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Journeys From There to Here: Stories of Immigrant Trials, Triumphs, and Contributions
Susan J. Cohen
Cohen, one of the nation’s top immigration lawyers, shares eleven extraordinary journeys of her pro bono clients in this stellar book of true stories. They include tales of fleeing unimaginable horrors before acheiving success in the U.S. Chinese immigrants Peng and his wife, whom Cohen doesn’t name, were forced to have a horrific abortion at eight months for defying China’s one-child policy. Rwandan Audrey Uwimana faced rape and the murder of loved ones, while Sudanese Samuel Bol, after surviving his country’s brutal civil war, walked 1,000 miles to Kenya in his quest for a new life. But, as Cohen reports, her subjects don’t dwell on their difficult journeys, focusing instead on the opportunities made available in this country.

Cohen ably puts a human face on these stories, emphasizing inspiring achievements. Honduran José Salgado, after earning a Ph.D in education from Harvard, accepted a job as principal of an underprivileged Boston middle school and made it a national success story. Cohen also details the experiences of violin prodigy Helen Kim, who, in addition to playing sold-out shows around the globe, earned a full scholarship to Harvard, as well as Somali Jamal Ali Hussein, who single-handedly financed building and staffing a school in his hometown after earning his Harvard MBA.

Cohen and her co-author Taylor make these remarkable and heartbreaking stories leap off the page and into readers’ hearts. The author’s deep respect of, and empathy for, her courageous clients is evident on every page, a beacon of light in dark days for U.S. immigration policy. Cohen lays bare how the Trump Administration has irreparably set back immigrants’ causes, stirring distrust for immigrants and their motives. This heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting work calls for and demonstrates empathy and understanding for the atrocities that so many immigrants are fleeing, while always highlighting their vital contributions to the U.S. and the world.

Takeaway: Inspiring and heartbreaking, these accounts of recent immigrant success stories cry for a more empathetic United States.

Great for fans of: Helen Zia’s Last Boat Out of Shanghai, Vinh Chung and Tim Downs’s Where the Wind Leads.

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

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Love and Other Sins
Emilia Ares
Ares debuts with an emotionally charged teen romance series: Mina Arkova, a daughter of Russian immigrants, just wants to be left alone for her senior year as she leaves behind the shallow posturing of her private school for a more authentic experience at a Southern California public school. But her walls start to crumble when she meets Oliver, the "good bad boy" of her dreams. Oliver is newly emancipated, drives a motorcycle, has a lucrative business in black market electronics. When the Russian mob comes after Mina due to her father's debts, Oliver is there to save her. He seems perfect—but Oliver is struggling with his own traumatic past. Can the two learn to trust each other, or will the walls built out of necessity also block their chance at love?

Ares presents a sincere, voice-driven portrayal of teenage life, switching between Mina and Oliver’s convincingly sketched perspectives and always balancing a sharp cynicism with tender emotions. While the romance is sweet, playing into many a teen's "bad boy" fantasies, the most dynamic and compelling relationship is between Mina and her mother. The two have an intense push-pull relationship as Mina is torn between feeling smothered by her mother's overprotectiveness and needing her mother for support and comfort. Rather than power the drama, the high-stakes subplot involving the Russian mob interrupts the more everyday storytelling, appearing and disappearing like a visitor from a different novel.

The story has a lot going on, and Ares devotes more pages than necessary to minor details, like explaining the daily schedule of a high school student. Still, when Love & Other Sins comes together, it packs a strong emotional punch. Fans of romances with darker elements will appreciate the way Ares does not shy away from the grim realities that face many teens. A touching coming-of-age narrative, Mina and Oliver's often conflicting desires for freedom and love will resonate with teen readers.

Takeaway: This touching, thoughtful YA romance digs deep into its good girl and troubled boy.

Great for fans of: Colleen Hoover’s Hopeless, Katie McGarry’s Pushing the Limits.

