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Called to Dragons Nest
Madison Hinko
This YA fantastical allegory debut from high school student Hinko, the second in a series, follows a young woman, Rose Mensch, on a fateful journey. Rose learns that she’s a Red Lip: a member of a race of sinless people created by dragons, gifted with the power to create fire, and tasked with being a constructive example to humanity—but who, because of their aversion to harming others, are “entirely unable or unwilling to protect themselves.” Jealous of their power, the king of Rose’s homeland, Nava, has oppressed the Red Lips and hopes to eradicate them, a catastrophe that Rose is prophesied to defeat. After learning about the prophecy, Rose leaves her aunt’s idyllic home and she sets out to kill the king, while wrestling with whether doing so is worth betraying her inherent pacifist nature.

The novel’s vision is ambitious, but the plot can lack momentum at times, encompassing a number of detours unrelated to the stated goal. The stakes are sometimes lowered because the social persecution of Red Lips, which is the reason for killing the king, is rarely shown. And some characters can lack complexity, having only one note or characteristic; for example, the main villain is one-dimensional evil.

But Erik, the morally compromised chief of the Blue Lips, is a fun, complicated, and necessary foil for simpler characters. Rose’s parents’ backstory is told in affecting fashion. And the worldbuilding will draw readers in. This imaginative young author has built a compelling world, populated by thoughtful, philosophical characters considering big questions. Readers will be curious to see how her work evolves.

Takeaway: Readers searching for classic YA fantasy with girls on the front lines and a focus on virtue will enjoy this traditional tale.

Great for fans of: Sherry Thomas’s The Burning Sky, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon.

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

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Running from Moloka'i
Jill P. Anderson
This emotionally affecting debut novel follows Mele, a young woman with a white father and native Hawai’ian mother in 19th-century Hawai’i, as she struggles to understand her identity and leprosy is brought to the islands by foreign travelers. The disease primarily affects native Hawai’ians, who are taken from their homes by the health authorities’ bounty hunters and exiled to Moloka’i. Mele’s father, a compassionate yet pragmatic physician who works for the Board of Health, argues that this forced banishment is necessary for the survival of the population, while her mother helps harbor fugitives in the caves near their house. As the disease begins to affect those closest to her, Mele reckons with the morality of her and her family’s decisions.

Mele’s attempts to do the right thing, in such a complex situation with her parents at odds, make for an intriguing premise. Anderson, who lived in Hawai’i, is clearly knowledgeable about its culture and its people—there are references to real historical figures and places sprinkled throughout—and her descriptions of the physical landscape are detailed and poetic, making readers feel they’re right alongside Mele.

The many side stories (including those of Daniel Livingstone, a disrespectful boy from San Francisco; Keanu, a criminal on trial for murder; and Kalua, a young boy who keeps sneaking onto cargo ships) can lessen the impact of Mele’s journey by giving the reader a great deal of information to digest at once. The story is at its best when it focuses on Mele, her family, and her place in society. Ultimately, this is a riveting and educational coming-of-age tale, and readers will relish learning about this period in Hawa’ii through Mele’s experience.

Takeaway: This thought-provoking coming-of-age novel is perfect for history buffs.

Great for fans of: Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i, Kiana Davenport’s Shark Dialogues.

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

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Donnybrook Good-Bye: The Longest Game, Book 1
Martin A. Cullen
Cullen's action-packed debut is an exciting magical romp through the streets of modern-day Boston. Inara Caan is a member of a holy order dedicated to slaying monsters. She and her creepy soul-eating demon partner, Biff, are used to taking down underworld targets harboring monsters. But when their latest assignment turns out to be the McMinnens, a well-to-do suburban couple with an adorable young daughter, Inara makes a fateful choice to spare them and take them on the run. Right on their tails are order assassin Lee, a lonely mortal-griffin hybrid; Cyrus, a dark sorcerer in an expensive suit; and Jacob, a smarmy order priest. Meanwhile, a maniacal, centuries-old Korean shapeshifter is sowing chaos for everyone. To save the McMinnens and herself, Inara must rely on unlikely allies like Fion, a diminutive Irish nature spirit, and Yukie, a Japanese aikido master.

Explosions, car chases, and sword fights abound in this fun paranormal mystery. Inara is a classic urban fantasy badass: a disillusioned operator with serious magic chops, excellent combat skills, and a dark backstory. Other portrayals may put off some readers: one point-of-view character repeatedly uses offensive terms for Japanese people, and the characters of Asian descent are more one-note than, for example, the Irish puca, a nuanced twist on European mythology.

