters speak without contractions in their dialogue—may keep some readers from connecting to Clements's people, as may the fact that a pronounced Southern dialect (“What y’all pay?”) mostly only comes from the mouths of the Black characters, such as the young men Daren is eager to invite to join his football team.

Most alluring is Clements’s narrative structure. The mystery and suspense of the story rivets the reader as they bounce in between alternate timelines, which in the end ties the book’s theme of the sanctity of life together well. Clements’s scenes, character development, and contemplation of moral issues are the book’s heart. The bucolic towns and familiar tensions of growing up will tug at the heartstrings of readers seeking a glimpse of mid-century Americana with an emphasis on faith.

Takeaway: A deep and idyllic escape into mid-century Americana, powered by a sweet friendship of two boys and the complexities of life.

Great for fans of: John Grisham’s A Painted House, David Halberstam’s The Fifties, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees.

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

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Daisy and the Duke
Elizabeth Cole
A former lady of gentry turned spinster, twenty-year-old Margaret “Daisy” Merriot is pursued into an unlikely and highly improper courtship with the physically and emotionally scarred Tristan Brooks, the newly appointed Duke of Lyon, in this sweet yet slightly steamy regency romance. Daisy never imagined she would be left with “no title, no dowry, no expectations,” but that’s exactly where she finds herself when her father, Baron Rutherford, remarries and dies soon thereafter. Left wounded and severely scarred after a near-death experience, Tristan is convinced that only women looking to land a duke would show him any romantic interest. While out exploring his newly inherited estate, he meets Daisy during a chance encounter. concealing his true identity. This ignites a romance while setting into motion a series of events that will reveal long-lived secrets and lies.

In this first book of the Wallflowers of Wildwood series, Cole (author of, among others, the Secrets of the Zodiac novels) constructs a story that combines marriage-focused Regency high society with some classical fairy tale elements. Daisy is Cinderella–a woman scorned by her wicked stepmother, Lady Rutherford. Although reduced to a servant’s position and stripped of her birthright, Daisy maintains her kindhearted nature, especially with her perfect, calm stepsister, Bella Merriot. Cole presents a flawed Prince Charming in Tristan, who not only suffers physical scars, but exhibits aspects of PTSD and imposter syndrome, while inheriting an estate that is on the brink of financial ruin.

Written with sound romance structure and era-appropriate language, Daisy and the Duke finds its lovers facing convincing internal and external conflicts they must overcome. Still, the attraction between hero and heroine is instant and their budding relationship is straightforward, and despite Tristan’s trauma this isn’t a love story filled with angst. Readers wanting a sweet, no-fuss romance will enjoy this polished and accomplished Cinderella love story.

Takeaway: This sweet love story weaves together aspects of Regency romance with classic fairy tale elements and adventure.

Great for fans of: Lorraine Heath, Elizabeth Hoyt.

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

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The Mrs. Tabor
Kimberly C. Burns
Burns’s debut sparkles with the wild wonder of the mid-1800s Colorado gold and silver rushes. Lizzie McCourt, the daughter of an Irish merchant from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, arrives on the scene amid thousands of men and women with dreams of wealth from the mines. Lizzie’s a woman who knows what she wants and goes for it – namely, the most eligible bachelor in town, Harvey Doe. Thus begins an almost fantastical tale of love and loss, triumph, and tragedy that turns simple Lizzie McCourt into the infamous Baby Doe, the most beautiful woman in the West–a literal, and figurative, gold digger.

Baby’s plight–from the wife of an unambitious, bitter drunk to mistress, to riches then back to nothing–highlights the role of women during this harsh time in American history. Baby was primed to be a good wife to Harvey, but he was ill-prepared to face a life of mining in the mountains, leaving it up to her to either pick up the slack or fail–and her grit refuses to let her give up. Liberally studded with tidbits of history that breathe life into the story, Burns’s narrative offers a rush of emotion in its portrayal of a time of contradictions, when the wave of moralistic movements was lapping at the mountains and making it challenging for women just trying to survive.