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

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Love Your Gifts: Permission to Revolutionize Authenticity in the Workplace
Angie McCourt
McCourt’s highly accessible self-help guide focuses on finding one’s less recognized, elevated gifts beyond “the box” into which society has placed so many of our authentic selves. Though the audience is for those attempting to grow in their workplace skills, leadership, or assessment, McCourt’s advice extends beyond the corporate world. Her unique approach urges us to recognize the humanity of employees and leaders both; she argues that when all our gifts are at last recognized and activated—revealing us as messengers, “edgewalkers,” transmitters, storytellers, and more—we “truly make a difference with our teams, business, leadership, and effectiveness.” McCourt’s personality shines through as an expert in professional growth and as an advocate for healthy people becoming great employees and leaders.

McCourt’s hope for her readers to become the best versions of themselves shines through these pages. McCourt herself has done the work she suggests to her readers, and she draws persuasively on her knowledge and experience, acknowledging that change takes time and that putting in the work today makes a difference later in overall satisfaction. Her takeaways are highly practical, as she debunks myths and advises readers to partake in original practices and quizzes—and recommends some outside material, too--to help grasp her insights and better know themselves

McCourt offers many ideas as opportunities to begin or continue in finding and embracing one’s gifts, including mediation, chakra work, coaching, mentorship, and personality testing. Her focus throughout is on the revelation of the authentic self and routes to discover it, an individualized process that can encompass some familiar visualization and mindfulness practices and other mainstays of the genre, such as understanding and facing the beliefs that limit us, as well as McCourt’s own fresh insights and ideas. Her enthusiasm and thoughtful “Make the Shift” advice distinguishes this guide, in which her commitment to helping readers change their lives powers every page.

Takeaway: This guide to discovering and embracing one’s authentic gifts argues that being true to yourself can make you a better leader and colleague.

Great for fans of: Karissa Thracker’s The Art of Authenticity, Dana V. Adams’s Live Your Gift

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

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West Village Originals: An Oral History of New York City's Most Unique Neighborhood
Michael D. Minichiello
Minichiello compiles a celebratory collection of ninety short interviews, originally published in the neighborhood paper WestView News between 2008 and 2020, conducted with the storied, lively personalities of New York City’s bohemian West Village, which has “nurtured generations of artists and activists who found refuge here from the greater metropolis of Manhattan.” People featured, many of whom have been part of the community for decades, range from internationally known figures like Calvin Trillin and Mimi Sheraton to more local influencers like Ralph Lee, founder of the storied Village Halloween Parade. Arranged by creative realms, such as “Community Activism,” “Music,” and “Theatre,” these profiles evoke deep feeling—including nostalgia—for a connected and vibrant community equal parts cozy and wild.

Though the flow of Minichiello’s interviews is somewhat formulaic—a bit about the interviewee’s childhood, their arrival to the West Village, and their professional and personal experiences in the neighborhood then and now—he lets each subject’s spirit shine through in their own words. Crucial themes tie together multiple places, such as frustration with the gentrification that has made the area unaffordable for younger creatives and led to some interviewees losing their homes, but even then Minichiello captures a range of individual responses to these changes, and the overall mood of the interviews stays upbeat. Including activists and business owners illuminates the heart of the community, as organizations and physical shops hold the soul and history of a neighborhood as much as people do.

Each piece packs a strong punch in about 800 words, and Minichiello’s consistent style facilitates a clean, compact layout, enhanced by vivacious photo portraits of each subject. This volume makes an attractive coffee table read, ready to be browsed or searched for a favorite’s story. The choice not to re-edit the interviews lets the older ones serve delightful double nostalgic duty: once for the West Village of an earlier generation, and another for that of a decade ago

Takeaway: Lovers of New York history will find inspiration and insight in these profiles of West Village residents.

Great for fans of: John Strausbaugh’s The Village: 400 Years of Beats and Bohemians, Radicals and Rogues, Jeff Kisseloff’s, You Must Remember This: An Oral History of Manhattan from the 1890s to World War II..

