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The Reason for Time
Deborah Court
In this sci-fi flavored mystery, the third and final in Court’s "Maggie Dunn" trilogy, a woman with an inexplicable medical condition serves as a catalyst for a series of lyrical meditations on how people strive to find meaning in their lives. Maggie's mysterious malady has caused her body to reverse its aging process, from her mid-sixties to her mid-thirties, and after spending time on the run from those who might exploit her, she is returning to her native Canada with her Scottish friend Alison. After they meet a young banker, Wolfe, on the plane, the trio gets an apartment together–but Maggie remains in danger from an old enemy, and her friends must come to her aid.

Court touches on the medical reasons for Maggie's condition, but the novel’s focus is on scenes and moods, such as Maggie in the hotel, jet lagged and sick: "then she just disappeared, into the water, into the fog, the lake, the pool, the dreams." Subplots involving Alison's troubled family in Scotland and Maggie's old friends who know her past get a little tangled, and make the story choppy at times, but Court’s entrancing language never fails.

Indeed, Court marvelously creates vivid characters and illuminates the connections between people, specifically the way Alison and Wolfe settle into their new lives. Wolfe, from a banking family but fleeing a minor scandal of his own making, really wants to be an artist, and interrupts his workday to sketch, as he thinks contemptuously about his father, who was only interested in "conversations about money, algorithms about money, and rules and regulations and laws about money". Court also neatly portrays the sweetly naïve Alison, who fails to understand Maggie's warning that she and Wolfe shouldn't "visit" each other's room. Maggie and her endearing friends go through a lot together, and readers will face a bittersweet conclusion, knowing that it's the end of their visit with such appealing characters.

Takeaway: Character-driven but unstuck in time, this inventive novel will stick with readers.

Great for fans of: Madeleine L'Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler's Wife.

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

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The Steel Beneath the Silk
Patricia Bracewell
Bracewell’s engrossing conclusion to her Normandy trilogy (after The Price of Blood) revisits 11th-century England, where King Æthelred’s Norman queen Emma has been married to her husband for a decade, has given birth to three children, and finds herself unsure who to trust. Her husband does not treat her well, his alliances have stirred dismay among his fellow Englishmen, and Danish King Swein Forkbeard has plans to oust him from his throne. Those plans appeal to Elgiva, the English concubine of Swein’s son, Cnut. As the Danish invasion begins, allegiances are called into question, and Emma must work to ensure that she and her children survive amid the chaos of war.

Bracewell’s extensive research adds convincing realism as she expertly details hard choices, secret loyalties, and brutal murders. While Bracewell focuses intently on the battle scenes and the changing landscape of allegiances, she also breathes life into her characters, giving them singular voices and emphasizing how broken promises of fealty impact relationships –and sometimes influence history. The concerns of her 11th century cast will resonate with historical fiction readers today.

Bracewell brings the lives of the novel’s women into sharp focus. Though Æthelred often discounts Emma’s opinions, other men respect her, as evidenced by her love for Æthelred’s oldest son from his previous marriage, Athelstan. Despite the knowledge that her desires are subservient to the demands of Æthelred, Emma works within the societal constraints to exert her influence and ensure the survival of her children. Bracewell examines the cunning of Elgiva, whose power over Cnut is limited by a marriage not blessed by the church, while Elgiva plots to continue to be important to Cnut, hoping that she will one day become queen herself. The efforts of these women to influence their destinies despite the control exerted by the men in their lives is an essential thematic element throughout the novel.

Takeaway: An 11th-century English queen seeks to make her mark in the world while ensuring her family's survival amid the dangers of war.

Great for fans of: Carol McGrath’s The Handfasted Wife, Donna Woolfolk Cross’s Pope Joan.