Burns pays loving attention to period detail, and her extensive research and investment in what it would actually be like to live in this milieu gives a nice balance to sometimes unlikable characters. While Baby’s determination is admirable, the coldly calculating aspects of her personality and her sense of entitlement may leave some readers with an uncomfortable sense of schadenfreude. However, the story’s twists and turns and larger-than-life personalities will leave fans of historical fiction breathless while offering a welcome glimpse into a captivating past

Takeaway: A whirlwind tale of triumphs and tragedies celebrating the Colorado gold rush era through the eyes of an infamous lady.

Great for fans of: C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold, Francine Rivers’s Redeeming Love.

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

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Children of Violence
Luke Gherardi
Brutal yet somehow compulsively readable, Gherardi’s brisk debut certainly does not pull its punches. Each of the connected short stories in this hybrid of novel and collection either directly or indirectly recounts the turbulent lives of four main characters: Gracie, whose dad is a rather prominent mobster; Reeves, whose parents are religious to the point of extremism, calling television “the devil box”; Cole, whose father is veteran and stuck in the glory days; and Robbie, whose mother is an addict and whose mother’s boyfriend is a pimp. Taken together, this very adult collection of vignettes is not for the faint of heart, exploring how the worst of humanity lives—and, more importantly, how their children do, too.

Troubling topics and triggering language abound in this tight, potent collection, as do strong opening lines and cliffhangers: “So at a garage sale awhile back Paw Paw and I got a cast iron skillet for two bucks,” one chapter starts, exemplifying a prose style that remains conversational no matter how heavy the subject matter. Gherardi’s characters often talk about each other but only rarely dive into their own emotions as they endure the book’s relentless succession of traumatic events. At times, though, that tendency and (for the most part) a lack of connection between those events and how each of the protagonists ultimately ends up serves to obscure greater themes beyond shock and disgust.

However, that’s not true for all of Gherardi’s children of violence. Robbie’s arc is terribly affecting as it's clear how his situation affects his treatment of his little brother, his own life choices, and, ultimately, his end, as the conclusion to his story doubles as the book’s smart and heartbreaking final chapter. Readers will find themselves having to fill in some emotional and thematic gaps in this series of proudly sordid narratives, but spotting the threads that connect these lives does prove satisfying.

Takeaway: Fans of short, gritty stories that are unafraid to touch on almost every heavy subject will want to brave this succinct collection.

Great for fans of: Nelson Algren, Kate Walbert’s His Favorites.

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

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The Dark Tetrad: A Kori Briggs Novel
AP Rawls
A team of elite agents battles a mad genius in this lively feminist take on the international spy thriller subgenre. Kori Briggs works for the mysterious "Rampart" agency, which comes up against an opponent that has succeeded in building a nuclear bomb. Briggs must race to uncover her target, as well as a possible traitor in their midst, as she pairs up with her Russian counterpart Anya Kovalev on a globe-crossing adventure that moves from Tel Aviv, to Paris, and more. Meanwhile, she has to manage a romantic relationship—and an overly solicitous mother who thinks her daughter is a business executive.

Rawls keeps the plot briskly moving with neatly choreographed action scenes, from physical fights to airborne warfare. There's little gratuitous violence, and the tone is lightly humorous: a subplot finds a pair of semi-competent CIA agents stumbling onto Rampart's activities, and Briggs's colleagues find an amusing way to misdirect them. Rawls crafts running jokes about the donuts at Rampart staff meeting and how Briggs's fellow agents assume Kovalev, a woman, must be a man. Occasionally, some plot points strain credulity or edge toward the stereotypical, but the story zips along with no lulls.

Best of all are the characters, more three-dimensional than usually found in spy thrillers. Especially vivid is Briggs herself, a refreshingly modern feminine take on James Bond. She enjoys the casual relationships that have long been the prerogative of male action heroes and even finds time for flirtations in the middle of her investigations, while she and Anya humorously discuss how hard it is to keep a boyfriend without revealing their double life as super spies. And she always has time to soothe her worried mother, with increasingly elaborate lies explaining why she can't talk right now, even while she's saving the world from a nuclear holocaust. The always engaging Briggs paired with the lean plot will grab readers and keep them looking forward to further adventures.

Takeaway: Fans of spy actioners will revel in this swift-moving adventure and its delightful heroine.

Great for fans of: Stella Rimington, Ian Fleming, Rosalie Knecht’s Who is Laura Kelly?.