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

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Flipping the Circle: A Political Thriller
Michael Leppert
Leppert’s first political thriller finds a contract lobbyist in Indiana uncovering a plot to rig a new law to benefit a group of conspirators—and then facing a crisis of conscience as new girlfriend, Flip, encourages him to change his ways. Will O'Courtney takes on a new client, Tobacco America, as various parties jockey over regulation of the vaping market. Will, who narrates his story, discovers some odd provisions in the proposed legislation and realizes that what's happening is corruption beyond the usual backroom deals. Meanwhile, he becomes closer to Flip and her young daughter, eventually facing a reckoning in his personal and professional lives.

Leppert — a former Indiana contract lobbyist himself — does a beautiful job of bringing to life the sordid world of state politics: the backroom meetings, the calculating way businesses engage lobbyists, the golf outings where the line between the politics and sport almost disappears. He also nicely describes the Indianapolis 500 as both a community-building event and yet another networking opportunity: "There were plenty of bigwigs to see and shake hands with…" The extensive legislative skullduggery, and the huge cast, makes the narrative hard to follow at times, but the richly drawn scenes and engaging main characters keep readers invested until the end.

Indeed, the leads lend a welcome emotional heft to the suspense. Will may be in a shady business, but he's no longer satisfied and is trying to turn his life around. The fresh look he gives himself in a church-oriented support group comes across as a convincing development, a touching counterpart to his wheeler-dealer activities. His growing relationship with the hippie-like Flip and her daughter is also affecting, as Flip's influence helps Will change. "I couldn’t be anything but good if I wanted to be in her life," he says. Will's emotional growth as he navigates the political intrigues will have readers cheering for his redemption.

Takeaway: Aficionados of political thrillers will enjoy the machinations as a lobbyist battles for his own salvation.

Great for fans of: Walter Kirn, R. Kenneth Godwin’s Lobbying and Policymaking: The Public Pursuit of Private Interests..

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

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Secrets and Truths
Whitney Hill
This first installment in a new paranormal romance series from Hill (Eternal Huntress) offers a fun, sexy romp through a North Carolina that has been divided between magical Othersiders. Lya, a half-elven bounty hunter, and vampire Cade cross paths and immediately feel a connection. Complications ensue when Lya receives an offer of a lucrative bounty on Cade, enough to clear the debt she owes for having had a romantic relationship with an elven prince. Unsure as to why someone would be willing to pay so much money to have Cade killed, and conflicted about the possibility of carrying out the act, Lya is determined to figure out Cade’s secrets. Their relationship is made even more complicated by the fact that Cade, too, could pose a significant threat to Lya.

Hill has created a lived-in world in this spin-off to her Shadows of the Otherside series, using the background of North Carolina to create a structured society of “othersiders” and “mundanes.” She manages to keep the plot engaging and tightly-written, with adequate detail in her worldbuilding, and the themes of powerlessness, class, and race are handled deftly without dragging down the story’s pace—and still increase the stakes in a satisfying way.

Cade and Lya’s dynamic bond is complex and exciting. Readers who prefer a slow burn might feel that the two get together too quickly, but others will be relieved that Hill has avoided a protracted will-they/won’t-they lead-up to the relationship. While Cade and Lya aren’t quite enemies-to-lovers, fans of the trope will enjoy their banter and eventual team-up against a greater foe. Secrets and Truths offers a few spicy sex scenes, but some moments feel less natural, including stilted conversations between Lya and Cade during steamy interactions. At times, Hill sacrifices more powerful language in favor of the explicit, but fans of smoldering romance will look forward to more stories to come.

Takeaway: Paranormal romance enthusiasts will enjoy Hill’s fast-paced, steamy contribution to the genre.

Great for fans of: Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Blood and Ash series, Nalini Singh.