The magic is flashy and fun, and the book doesn't waste time on technical explanations. The story moves at a rapid clip, balancing action with humor. Between car chases in a bright orange Mini Cooper and demon battles in Fenway Park, there is never a dull moment. Readers will find it a diverting escape and a promising start to a new series.

Takeaway: The nonstop supernatural action and snarky quips make this a great autumnal version of a beach read.

Great for fans of: Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher.

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

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The Glass Boxes In Which We Live: She was not expecting him. She was not expecting her here.
Beatrice M. Sylvie
A 40-something woman surrenders to a relationship with a younger man in this dynamic, albeit at times didactic, debut contemporary romance. While in New York City with her design team for a work project, 43-year-old French single mother Alienor Lacroix engages in a flirtation with 38-year-old mixed-race American barman and aspiring actor, Wesley Johnson, leading to romance and a relationship. Despite her angst about their differences in age, backgrounds, and lifestyles, the unlikely pair forge a long-distance relationship that spans more than two decades until tragedy strikes.

Alienor’s nationality leaves openings for the author to comment on sociopolitical issues, such as medical care in the U.S. and the politicization of daily life. The scenes addressing racism and violence can feel overstated and preachy, but the story’s poignant, emotional aspects shine through. Alienor is appealing and sympathetic, a devoted mother credibly trying to reconcile her confident work persona with her self-doubts about romantic partnership with a younger man who appears to have nothing in common with her. (And when readers first meet her, she’s throwing down an impromptu rap at a karaoke night out with her team.)

Alienor and Wesley’s life together is not fully developed, but rather revealed through snapshots; toward the end, these become somewhat rushed and cliché. Alienor’s hesitance and uncertainty about embarking on a relationship with confident and handsome Wesley, and his certainty about being with her, are well developed, sweet, and romantic, and their continued attraction to one another is well sustained. Flirty banter, hot sex, and sincere affection make this a book romance fans will enjoy.

Takeaway: This socially conscious romance weaves together cross-cultural relationships, race, parenthood, work, and other issues.

Great for fans of: Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Tamara Gregory’s Passport Diaries.

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

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Celadon
Raymond Avery Bartlett
Bartlett’s stunning novel is a poignant, elegiac mid-20th-century tragedy of wanderlust, loss, obsession, art, and redemption. Neil Chase has been caring for his blind father since he was a teenager, while longing to travel to distant shores. In 1964, 20-something Neil falls in love with both Marinne, a kind French girl, and Japanese ceramics. Marinne, knowing Neil is still compelled to travel, offers to care for his father while he embarks on a yearlong voyage to Japan. A chain of unlikely events lead Neil to the hidden pottery town of Moon Island, where he feels a soul-deep connection to the landscape, the spectacular local celadon-glazed pottery, and the angry, beautiful Miyū, who makes the ceramics along with her father. As Neil learns their craft, he is drawn into their family’s tragic story, in which one act will irreversibly alter all their lives. Will Neil go back to what he was before?

Bartlett answers these looming questions with lyrical prose and an elegiac sensibility. He treats characters’ desires and griefs with delicacy; their sometimes dark impulses animate the pages with yearning, desolation, and fleeting moments of warmth. Neil Chase is a flawed, believable protagonist with a wry sense of humor and a passion for transcendent beauty.

Bartlett’s unhurried account of an imperfect world and its complex inhabitants will grip readers. This deeply affecting and well-constructed novel, with its memorable characters and evocative brilliance, will leave readers with a lingering sense of mournful beauty after they’ve turned the last page.

Takeaway: Literary fiction lovers will be swept away by Bartlett’s brilliant, passionate odyssey.

Great for fans of: John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Kunzang Choden’s The Circle of Karma, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

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

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Synchronicities on the Avenue of the Saints
Deborah Gaal
Gaal’s second magical realism novel (after The Dream Stitcher) follows physicist Noah Friedman and his adoring businesswoman mother, Sally, as they grapple with Noah’s bipolar disorder plus a decades-ago family curse. When Noah’s great-grandma, Sara, fled Russia in the early 20th century, her family promised Hadassah, a fellow villager, that they would deliver a valuable heirloom to her nephew in America. Instead, Sara’s family took the wealth for themselves. Now Sara has died and Hadassah is haunting Noah in present-day 2002. Simultaneously, Noah receives an ominous message that the drug he takes to manage his disorder, Selexikote—which was developed by his psychiatrist and is owned by his mother’s pharmaceutical company—is dangerous, sending him on a journey to both rid the world of the drug and rectify his family’s offenses. He works with a shaman to invoke his ancestors and rewrite the past, while fighting Selexikote and Duschene, the evil corporation trying to buy his mother’s company.