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

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Chasing Alexander: A Marine's Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan
Christopher T Martin
After attending college for a year, Christopher Martin found himself listless; he was attending class less frequently and instead spending energy reading books more often than not. By the time he had conquered an entire library’s worth of wartime biographies, Martin knew something in his life had to change—instead of reading about history, he decided to become a part of it. To him, joining the Marines meant an opportunity to come alongside one of his idols, Alexander the Great. Martin guides readers through the history of Alexander while chronicling his own sojourn from a bright, but out-of-shape “grunt” to an emotion-filled, action-hungry corporal.

Martin’s captivating recollection of boot camp and his deployment transports the reader into his journey, inviting them to experience Martin’s own excitement and boredom, both the everyday grind of military life and the moments of tragedy. With tact and clarity, he writes of mentors, friends, family, and his unit, imbuing the material with a strong sense of authenticity while revealing himself to be both humble and ambitious. Martin has the keen ability to write to a lay reader without condescending to their knowledge of the American military, while simultaneously honoring the complexity of his subject.

The titular “chasing” of Alexander the Great draws deeply on the life of the Macedonian king, which has guided Martin from his college days to his boot camp trials and on, even in his return to civilian life. The thread reads smoothly; Martin’s biographical account of Alexander is thorough but does not bog down the impact of his own story. Martin is compelling when capturing both mundane and the trauma and hardship of a Marine’s existence, illuminating their grief, terror, and agony. With grit and sincerity, Martin will have readers who appreciate action-packed war stories and history marveling at this truly enjoyable memoir.

Takeaway: Fans of military stories will enjoy this compelling account of searching not only for the Taliban, but also for himself.

Great for fans of: Mark Owen’s No Easy Day, Michael J. MacLeod’s The Brave Ones.

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

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The Smooth River: Finding Inspiration and Exquisite Beauty during Terminal Illness. Lessons from the Front Line.
Richard S. Cohen
Cohen’s sensitive, stirring account of the 160 days between his wife’s diagnosis with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and her last breath finds “beauty within crisis” and invites readers to take inspiration from the “Smooth River” approach to ending a life that Cohen and his wife, Marcia Horowitz, arrived at in those last months. “Normalizing end-of-life matters—and dispelling societal distortions that avoid addressing them—are critically important,” Cohen notes in an introduction, and the narrative that follows exemplifies his argument. Once treatment options had been exhausted, the couple determined to face Horowitz’s probable final days with clear eyes and open hearts, making the most of each day, thinking of her life not as a tragedy cut short but as fully lived.

In short, they prepared for her to “leave this world in peace.” In crisp prose suffused with feeling, Cohen contests the societal tendency, shared by many doctors, to view terminal disease as a “fight” to be won or lost. That’s not to say that Horowitz, a crisis management expert, didn’t “fight” in the traditional sense, consulting with numerous experts, undergoing chemo, and pursuing all viable options. But Cohen argues, with both persuasive and emotional power, “A win is not necessarily defeating the cancer. A win is having lived a good life.”

That’s the current that courses throughout: their dedication to ending a life well, on their own loving terms. The book memorializes that life while showcasing a healthy approach to preparing for hard possibilities. The couple developed and held to both a Medical and Life Plan, which Cohen details throughout. Cohen movingly covers the medical practicalities—choosing navigating the system; handling “a thin-skinned, sensitive doctor”; dealing with “chemo brain”—while emphasizing the Life Plan, especially the urgency of filling time well, with heart-to-heart talks, simple pleasures, and the embrace of loved ones. Bursting with life, The Smooth River leads by example.

Takeaway: An inspiring, beautifully written account of living a life of purpose when faced with a terminal illness.

Great for fans of: Patricia Weenolsen’s The Art of Dying, Nina Riggs’s The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying.

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

A Googly in the Compound: a novel of the Raj
Boman Desai
Desai’s (Trio) sweeping family drama charts the Sanjana clan’s loves and losses against the historical backdrop of India under British rule. When Dolly Dalal’s first husband Kavas dies tragically, she marries his younger brother Phiroze. Each of her two sons takes after his own father: Kavas’s son Sohrab is ambitious and ruthlessly practical, and Phiroze’s son Rustom is gentle and philosophical. Like their fathers, they are constantly at odds. When young Englishwoman Daisy Holiday, newly arrived in Bombay on the trail of a former lover, reaches out to the Sanjana family for help, both sons are taken with her, setting history up to repeat itself.