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

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Can We Be Friends?
Jessica Lee
Leon, an energetic five-year-old kindergartner, has an adorable pet guinea pig named Panda–and he is determined to make Panda his best friend, despite what the sensitive and jumpy pet may want. The two of them enjoy each other’s company dancing and playing, but when he gets too rowdy for the guinea pig, Leon faces rejection and the challenging emotions that go along with it. As he tries to come to terms with Panda’s reserved nature, Leon suddenly discovers the little rascal has escaped from her cage, and a hilarious game of hide and seek ensues–with Leon pulling out all the stops to corral Panda back to safety.

Writer and illustrator Lee’s endearing debut, dedicated to her son, is bilingual, with a Chinese translation of the story running alongside the English text. Her polychromatic illustrations burst with energy and character, illuminating funny moments in the narrative, such as Panda’s irritation when Leon “put[s] her in a bucket,” or her crafty hiding spot behind a toy car. Lee’s exploration of oppressive emotions is noteworthy, and when Leon expresses his anger, sadness, and all-around distress at Panda’s rebuffs, younger readers will immediately empathize. The parallels between learning how to interact with a pet and developing positive friendships with people add another layer of meaning to Lee’s educational tale.

While these lessons cover valuable (if familiar ground) Lee incorporates cultural awareness in a fun, easy way for all audiences to understand–and offers young readers a chance to pick up some new words while enjoying the story. Adult readers will appreciate the romanized version of Chinese in addition to traditional characters, and young readers will be smitten with the quirky black-and-white Panda and her comical reactions to Leon’s attempts to play. The ambiguous ending will leave readers wanting to know more about this entertaining duo.

Takeaway: A valuable story of consideration for others—including a charming guinea pig—told in English and Chinese.

Great for fans of: Mo Willems’s My Friend Is Sad, Jenny Offill’s Sparky!.

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

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The Charlottesville Diaries: Love, Literature and Life at Uva: 1976-81
Peter Gunter
Composed by Merton as a student at the University of Virginia at the end of the 1970s, these frank and engaging diaries reveal a young man and writer maturing in his academic chrysalis. In lively prose touched with wit, Merton’s journals find him rapidly gaining confidence as stylist and thinker as he makes his way through traditional experiences of college: romances and the misery of their endings; encounters with art and ideas; alternately being challenged, dismissed, and celebrated by professors; and the thrill of becoming, in others’ eyes, the person you’re aspiring to be.

After a fitful first couple entries, Merton soon distinguishes himself as a shrewd observer and thinker, a writer aware of the limitations of his own perspective (“Perhaps the last statement was chauvinistic,” he concedes, after generalizing about the behavior of young men and women at a dance) and often eager to mock (“The Sorrow of Young Merton”) the self-pity that creeps inevitably into any young person’s journal. His trip to Europe and a subsequent breakup are particularly arresting, the accounts alive with vivid detail, self investigation, and accounts of conversations and encounters where others get the best lines.

Wonderful collegiate bull abounds. “A writer should perceive three realities,” he declares after a visit to the Charles Dickens museum, and then persuasively delineates them. Then, an entry later, he announces “Actually, after a night’s reflection, I’ve come to suppose that this theory of ‘three realities’ is hogwash.” His utter certainty in both instances illuminates, with crack comic timing, much about young thinkers’ brains. Other highlights include his attention to the culture of the day, his disquiet at the 1980 election (won by “the Rhinestone Cowboy”), and his faceoff with a creative writing instructor who insists that there’s no place in literature for flatulence. Armed with Chaucer and Rabelais, Merton proves him wrong. The collection is unwieldy and not always flattering, but it’s a valuable contribution to the literature of growing up and the 1970s.

Takeaway: These frank, arresting diaries from a University of Virginia student in the 1970s reveal a mind and an era.

Great for fans of: Margaret Sartor’s Miss American Pie, Paul Duffin’s Not Too Bad.