This saga spans generations, cultures, and dimensions, ultimately paying off with a tightly connected finale. Gaal successfully balances the down-to-earth and the fantastical with stunning imagery and cleverly constructed parallels—or “synchronicities,” as Noah calls them; Hadassah’s descendant, Bernard, coincidentally works for Duschene, giving the families a chance for repentance.

Skillful, memorable prose (“they shared the same blue eyes—cobalt, Co, atomic number twenty-seven—and trademark red hair—copper, Cu, twenty-nine”) assures readers they’re in good hands. And it’s heartwarming to watch Noah and Sally rectify their strained relationship by repairing their family’s past. This multigenerational epic of family strife and healing will charm readers.

Takeaway: The magical realism of this multigenerational epic will transport readers.

Great for fans of: Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, Ellen Galford’s The Dyke and the Dybbuk, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

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

Riding with Ghosts, Angels, and the Spirits of the Dead
John Russell
In this entertaining debut autobiography, Russell (“I’ve been a professional psychic for over 45 years and a biker for over 50”) shares his curious experiences with what he calls the Other Side and his love for stumbling onto those experiences while riding his motorcycle, Melissa. He describes overwhelming urges to travel for unknown reasons, resulting in new and unexpected discoveries upon arrival, and instances in which friends and pets who have passed away are still present. From irregular movements of vegetation to paranormal battle reenactments and a spirit who saved his life when he was overheated, Russell excitedly recounts his experiences.

He also unabashedly admits there are a lot of things he doesn’t know, such as the purpose and meaning behind his specific experiences, and relays the frustrations of having too many unanswered questions and being unable to direct his interactions with the supernatural. Though some will question the validity or explain away his encounters, readers will be charmed by his freewheeling prose (“I… look up… expecting to see a whirling mass of tornadic doom—Damn it...I’m too young to die!—and instead I’m greeted by the sight of a shiny metallic looking disc…. I literally perform a cartoon-style eye rub”).

His affection for things natural and supernatural—he calls a particular branch “my old friend” and dedicates the book to “my guys on the Other Side”—and his gratitude for these experiences are infectious. Russell brings his treks to life with vibrant immediacy. His unadulterated joy and way with words yield an entertaining and meaningful account.

Takeaway: Motorcycle riding and psychic experience enthusiasts will relish in the physical and spiritual journey of this entertaining autobiography.

Great for fans of: Maureen Hancock’s The Medium Next Door, Marla Frees’s American Psychic.

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

The IPO Playbook
Steve Cakebread
Cakebread’s debut playbook walks readers through the process of making an initial public offering (IPO) from the first decision to go public to ringing the bell on opening day. Cakebread categorizes IPOs as a way to both get quick cash and simultaneously build a “great, enduring company” that will prosper for years to come. He makes a strong case to company founders that a properly executed IPO will provide “the best possible future to your stakeholders… not least, yourself.” Cakebread’s background as CFO for several successful IPOs lends credibility to the guide, and he infuses energy into discussions on the new controls required to go public. By tying in the backstory of his flourishing family winery, Cakebread illustrates that implementing these controls contributes to the health of a growing company. Cakebread closes with a helpful two-year timeline of crucial steps for a successful IPO.

Cakebread’s experience applies primarily to tech fields, although he offers steps that will be helpful to founders in other areas as well. He brings expertise and humor to his explanations of, for example, the various roles on an investment banking team and how to decide which investors to court and which to avoid. And he makes graceful use of subheadings and bulleted lists to make it easy for readers to follow along.

The audience for this type of guide is niche, and founders embarking on this process will ultimately need more counsel than a book can give. But this highly professional guide delivers a valuable orientation to an intimidating and mostly opaque process.

Takeaway: Company founders looking to go public will find this thorough guide both useful and encouraging.

Great for fans of: Philippe Espinasse’s IPO: A Global Guide, Steven M. Bragg’s Running a Public Company.