Desai unravels the complex relationships of the Sanjana family through lengthy flashbacks (throughout), all tied together in a single scene of a family breakfast that steadily builds toward the book’s climax. Spanning both decades and continents, the characters’ backstories are infused with evocative details of period and place, transporting readers to King George VI’s Jubilee in London, the brutal Burma campaign of the second world war, a steamer sailing from London to Bombay, and an India on the cusp of independence from Britain. While the book’s vivid historical and cultural exposition can occasionally pause the plot, Desai offers fascinating insight into the complicated realities of race, class and colonialism the characters face.

The story’s broad scope is balanced by its finely-tuned characters. Their motivations and struggles are well-defined and relatable, and readers will find their self-determination in the face of difficult circumstances inspiring. In particular, Dolly and Daisy, far from being hemmed in by vintage attitudes, are well-rounded, complex individuals whose dilemmas and choices will resonate with contemporary readers. Desai’s nuanced portrayal of marriage also proves appealing, with each couple’s relationship depicted with sharp but non-judgemental insight. This engrossing chronicle of a complicated family that builds to a stunner of a conclusion.

Takeaway: History lovers will appreciate how this sensitive Indian family saga puts a human face on epic events.

Great for fans of: Sunil Gangopadhyay’s Those Days, Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi.

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

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THE VISION EXPERIMENTS
John P. Cardone
This inventive twist on the conspiracy thriller hinges on a provocative new way of looking at both the past and the present. When speech therapist Melissa Speyer uses eye drops to soothe her irritated eyes, she finds herself overwhelmed by sudden and shocking visions. Speyer’s love interest William Clarkson may know more about her visions than he lets on: he works for an organization dedicated to uncovering how important historical figures, such as Jonas Salk and Leif Erikson, may have experienced similar visions that guided the course of human history. Speyer’s new abilities have enormous potential, but their revelations, it turns out, also makes them dangerous.

This fast-paced blend of mystery, thriller, and detective story is brimming with curiosity and enthusiasm. Though the cast of characters is large, each is unique and well-crafted. Readers will find handsome and intelligent—if conflicted—Clarkson especially appealing and enjoy the subtle banter between the gritty, determined pair of gumshoes Stanley Young and Ed Dawson. Though the dialogue is occasionally weighed down by exposition, transitions between subplots and cities are easy to follow. It’s less clear exactly how Speyer’s visions work, but their ambiguity adds to the intrigue, and Cardone keeps readers guessing until the very last paragraphs of the book.

The mysteries of the present and those of the past are well-balanced throughout the story. A deep love for history and historical research lies at its heart, and Cardone invents detailed, interesting context for each of the proposed alternative histories. The wide range of historical figures who come up, from Madam C.J. Walker to Aristander of Telmessos, may offer new information, even to students of history. This well-paced page-turner offers an intriguing, imaginative take on the secret sources of human achievement, and adventurous, open-minded readers will enjoy Cardone’s entertaining ramble through the hypotheticals of history.

Takeaway: This bold conspiracy thriller finds a present-day heroine surveying history through (literal) fresh eyes.

Great for fans of: Matthew Reilly, Raymond Khoury.

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

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Behind The Bullet Points: The Surprising Secrets of Powerful Presentations
Don E. Descy
With a spirit of cheerful straight-talk, and a zeal for debunking bad yet familiar advice, Descy lays out practical strategies for becoming what he calls a “power presenter”—someone who communicates with clarity, confidence, and power in professional presentations in in-person or virtual settings. Drawing on decades of experience in giving presentations, Descy offers “PoweredPointer”s for communicating effectively, with an emphasis on process and understanding the role of a speaker. Descy points out that when you hold the stage “You are the actor and the director,” meaning the director in you must push the actor to rehearse, to win trust, to master the power of pauses and the pitch of your voice, and to keep humor self-directed and appropriate. It’s the director’s role to understand the audience and the venue and to guide the actor in customizing the performance.