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

AUSTRALIAN WOMEN CAN WALK : Gap Year 1979 India, Sri Lanka and Nepal
Veronica Caven Aldous
This memoir of visual artist Caven Aldous’s journey through India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal in 1979 is an ode to her feminist awakening and self-reflection on the directions of her life. She began her expedition with friends but wound up with quite different travel plans—completing the trek on her own—and, in telling the story, showcases a confident nature while always remaining humble and embracing the process of learning from experience. Caven Aldous’s writing is fluid, as she captures moments of transcendence (“Existentialism ... became very clear to me during the shikara trek”) as well as the vital details of the everyday (“wide winged eagles"), all of which combine to deliver an intriguing snapshot of her year-long journey through Asia.

Throughout, Caven Aldous finds her passion for travel and exploration intertwined with her aspirations as an artist; she beautifully mirrors these with the unexpected education she gleans from reading philosophical literature during her journey. She emphasizes the beauty of meeting strangers along the way, feeling “a wonderful closeness with them at times,” and shares her practice of Transcendental Meditation, which guided her through tough days on the road, aided in her decision making, and offered peace when she felt alone or overwhelmed.

Caven Aldous’s memory is remarkable, and the retelling of her travels intricately detailed. Readers will be able to easily imagine the far-flung settings and what traveling alone must have been like for a young woman in the late 1970s. As she explores the world, she also explores her ambition, anxiety, excitement, and weariness in subtle yet wholly human ways, while also threading crucial historical and cultural insight and context into her storytelling. Caven Aldous’s Aussie upbringing paves the way for her gap-year adventure, and the traveling methods of the era prove fascinatingly different from today, lending novelty for readers of younger generations. Fans of globetrotting and mid- to late-twentieth-century history will thoroughly relish this vintage travelogue.

Takeaway: A richly inviting diary-style memoir of a young woman’s trek through India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Great for fans of: Barbara Savage’s Miles From Nowhere, Dean Nicholson’s Nala’s World.

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

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Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother's Walk through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing
Laura Formentini
Formentini’s singular, bittersweet debut collection of poetry and fables follow the path of a mother’s grief and healing after losing her son to suicide. The poems have been written as letters to her son, with the earliest revealing the fresh pain and anger of her loss—in the raw “One Thing,” Formentini hauntingly declares “One thing that makes me so pissed off, / is you leaving me like this”—and the later ones charting her path toward understanding and healing, building to sentiments like “You have never Ceased But Only Transformed.” Composed as preludes to the poems, Formentini’s playful, surprising fables, meanwhile, feature animals and happy endings that emphasize a sense of connection, in “Rapid Sparkle’s Wild Ride” and “The Mystical Lake of Loving Kindness,” as well as characters of storybooks and myth, like the gnome in “The Waltz of Honeybees” or England’s most famous dragon slayer in “The Boy and the Bronze Statue.”

Threading it together: the myriad of feelings that Formentini experienced and meditated upon throughout the healing process, as she found in writing a way to process grief while also helping others. Through her well-crafted prose and verse, she shares stories of overcoming hardships and sadness, using animals, nature, and mythical characters in a way that makes difficult subjects gentler and easier to broach. (“Silly Camel,” a spider says, “I’m right here with you even when I’m not with you.”) Her characters find their way through personal perseverance, the help of friends, and acceptance of who they are.

In addition to Formentini’s writing, the beautiful illustrations by Marit Cooper enhance each fable with memorable renderings of story and character. Cooper includes the most intricate details mentioned in the tales, as well as the recurring figure of Naeltim, the sylph of the air, who plays a special role in every fable, all with simple yet meaningful olive branches woven throughout. This moving collection is a testament to the power of storytelling—and to a mother’s love.

Takeaway: A journey through grief in fable, verse, and vivid illustration, crafted to help readers heal from loss.

Great for fans of: Alexandra Vasiliu’s Healing Words: A Poetry Collection for Broken Hearts, Ellen Everett’s I Saw You As A Flower.