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

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Social Economics in Uncertain Times: How to make work and life decisions in the New Normal
Amelia Sander
Perhaps the first published book of its kind, Sander’s book documents the monthly, even weekly, social and logistical shifts of the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic in Manhattanites’ lives, by following a handful of people through 10 thematically organized chapters. She draws upon her journals, the experiences of her friends, and news articles (helpfully footnoted) to examine “interesting behavior economics shifts related to systems design” in her circle since New York City shut down in March. Even though Sander expresses a desire to “help you make better decisions in work and life,” this is not per se a guide but a survey of her subjects’ and her city’s improvisations and adaptations. In a thoughtful chapter concerned with the protests of summer 2020, she suggests that social changes may ultimately offer opportunity for greater justice.

Some generalizations may be a bit premature (“no longer do you end up married to the person you turned to chat to at orientation” may not be true, if in-person schooling is only temporarily disrupted), but Sander arrives at some striking insights. Maybe the reason she found herself checking work email late at night was not because of her employers’ expectations but because doing so distracted her from a sense that the world had come unmoored. “Work,” she notes, “became a coping mechanism.”

Readers who are actually seeking guidance about the decisions of Covid-19 life (which furnishings to buy after a relocation, from which stores? Should you travel by car, train, or scooter?) may find themselves instead turning to news outlets and websites for ever-changing information. But readers in the future who want to know what life was like during the pandemic, and readers today seeking to see their recent experiences summed up in print, will find what they’re looking for here.

Takeaway: This study of New York life in the early days of Covid-19 sums up the dislocations and decisions many Americans faced in 2020.

Great for fans of: Choire Sicha’s Very Recent History, Sonja L. Traxler’s Office Etiquette: The Unspoken Rules in the Workplace, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.

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

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Storybook, Inc.
Parker Pace
After being expelled from her high school, 17-year-old senior Mica Psmith is directed to a specifically designed boarding school, Storybook, Inc., which offers a program to help students in extraordinary situations. In Mica’s case, she’s lived with worsening depression since her beloved inventor father’s suicide three years earlier. Mica’s journey from her home in Seattle to the school in San Diego is quickly disrupted by a strange phone call from her mother and then a violent train robbery. She and Roman, the older boy who’d been sitting next to her on the train, escape and try to find safety, complicated by mysterious occurrences and run-ins with sinister figures. Is Mica losing her grip on sanity, or are dangerous people after her?

Pace has penned a complex, fast-paced psychological thriller with romantic tension sprinkled throughout. Mica is a fully developed protagonist and Roman an intriguing romantic interest, with just enough of a dark past and secretive nature to keep readers guessing about his true motives. Some awkward language (“shocked… his mouth puckers like it’s full of marbles”; “my body collapses into butter over Julia’s chest”) may pull readers out of the story momentarily, but they’ll soon be drawn back in by the high stakes, multiplying mysteries, and striking images.

While true mystery aficionados may see the ending coming, there is still enough suspense and worldbuilding to hold their attention before all is revealed in the climatic ending. This intricate, action-packed story—which adroitly spans multiple genres, including YA, thriller, and romance—will keep readers turning the pages.

Takeaway: Fans of psychological and YA thrillers will enjoy the fast-paced action and suspense Pace serves up.

Great for fans of: Veronica Roth, Dean Koontz, Karen M. McManus.

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

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To Burn the Cloth
P. A. SANTOS
Santos’s political religious thriller paints a grim alternative future in which the separation of church and state has recently been undone in the United States. Reverend Franklin “Frank” Catoe (the founder of Tall Rock Baptist Church), with a dodgy past and unorthodox religious views, transforms into a formidable opponent of the government’s United Holy Christened Church (UHCC), which seeks to dissolve all sects of Christianity, tax small churches into extinction, and run religion like a business. Frank elicits the help of college thespian Daniel Montclair to infiltrate the UHCC, gain incriminating information, and bring the organization to its knees. Daniel travels to South Carolina to train for his covert mission. Here, the thriller deviates from its suspenseful plot: Daniel gets ensnared by some conniving, dangerous locals, and the part of the narrative following Frank delves into his relationship with his wife and the resurfacing of his violent past self when faced with a threat.

Santos portrays men as vigilantes and women as unchaste and often untrustworthy. Time-jumping chapters alternate between past and present, providing exhilarating background information; however, the lack of explanatory labels in some chapters leaves the reader working overtime to discern the timeline. But these stumbling blocks are quickly overcome as the story pushes forward.