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

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Cyberjutsu: Cybersecurity for the Modern Ninja
Benjamin McCarty
This helpful manual explores the field of cybersecurity, providing tips, tricks, and proven methods to help companies keep online information out of the hands of hackers. Shirking a traditional approach, McCarty, a former NSA developer, suggests that readers “think like a ninja,” comparing shinobi methods from feudal Japan to modern-day cyber warfare. He acknowledges straightaway that he comes to the term ninja from its playful use among cybersecurity experts rather than his own heritage or expertise, though he’s since devoted himself to researching actual ninja history and philosophy. Each chapter covers a classic shinobi technique (intricate mapping, worm agents, covert communication) and then discusses its computer-based equivalent (network mapping, insider threats, interconnected malware). Combining philosophical exercises with more concrete plans of action, McCarty blends new and old, complex and simple, to craft this intricate guide.

This book does not cover personal computer use or best practices. Instead it focuses on corporate cybersecurity — those protecting large companies and organizations from hacks and leaks. That focus means that much of the information included in this book is too advanced for a casual technology user. There is no glossary of terms, and, beyond a few sentences of explanation, some of the more complex cyber concepts do not get thoroughly introduced.

While this book may be too advanced for the average computer user, McCarty provides clear, actionable advice to cybersecurity professionals and IT departments, with each chapter suggesting “Recommended Security Controls and Mitigations” for each potential problem. He covers everything from more efficient network mapping to more robust recruitment for entry-level roles, but readers may also enjoy the book’s philosophical bent. McCarty includes a “Castle Theory Thought Exercise” at the end of each section, introducing a hypothetical threat scenario and challenging readers with open-ended questions about possible solutions. For those who already have a strong basis in cybersecurity, this book encourages critical thinking.

Takeaway: This advanced cybersecurity manual emphasizes intelligence, stealth, and critical thinking

Great for fans of: Matthew Hickey and Jennifer Arcuri’s Hands on Hacking, Joshua Picolet’s Operator Handbook, Chris Sanders’s Intrusion Detection Honeypots.

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

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Iron Butterfly: The Mezzogiorno Trilogy
Andrew Eustace Anselmi
Pulsing with feeling, haunted by the past, Anselmi’s novel—the second in a trilogy charting one Italian-American family’s journey in the 1980s U.S.—finds a young man confronting the mysteries of his immigrant mother’s youth. Edward “Edge” Bennett, a student at the dawn of the Reagan era, flies to London to study economics, leaving behind the States and a mother, Marie, who weeps if he gets home an hour late. On spring break in Italy, Edward visits Marie’s remote hometown, despite her insistence that he shouldn’t. In the dusty village Edward discovers he knows little of his mother’s past, though he turns up clues that she must have faced significant trauma as a child. Later, back in the U.S., Marie jolts the family with her story.

Anselmi anchors the psychological inquiry in the bildungsroman, capturing Bennett’s chatty camaraderie with other students, his growing out of his illusions, and a pair of sexual encounters, one inconclusive and one not—and both laden with symbols connected to the story of his mother. The crisp, often lyric prose (in Rome, at the Forum, Edward “[relishes] its hues of conquest and faith”) tells the story with swiftness and power while always suggesting deeper meanings. While the themes and structure echo Faulkner, with urgent family secrets revealed to a young man over full chapters, Anselmi’s touch is light and inviting.

Occasional perspective shifts inside diminish the novel’s urgent focus, and early passages detailing Bennett’s relationships outside the family are so engaging that readers will likely be frustrated at those characters’ later absence. Marie’s tale of a childhood in a village occupied by the Nazis is harrowing but told with sensitivity. A final section, faintly reminiscent of Nabakov’s Pnin, finds a new character analyzing the novel itself through the lens of psychoanalysis, a revealing choice that highlights everything singular about Anselmi’s approach: Here’s rich, resonant fiction written with a welcome sense of play.

Takeaway: This lyric, incisive novel finds a young man discovering his immigrant mother’s harrowing past.

Great for fans of: Nino Ricci’s Where She Has Gone, Tina De Rosa’s Paper Fish.