But he argues that it’s nobody’s role, no matter what you may have been taught, to endeavor to “be yourself.” Descy reminds readers throughout that a presentation is a performance, and that preparing to perform—rather than merely memorizing the words and counting on your innate qualities to get them across—is the crucial work that puts a presentation over the top. His advice digs deep into concerns like clothes, (“dress one step above” your audience), eye contact (“PoweredPointer 37: Lock on to people’s eyes for three to five seconds”), how to design effective slides, and how to face audience questions.

“Use personal language as if you are just talking to one person,” Descy advises. He exemplifies that advice throughout Behind the Bullet Points, writing in a direct, friendly voice that inspires nods and occasional laughter. This volume can at times seem repetitious, and the guidance for virtual presentations (check your lighting, test your platform) isn’t as thorough and seasoned as the rest. This isn’t a book about composing a presentation—it’s instead a thorough, persuasive guide to getting one across and even making it fun.

Takeaway: Readers eager to improve their skills at professional presentations will find much fresh, helpful insight.

Great for fans of: Garr Reynolds’s Presentation Zen, Nancy Duarte’s Resonate.

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

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Memoirs of a Bible Smuggler
Jeana Sue Kendrick
Kendrick’s suspenseful memoir tells the story of her and her husband Jeff’s years risking arrest as, motivated by their strong faith, they smuggled Bibles and Christian literature behind the Iron Curtain. Their work began in the early 1980s, when Bibles were considered contraband in many Communist countries, regulations that would only start to change in 1988. Posing as tourists and using only pseudonyms, the Kendricks would pass border checkpoints under the watching eyes of armed militia, their contraband stashed in RVs, pickup campers, a fifth wheel, and anywhere else the resourceful couple could find.

Kendrick’s stories are gripping, full of close calls (including the opening anecdote in which a Soviet officer discovers a hidden recorder in Kendrick’s purse) and some disappointments, such as being turned back within the Soviet Union after attempting a short cut. Maps of the places where the Kendricks journeyed as well as diagrams of how the smuggling occurred will help to orient readers, while offering the thrill of revealing possibly still-sensitive trade secrets. Christian readers will be encouraged by Kendrick’s reliance on scripture for comfort in difficult situations (“God’s peace filled me and as we proceeded, I was amazingly relaxed,” she writes), and the appendix containing “Scripture References for Battling Fear” will prove a welcome resource.

Kendrick keeps the focus on—and directs the glory to—the Eastern bloc Christians they served by providing Bibles and, periodically, financial help, men and women whom she insists took even more risks for their beliefs than she and her husband did. The Kendricks’s story—and their faith—will inspire readers while staying relatable and humble: Kendrick shares honest incidents of marital tension, reveals difficult travel moments and physical ailments, confesses to deep loneliness, and relates anxious encounters with authority. Christian readers seeking motivation in difficult ministry, or simply searching for an exciting faith-based memoir, will find this an uplifting read.

Takeaway: Christians looking for an inspiring, suspenseful real-life story will find much to love this Cold War memoir.

Great for fans of: Richard Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ, Haralan Popov’s Tortured for His Faith.

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

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May: An epic poem about youth
Herman Gorter
For many, adulthood feels like an endless slog, and emotional numbness often accompanies this loss of innocence, quashing our ability to have transformational experiences and connect with the natural world. Kruijff’s translation of Dutch writer Herman Gorter’s epic poem, originally published in 1889, resonantly mourns the loss of the “sweet melancholy of youth,” which Kruijff defines in an introduction as “an unbounded intensity of the senses.” Translated here in English, Gorter’s poem personifies its namesake month–the epitome of springtime–by bringing to life a young girl (“the sweetest, blondest, yes, the little May”) bursting with excitement and possibility. Over time, however, she is dragged “finally into submission in the face of mundane city life,” leaving her jaded and bereft.

Unfolding like an impressionist painting, each line of Gorter’s poem is rich with vivid sensory details–colors, textures, and sounds of the countryside that illustrate the depth and intensity of his longing, though he was just 24 when his Mei was published. Kruijff’s translation juxtaposes May’s childlike beauty and innocence with arresting and sometimes jarring images that hint at the tragedy to come: “Awakening and rising on the palms / Of her flat hands, as frail shells were crackling / Underneath her – while on her delicate chin, / Still moist from sleep, a tilted sunray shot / Off the dune’s edge, and made for trembling blood.”