Violent plot twists and explicit sex and rape scenes earn this book the “mature audience only” label. Meanwhile, devout Christians may be disturbed by Frank’s heretical beliefs and violent actions, and non-Christian readers may be put off by the book’s premise. But Santos’s story is an exciting one. Readers seeking thrillers that mix politics and religion with a dark worldview will appreciate this one.

Takeaway: This political thriller with its unconventional religious hero will win over readers looking for a gritty adventure.

Great for fans of: Dan Brown, Sam Christer.

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

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Career Crisis Plan: Learn new job hunting skills and how to effectively respond to redundancy during an economic downturn
Philip Kent-Hughes
In this timely and informative volume, Australian author Philip Kent-Hughes lays out a sensible roadmap for the newly unemployed reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic and its accompanying economic downturn. Kent-Hughes himself lost his job as a result of the pandemic—and given that it wasn’t his first time being made redundant, he decided to leverage his expertise in writing crisis management plans for large organizations to provide a blueprint for the newly unemployed. Aiming to give shell-shocked readers the ability to take a deep breath and plunge back into job hunting, Kent-Hughes methodically explains how to explore new career options if the reader’s current industry is devastated, ways to manage finances and inevitable stressors while job seeking, and methods for filling resumés with keywords that will entice prospective employers (and make it past automated screening systems).

Kent-Hughes organizes his book in an easy-to-understand format, assisting readers looking for a specific topic (such as emergency and crisis planning, interviews, creating resumes, and developing new career paths) to immediately find it. He also includes eminently practical tools, such as budgeting and application tracking templates, and lists career-minded websites (including Indeed and LinkedIn) designed to propel job leads.

Kent-Hughes’s empathetic tone will go a long way toward calming spooked readers who are worried about both their paychecks and the virus. Any reader trying to muscle through pandemic-related unemployment will find practical, plainspoken, and logical advice in Kent-Hughes’s well-written guide.

Takeaway: Kent-Hughes’s empowering counsel will give readers the confidence and the tools needed to seek new jobs and to overcome the anxiety of sudden unemployment.

Great for fans of: Richard Nelson Bolles’s What Color is Your Parachute?, Steve Dalton’s The Two-Hour Job Search, Jon Acuff’s Do Over.

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

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The Universe Sends Help: Prayers to find hope, faith, and trust during the time of Coronavirus
Manpreet Komal
Minister, Psychic Horizons graduate, and Ford Institute certified shadow coach Komal (365 Life Shifts) shares optimism in this nondenominational compendium of cleansing prayers dedicated to self-healing and positivity during the time of collective powerlessness and adjustment due to Covid-19. Komal includes prayers to keep essential workers safe, to avoid taking the frustration of working from home out on family members, and to heal soon after testing positive for the illness (“Dear God… Guide me. Support me every step of the way so that I don’t feel alone, isolated, or helpless”). Through connection with a higher power, whether it be Jesus, Krishna, Allah, or another, Komal emphasizes the importance of building a relationship with God to ask for help and learn to love oneself. She challenges readers to use the guide as an example for writing their own prayers, encouraging an openness to the unexpected.

Komal’s commitment to healing, recuperation, and defiance in the face of illness comes from personal experience with surgery and sick relatives in her care. She infuses her collection of prayers and mantras with sincere intentions for wholeness, including a prayer that asks for safety when going to the doctor during coronavirus and another that requests strength to avoid addictive and destructive behaviors, such as drinking and overeating.

There is some repetition—themes like hopelessness, feeling safe, and being supported recur—but the inclusive, nondenominational approach will make it easy for readers to connect with Komal’s book. Readers dealing with coronavirus themselves or in a loved one, or feeling apprehensive around others, will feel empowered by this spiritual resource.

Takeaway: This uplifting collection of prayers and mantras encourages readers with reassuring messages of protection, safety, change, and hope.

Great for fans of: Abraham J. Twerski’s The Spiritual Self, Barbara Lee’s God Isn’t Finished with Me Yet.

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

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The Maverick: The Jane Valiante Series Book 1
Jennifer Valenti
Valenti’s debut novel (book one in the Jane Valiante series) is an equally lively and harrowing exploration of workplace sexual assault. Jane Valiante, a data scientist whose dreams were put on hold by family health issues, gets the opportunity of a lifetime after her mother’s death: a position with Imaigene, a startup poised to revolutionize early cancer diagnoses. But Jane’s dream turns into a nightmare after she is sexually assaulted by one of Imaigene’s founders, Peter Wright. Though she attempts to keep her knowledge of Peter’s sociopathy bottled up, after learning that she’s not the only survivor she vows to bring him down.