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

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Word for Word: A Writer's Life
Laurie Lisle
Lisle (Portrait of an Artist) plunges into memoir territory with this engaging chronological survey of her life’s work: the development of her own “writerly voice.” Organized in three parts, the narrative begins in Providence, where Lisle is raised in an upper-class, patriarchal family but defies tradition to pursue a college degree. That’s the first step in a career that takes her to Manhattan as one of Newsweek’s first female reporters, a job she leaves to become Georgia O’Keeffe’s biographer. Lisle examines how the legacy of an absent father and the birth of the second-wave feminist movement contributed to ongoing tensions, especially in her marriage and work, and she delves deeply into the challenges facing women writers across generations.

While telling her own story, Lisle often employs secondary sources, arguably transforming memoir into autobiography. Throughout, she characterizes the challenge of developing her own singular voice as the “ongoing bifurcation between my third- and first-person voices.” Word for Word exemplifies that battle, as her prose, while watertight and laced with insight, often discusses but doesn’t convey emotion. The contrast when she quotes her journals or poems, though, is revelatory: “What matter if others ignore or glorify this silver night? I see it as I do.” She, too, is moved by reading her younger self’s private thoughts: “At moments I applauded her daring or despaired at her hesitancy, gyrating from exhilaration about an insight to excruciating sadness about the loss of love.”

The book pulses with intellectual discussions, lived feminist history and its resultant tensions, and the fascinating literary milieu she encounters at writing retreats. She’s admirably frank about her inner world of vacillation (to have a child or abstain?) and the challenges of both writing and sustaining a career as she covers wide-ranging ground (youthful ambition, O’Keeffe, a visit to the Left Bank) and offers compelling insights and anecdotes of a writing life.

Takeaway: This unconventional memoir details one accomplished woman writer’s dedication to developing her voice.

Great for fans of: Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments, Rebecca Solnit's Recollections of My Nonexistence.

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

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The New Eugenics: Modifying Biological Life in the 21st Century
Conrad Quintyn
In this sober and sobering consideration of genetic engineering, Quintyn, associate professor of biological anthropology at Bloomsburg University, examines the present and future of what he calls “the new eugenics.” If that term (which Quintyn defines as “the modification of any biological life form … to replace or repair its ‘defects’”) sounds alarming, Quintyn’s book offers few reassurances. Concerned with both the ethics and practice of these new fields, Quintyn warns that, when it comes to genetic modification, cloning, nanobiotechnology, artificial reproductive techniques, and more, scientists are “operating in the Wild West, with mostly good intentions mixed in with hubris, lucrative patents for their host institutions, fame, and Nobel Prizes.” Regulation, he notes, is lax, and we know far too little about the possible unintended consequences of efforts to engineer the very code of life.

Writing with clarity and purpose, Quintyn reports on the state of play in PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis), elective enhancements, the power of CRISPR gene-editing tools, and more, summarizing new developments and causes for concern in prose an interested lay reader can follow. The stakes are high, as Quintyn establishes with challenging questions about these technologies: Do we understand the short and long-term evolutionary effects of genetic engineering? What happens to a society, he asks, where “only the rich have access to genetic enhancements”?

Quintyn’s at his most persuasive when urging scientists (and regulators) to remember all that’s uncertain about how genes interact with each other. The well-intended altering one element of a complex system (say, eradicating malaria by altering the gene drive of mosquitoes) might impact the rest of that system. Especially upsetting: His linking of the forced sterilization techniques of earlier eugenicists to the future possibility of forced genetic modification. It’s impossible to discern, from The New Eugenics, whether such scenarios are likely, but Quintyn demonstrates that the warnings must be sounded.

Takeaway: This survey of the present and future of genetic engineering sounds a powerful, persuasive alarm to science-minded readers.

Great for fans of: Jamie Metzl’s Hacking Darwin, Jennifer A. Doudna and Samuel H. Sternberg’s A Crack in Creation.

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

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The Eighth Master: Art, Architecture, and an Untimely Death
JD Rutherford
Rutherford’s enticing mystery revolves around an unlucky architect and an infamous art piece that leads to a gruesome murder. Neil is a local architect struggling to pay his bills when he receives the commission of a lifetime: building a 17th-century style French chateau for David Johnsson, a Wall-Street businessman with a legendary fortune. But when Detective Sean Andrews finds Johnsson’s body in the basement of the unfinished chateau, Neil becomes a suspect. Rutherford’s plot turns on poisonings, cryptocurrencies, threatening messages, and a fortune invested in art. As betrayals get exposed, one stolen artwork in particular will reveal who precisely Johnsson was–and who murdered him.