Though it is more than a century old, Gorter’s signature work carries a sentiment still relevant in the modern age. Readers will find this 4,381-line poem both nostalgic and slightly gut wrenching as it inevitably kicks up memories of lost love--and lost possibility. For those who are still young at heart–or wishing to reclaim the fervor of youth–this thoughtful, lyrical translation will stir the imagination and invite consideration of what makes the heart sing, even if the joy, like May, is only temporary. The poem, though, will endure.

Takeaway: Kruijff’s translation Herman Gorter’s epic poem mourns the loss of the “sweet melancholy of youth.”

Great for fans of: Willem Kloos, Hendrik Marsman.

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

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Sage Advice - The Lives and Maxims of Some of History's Wisest People
Richard K. Borden
Borden spotlights historical figures noted for their wisdom in this focused debut. Drawing inspiration from his own conviction to “plot my life’s course with more confidence when following in the footsteps of history’s great men and women,” he pinpoints 18 of “history’s great sages” for analysis and comparison–and charts out their personal, professional, and philosophical backgrounds. Attempting to showcase a variety of cultures and eras, Borden’s subjects range from Ptah-Hotep to Winston Churchill. He examines their guiding ideals, insight he argues is crucial to “live a happy and flourishing life,” and suggests that their combined knowledge can help illuminate what he calls the “Way,” a path through life “common to most successful people and cultures.”

Borden examines surprising and relatively obscure details of his visionaries’ lives alongside their better known ideologies, which he shares in snippets to capture readers’ attention. He writes of Aristotle’s first wife and their distinctive bond that, despite her death at a young age, prompted his last wishes for his bones to buried with hers, and he divulges Teddy Roosevelt’s remarkable fascination with the badlands of North Dakota—and melees between unusual pets in the White House, including a badger “whose temper was short but whose nature was fundamentally friendly.” Some of the more conventionally inspirational accounts, meanwhile, include Zhu Xi’s efforts in the neo-Confucian movement, Catherine the Great’s creation of Russia’s first national education system, and George Washington Carver’s endeavors in sustainable agriculture.

Borden closes with memorable maxims from each figure, organized into relatable topics—such as “work-life balance,” “virtue and character,” and “passions”—to illustrate the commonsense knowledge of his models. Some readers will wish for more female icons, though Borden acknowledges that history has disallowed women’s empowerment to “fully express themselves” while noting, in the wise words of Elizabeth Tudor, that “the past cannot be cured.” Borden’s casual commentary will please lighthearted history and inspiration buffs.

Takeaway: A lighthearted examination of the wisdom offered by a brace of leaders throughout history

Great for fans of: Walter Isaacson’s The Genius Biographies, Derek Wellington Johnson’s The Wisdom of Leaders.

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

They Will Be Coming for Us
Kim Catanzarite
A young woman’s greatest dreams and darkest nightmares are pivoted against each other in Catanzarite’s dynamic sci-fi thriller, the first in the Jovian Duology series. Svetlana Peterman desires nothing more than a peaceful life with a devoted husband and a child to dote on. Andrew Jovian, an astronomer with powerful cosmos-obsessed parents, gives her both, along with a suffocating extended family and a mother-in-law obsessed with the idea of immediately having grandbabies. Svetlana does her best to settle into her new married life, but quickly finds herself at the center of an unusual—possibly intergalactic—mystery that endangers everyone she loves. With no one to trust and everything to lose, she must find the strength to fight and survive.

Readers are dropped into Kirksberg, Pennsylvania, which mirrors a real-life town in PA, where an alleged UFO was spotted in the 1960s. This alien-obsessed community sets the backdrop for the quick-paced plot filled with eccentric characters. Svetlana and Andrew’s romance quickly moves from a declaration of love to marriage, and while some readers may feel this whirlwind progresses unrealistically fast, others will be swept up in the soulmates’ desire to start their lives together without delay. Several time jumps keep the pace as the story propels forward, sometimes leaving dramatic scenes and conversations up to the reader’s imagination. Catanzarite weaves subtle mystery elements into the background as the tension mounts and builds to engaging and unexpected twists.