The novel is fast-paced and often funny, although Valenti is not afraid to cover heavy subject matter (PTSD, blackouts, recovery). Jane is fully fleshed out as a sympathetic, imperfect, and realistic protagonist with a grim sense of humor. Her friendship with college friend Carmen, now a lawyer, is a bright spot, a supportive relationship between two women who are each going through hard times. Jane’s concerns—about how to tell her friends, whether to tell her father, and what will become of Imaigene’s scientific breakthroughs—are well thought out and suspenseful.

Valenti, herself a sexual assault survivor with a background in tech, handles the darker elements of the story deftly. Sometimes the plot can feel more convenient than realistic, but the settings and relationships come off as authentic, with a recognizable, well-defined office culture and realistic interplay among characters. Although it deals with trauma and violence, Jane’s journey is ultimately one of resilience and triumph, and Valenti’s telling is a well-paced, enjoyable read.

Takeaway: This humane, honest, and timely workplace novel balances lightness and darkness in its narrative of resilience after sexual assault.

Great for fans of: Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, Idra Novey’s Those Who Knew.

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

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Seduction: CLAW & WARDER Episode 1
Erik Vick
Vick’s (Bloodletter Saga) Seduction, the first installment in a series, adeptly creates a loving homage to the long-running Law & Order television franchise while weaving in urban fantasy’s werewolves, vampires, demons, and ghosts. Leery Oriscoe, a werewolf and homicide detective for New York City’s Special Investigations Squad, has seen his fair share of supernatural murders. The discovery of a desiccated body is just another day on the job—and a great way to break in his new partner, the half-vampire, half-succubus Dru Nogan. Though they have little trouble tracking down the murderer, a succubus sex worker who took things too far, the case becomes far more complicated as they discover the true motive.

The worldbuilding in this introductory adventure is light, hinting at much more to come later, and assumes that readers come in with a passing knowledge of the supernatural and legal domains. This extends to the private lives and backgrounds of Vick’s protagonists, including a ghostly lieutenant from the storied Van Helsing lineage and the spirit of Aleister Crowley as a judge. Leery’s werewolf manifestation keeps the Orthodox Jewish faith his human self has left behind, which prompts many questions with few answers.

But this is part and parcel of a series pilot: introducing characters and premise with a promise to go deeper in subsequent installments (of which, in this series, there are nine and counting). This entertaining story’s inherent charm, fast pace, and willingness to embrace mild absurdity are a winning combination.

Takeaway: This supernatural police procedural will appeal to readers looking for werewolf cops, succubae on the streets, and ghosts in the courtroom.

Great for fans of: Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series; Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Dragon Precinct; Justin Gustainis’s Occult Crimes Unit series.

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

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The Fall of Dreams
Ryan LaSalle
Peter Engel is a very tired fifth-grader. Avoiding sleep because he’s haunted by hyperrealistic dreams, all he can do is doze through class. After another disappointing appointment with the school district psychologist, Peter runs away into the woods with his new friend Sarah, and they discuss dreams and other scary things. Later that night, flying monkeys steal Peter away. After escaping, he stumbles upon a woodcarver and his assistant, who live in a treehouse, and they offer him a place there too. He begins to make a new life, chopping wood and hunting witches as memories of his past quickly fade away. But in the back of his mind, something feels off—and Peter is drawn to a vague dream of another home.

This novel is an autumnal treasure. Peter spends most of the story in the world of the woods, where his motley crew eats vegetable stew, carves giant jack-o’-lanterns, and waits for the day when they’ll travel to Amberville to sell the woodcarver’s wares. There’s a Wonderland feel to it all, enhanced by the woodcarver’s three-foot-tall assistant Master Keys and a chatty squirrel. A horror component heightens tension as well: oily, rancid, child-eating witches threaten Peter and his friends, leading one to a bloody end at Peter’s hand.

Scenes of mild violence are interspersed with tender moments of friendship and hope, leading readers to cheer for Peter. Peter doesn’t come to understand the world he’s in or why he’s there until almost the end of the story; although this will keep readers guessing, they may also wonder why characters introduced earlier are important or what’s actually real. But that element of suspense adds flavor to Peter’s spooky trek. LaSalle has written a dreamy harvest story that will haunt and delight.

Takeaway: Imaginative middle grade readers and fall fanatics will be charmed and spooked by LaSalle’s modern fairy-tale adventure.

Great for fans of: Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

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

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