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

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The Harpers' Holiday Horror
Nayla Southworth
The holidays are always guaranteed to be a hectic and eventful time for any family, but you haven’t faced the heights of dysfunction and holiday hijinx until you’ve met the Harpers. Nine-year-old Aaliyah is sure that her brother is an alien; eighteen-year-old Matthew wonders why his mom only ever pays attention to “the baby,” Aaliyah; and the grandmas are up to no good. In a fast-paced and seemingly never-ending string of mishaps after misdemeanors, the antics of this larger than life family never seem to let up. Southworth’s The Harpers’ Holiday Horror is a playful and eventful second novel in the Big Brother Little Sister series.

Sure to entertain and delight readers with its outlandish antics—an exploding microwave! A stolen TV that causes a traffic jam! Grandmas in jail! A stolen raft at the Grand Canyon!—The Harpers’ Holiday Horror feels like a younger cousin to snarky yet heartfelt entertainments like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Packed with bumptious incidents and characters, this lively seasonal follow-up at times can feel bogged down or lacking narrative momentum, as it affords point-of-view passages to a host of Harpers and others, even if only for one sentence, including the dog, amusingly named Chicken. The POVs from strangers seem to underscore how odd and annoying the Harpers and their mischief can be, but many of these characters (including some Harpers) lack a distinct and unique voice.

The most compelling relationship in the book is between Aaliyah and Matthew, who feel like real, if exaggerated, siblings—constantly annoyed with each other and getting into arguments, but ultimately have each other’s backs at the end of the day. Ultimately an ode to the bonds of family, no matter how much they cost or annoy you, Southworth’s raucous story is a unique addition to the mischievous kids' tradition.

Takeaway: The holiday shenanigans of this family of mischief makers is sure to delight young readers.

Great for fans of: Caleb Zane Huett’s Top Elf, Kim Baker’s Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School.

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

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Journey of a Teetotaling Virgin: a memoir based on a true story
Fay Faron
With wit and an eye for the unexpected, writer and private eye Faron shares her coming-of-age quest to shake off a fundamentalist upbringing in the early 1970s, vividly capturing the challenge of self-discovery in a dangerous world. She lit out from Arizona in ‘72 to fulfill her “destiny as a Creative Writer”—she notes “nobody was creative enough to find anything to write about in Phoenix”—and embarked on a three year odyssey of travel in the U.S and Europe. She admits she was unprepared for the journey, though she found her expeditions exciting, albeit at times quite terrifying. Traveling mostly alone, she faced assault, poverty, language barriers, and punishing jobs (selling sewing machines; working at what turned out to be a puppy mill) to make ends meet.

Faron writes with buoyant humor, setting the stage for her travels and the era with cultural references (“*On the Radio: Mac Davis’ ‘Baby, Don't Get Hooked On Me’”) and acknowledging that maybe rather than a writer she aspired to being “a Creative Live-er.” Her targeted audience is adults, and women especially will enjoy the story, as much of Faron’s writing centers on the challenges she faced as a soul-searching woman during an era of change. She’s frank about having held attitudes that today seem retrograde—“nobody liked lesbians, not even the Woman’s Movement”—though the occasional dated expression supports the theme of Faron breaking free from her conservative upbringing.

Faron’s retelling of these experiences is engaging and impressive, with great attention to detail, and, for all the laughs, moments that stir real emotion. She’s open about her naiveté as she began to explore sexuality and the secular life, and at the heart of her narrative are richly complex friendships and romantic relationships. The story moves along at an enjoyable clip, as she shares amusing and intimate descriptions of people, places, and awkward situations. Faron’s photos—linked in ebook format—are a wonderful addition.

Takeaway: Faron’s ‘70s tour of the U.S. and beyond offers laughs, insights, and moments of real feeling.

Great for fans of: Ashley C. Ford’s Somebody’s Daughter, Tara Westover’s Educated.