Svetlana is a strong protagonist who will do anything to protect the ones she loves—the perfect mix of resilience and wit born out of necessity from her years as an orphan in Russia before starting a new life with her adopted family in America. Readers will bond strongly to Svetlana as she struggles to unravel the secrets of her new family in this sci-fi thriller.

Takeaway: Fans of science fiction mixed with romance and mystery will enjoy this genre-crossing novel.

Great for fans of: Ruthanna Emrys, Michel Faber.

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

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Carlotti
David Dalrymple
In this engaging debut mystery, the surgeon son of a mob boss discovers that his own life is in jeopardy as he searches for the person responsible for his mother’s deadly car accident. Dalrymple draws on his own experiences as a surgeon and medical student at the University of Pennsylvania to tell the story of Nick Carlotti, son of Philadelphia crime boss Rock Carlotti, who becomes suspicious about his mother’s death in a car accident--and believes that the shooting of one of his patients may be connected to his mother’s untimely death. Nick seeks to uncover the truth and the possible involvement of state senator Lloyd Mays, who spoke at a fundraiser his mother attended at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the night of the crash. Meanwhile, veteran detective Maurice Rawls investigates the apparent suicide of Willie Santini, a mob enforcer, seeking to discover if the suicide was a murder and how it may be linked to the shooting of Nick’s patient.

Dalrymple’s complex, multi-dimensional characters will draw readers into this well-plotted novel, a story whose suspense percolates right up to the explosive conclusion. What sets Carlotti apart, though, is a feeling of authenticity. Dalrymple’s knowledge of medicine and the hierarchy of medical professionals adds credibility to the storyline without overburdening readers with technical terms. His portrayal of Nick highlights not only a son’s quest to disassociate from his father’s mafia connections but also reveals how the intensity of medical school and residency can interfere with personal relationships.

Also imbuing the story with authenticity while hinting at the undercurrent of organized crime activity in the city: the author’s depiction of Philadelphia neighborhoods and sites. Dalrymple’s depiction of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building is spot on, and his handling of Senator Mays and his legislative responsibilities is mostly accurate. Suspense fans, especially of the Keystone State variety, will find much here that’s memorable.

Takeaway: A mob boss’s straight-and-narrow son investigates his mother’s death in this convincing Pennsylvania thriller.

Great for fans of: W.E.B. Griffin, Lisa Scottoline’s Lady Killer.

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

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Proliferation
Erik Otto
Otto deftly weaves together the details of a post-apocalyptic world, the ethics of artificial intelligence, and a pair of redemption stories for two vastly different characters. A loose stand-alone sequel to Detonation, Otto quickly establishes the key characters and the stakes of the story. The first chapter introduces the pirate mercenary Lexie, who is kidnapped by a bizarre monastic order known as Observers after she delivers a crucial piece of information. The second introduces Dryden, an alcoholic anthropologist whose obscure expertise in “awakening” cities suddenly brings him to the attention of the powers that be. Otto alternates their narratives in a manner that keeps the narrative moving at a steady clip.

The stakes are high, as the sentient super-city Haplopol mysteriously reappears after disappearing for centuries. One of several cities that once caused an apocalyptic event, designed to promote the well-being of its citizens but given limits to its geographical expansion, Haplopol and its larger sister-city Diplopol use hallucinogenic technology to turn humans into obedient tools dedicated to its expansion. Otto quickly establishes the ethical problems surrounding the cities as Dryden's knowledge makes him an asset for a power-hungry general and Lexi is chosen to help the Observers oppose a potential new apocalypse.

There are various side-quests along the way as the opposition seeks to awaken other lost super-cities to help them and Proliferation offers up betrayals, surprising twists, and thoughtfully articulated moral conundrums. Otto builds tension as his protagonists cross paths, resolving both of their personal story arcs while leaving room for future adventures. He does assume readers come to the novel with a certain familiarity with his world, as he introduces details like the technology-devouring creatures called retchers without much explanation, but Otto's empathy for his flawed characters grounds the technical details of this world. The result is a multi-layered narrative that doesn't skimp on action and intrigue while introducing a series of complex, relevant ethical problems.

Takeaway:Vivid post-apocalyptic world-building and engaging ethical dilemmas set this thoughtful science-fiction epic apart.

Great for fans of: Thomas Harlen, Alastair Reynolds.

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

Click here for more about Proliferation

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