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

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Still The Night Call
Joshua Senter
In this philosophical man-against-society drama from Senter (Daisies), thirty-two-year-old Missouri dairy farmer Calem Honeycutt plans his suicide for nightfall. In under twenty-four hours, the impoverished Calem futilely attempts to tie up his life’s loose ends: assisting his bitter and aging parents, pleading with a callous banker, fishing one last time with his lonely best friend, and more. Meanwhile, Calem vents his frustrations on every imaginable current American controversy, targeting his supercilious sister Caitlyn and her liberal culture. “Everyone is telling me I gotta look out for everybody that ain’t a white, straight, gun-toting, undereducated man, but who’s looking out for me?” is Calem’s insistent refrain as he nears his chosen time of demise.

Without narrative context at the start, the rambling introduction, describing night depression, obscures the otherwise fluid, suspense-infused writing to come, as Still the Night Call offers poetic moments and thought-provoking scenes. Though impressively honest and perhaps realistic, Calem’s rampant bigotry—using “colored” to describe Black people, a vulgar insult to Africa, among many other examples—and his ranting, hyperbolic monologues against city dwellers and liberals quickly become redundant and will limit the novel’s audience. Those who share Calem’s sense of disenfranchisement, however, will value the affirmations and identify with his tragic persona. The character’s candor, affection for his family and country, and his contentment with a simple life make him understandable, if not likeable, despite his forlorn outlook.

Senter, an accomplished screenwriter, expertly balances the wrongs Calem has endured with an authentic regional voice that conveys his blend of nostalgia and raw anger. Chapters named for the hours passing before his presumed death heighten tension, and the broader theme about farmers nearing extinction awakens alarm whether you like the guy or not. Senter’s deft storytelling leads to an unexpected and fresh conclusion. Insightful and thought-provoking, Calem’s troubles will buoy those who agree with his grievances and political views—and inspire concern in those who don’t.

Takeaway: A pained, insightful, ranting drama about a farmer facing the end of his way of life.

Great for fans of: Daniel Woodrell’s The Death of Sweet Mister, Charles D. Thompson Jr’s Going Over Home: A Search for Rural Justice in an Unsettled Land, Paula vW. Dáil’s Hard Living in America’s Heartland.

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

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God Creates Penguins: God Creating Animals Book Series
Charles Peterson
Peterson’s lighthearted children’s story, the second in his God Creating Animals series, takes place in heaven, where God is visiting with two penguins on their “creation day.” He calls the two birds into his office at the “creation station,” where they learn they’re heading to Earth and exclaim, “OMG! We’re so excited!” God goes on to tell them about themselves: they’re experts at fishing, they’re “amazing swimmers,” and they’re crazy about sliding. The only catch is that one penguin gets to live on a sunny island, while the other will call cold, snowy Antarctica home.

The birds quickly sort out this dilemma without much of a struggle and get dressed for their respective climates, with one in a hat and scarf holding skis and the other wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a surfboard under its arm. Throughout the story, Brian Russell’s illustrations are simple yet charming and effective, mostly showing the pair of penguins chatting with God in his corporate-looking office. The birds are expressive and friendly, their eyes wide and curious, while God sits behind a comically tiny desk with a coffee cup that says “#1 boss.” God’s skin is purple and glittering, like the cosmos, which younger children will find surprising.

This story is a fun, quick read, content to be silly without diving into deeper meanings. It doesn’t show the penguins overcoming any kind of conflict about their respective habitats, or teach readers many facts about these adorable flightless birds. The silliness, though, is engaging as the birds choose their respective destinations by playing “rock, paper, flippers,” and God sends them flying to their new homes on airplanes, which they both agree is not quite what they expected. While older children may desire more substance, this story is a delightful way for parents and younger fans to spend time together laughing and learning to enjoy reading.

Takeaway: This lighthearted story follows two excited penguins on their “creation day” as God sends them to their surprising new homes.

Great for fans of: Rowboat Watkins’s Most Marshmallows, Gianna Marino’s Night Animals.

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

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Drifters
Stuart Jay Silverman
Joining incisive observation with scrupulous form, rare precision of language, and a welcome sense of play, this assured collection from Silverman (Report From the Sea of Moisture) lives up to its title, as its poems and their subjects drift through the messy complexity of life. Silverman opens in the lower orders of the food chain, offering inspired studies of the activities of ants (one “minces Chaplinesque” and “rummages / by feelers”), dragonflies, and eventually monkeys and a beached Nantucket whale. One standout considers, in vivid detail, the reproductive cycle of toads (“the eggs cook, make themselves pearls” until “ready to pop out in gluey strings”) while another considers flies dumped from a jar: “they look like raisins fallen /onto the table in the morning.”

Silverman’s poems of wasps and bug-eating geckos pin down instinctual behavior with such crisp clarity that by the time he moves on to humanity and our own instinctual behaviors, in the collection’s middle, readers will likely find themselves acutely aware of our own animal essence. The inviting family history of “Sumner”–recounted in sharply conversational language–captures the drift of lives and nations in the tumultuous 20th century. A wistful wit colors Silverman’s survey in couplets of a class reunion (“Some, flushed with all they’ve become, / Others, contentedly humdrum”), evocation of a mid-century brothel, while his detached depiction of the life and death of an unhoused couple—one of whom develops “a cough that stuck / to her like a wet leaf”—generates tremendous feeling despite his restraint.

Often crafted into inviting quatrains and octaves, with rhyme that offers consistent pleasure, surprise, and illuminating emphasis, the poems of Drifters range widely, in technique and topic. Still, they all examine life and how it’s truly lived: a thumbnail history in couplets of one family’s history with maids and housekeepers over decades doubles as an examination of class, race, and migrations. That exemplifies Silverman’s approach, which hones in on everyday detail to reveal so much more

Takeaway: An accomplished, wide-ranging collection that moves up the food chain with insight, wit, and observational power.

Great for fans of: Wallace Stevens, Edward Byrne.

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

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HALF A LION
kang oswald palle ekangwo
Oswald’s well-crafted debut creates a visceral experience of tribal warfare, betrayal, and courage set in a brutal fantasy world of shamans and horse warriors. Chief Kheng of the Lion tribe of Bamundia keeps an iron grip on his subjects and his three unruly sons. Haikachi, the eldest and heir, is a brilliant general who fights off the northern raiders. Cruel and selfish, seventeen-year-old middle son Neneh has his eye on the throne and isn’t above blackmail to get it. At fifteen, Sakhan, son of the chief’s second wife of the Edor tribe, has little chance to be chief because “The tribesmen already saw him as half a Lion.” After Sakhan’s girlfriend Adah is reportedly killed by the Bull tribe of Abun, Kheng declares war. But Sakhan suspects Neneh killed her because of an insult—and to create a campaign through which he can display his prowess for war.

Oswald weaves a rich, immersive world of distrust between tribes, magical rituals, and exotic animals. Fierce battle scenes show archery from horseback, war elephants, wildebeests, and fireballs. Jealousy and rivalry between the three brothers lead to lies and betrayal—“Blood is thicker than water, and bad blood is even more so.” As the complex story progresses, Chief Sheeru of the Abun searches for a magical talisman that will protect his people, last seen in Adah’s possession. And Kheng’s shaman Charchar fears a disastrous curse after the mystical ancestral sword, a symbol of peace between the tribes, goes missing.

Fantasy fans will eagerly follow along with the confident, proud, and diverse characters who display honor and courage, but whose flaws allow for betrayal and mistrust. The jungle location provides a refreshing setting, which helps make up for an overabundance of names and people to track—and a dearth of compelling female characters. Nevertheless, fans will like the intricate plot, intrigue, and sword battles of this well-written story.

Takeaway: Lovers of fantasy adventures will be immersed in this epic story with magic and fast-paced action set in an exotic world.

Great for fans of: Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy, Benedict Patrick’s Yarnsworld series.

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

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