Rutherford gives each character a colorful past and loyalties that could make anyone the culprit, building The Eighth Master into an engrossing whodunit that will keep readers guessing. This clever mystery’s occasional focus on architecture might hinder some readers’ interest, though, especially Neil’s occasional lectures. Despite Rutherford’s love of the subject, the architectural detail that slows down the first 50 pages ultimately doesn’t factor much into the investigation, as the mystery hinges on what’s inside the chateau rather than the chateau itself.

Nevertheless, Rutherford has crafted a lengthy but captivating mystery that checks off all the boxes for the genre, offering a relentless investigation and exciting twists and turns. Like a boulder rolling down the hill faster and faster, the storytelling becomes more urgent and exciting as the investigation continues. The revelations are both surprising and fulfilling, as Rutherford demonstrates mastery of the genre with clues that play fair, a couple of legitimate shocks, and a satisfying ending that clears up all the essential questions. Murder mystery fans, especially the architectural enthusiasts and art lovers among them, will enjoy how The Eighth Master touches on all these subjects to expose the excesses of humanity’s Icarus-like greed.

Takeaway: This memorable whodunit, fascinated with art and architecture, will dazzle fans of the genre.

Great for fans of: Donna Leon’s Transient Desires, Clare Chase’s Mystery on Hidden Lane.

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

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Cracks Of Light
John Charles Reedburg
Reedburg’s provocative series launch–following the everyday experiences of Demetrius, a Black nine-year-old in Hyde Park, Los Angeles in the early '90s–demonstrates how in fiction the fantastic can illuminate the 'real.' A prologue establishes Demetrius’s world: “my mother, my mom’s drug habit, my momma’s bipolar disorder, that mysterious light in my room, and me.” Soon, that Light, a fantastical presence, speaks to him in the voice of a girl his age and appears when he is in peril. Since Demetrius encounters violence at home, he has “to face the Light to avoid the terrible pain Momma’s other half so often inflicted.” The Light also allows Demetrius to meet his ancestors and foretell events. Emboldened, Demetrius makes strides with his friend/crush Natalie, stands up to his bully, and risks the Light’s jealousy by bringing home a plasma orb given to him by his science teacher.

Intertwined with Demetrius’s experiences are occasional chapters telling the story of his mother, Olivia, detailing her cruel upbringing and roiling mind. Cracks of Light is raw and frank by design: Even advanced readers will likely be challenged by harrowing events such as a convenience store shooting or incidents of incest, and sensitive and younger readers should probably avoid the novel. Although the voice, focus, and narrative are strong, the sequel hinted at in an epilogue would benefit from more rigorous editing.

Despite the heavy themes, a welcome colloquial lyricism and humor come through Demetrius’s voice, which is that of an honest, level-headed, and superhero-loving boy typical of fourth grade. Reedburg’s dialogue often soars, and the narrative device of the Light and impervious young voice of Demetrius lift Cracks of Light, resulting in a singular urban novel, about a boy seeking refuge and strength in fantasy, that will appeal to young adults already exposed to adult language and content

Takeaway: This raw YA coming-of-age story finds a young boy’s hard upbringing lightened by fantasy.

Great for fans of: Lamar Giles’s Let Me Be a Man, Ibi Zoboi’s anthology Black Enough.

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

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Operation Market Garden: Airborne Invasion of the Netherlands
Robert J Mueller
A guide crafted for people interested in touring historic battle sites by car, Mueller's (The Bulge Battlefields) examination of the failed World War II Allied Operation: Market Garden is remarkably thorough as it encompasses both the wider plan for this invasion of the occupied Netherlands as well as the actions of individual soldiers and civilians. In a methodical fashion, Mueller offers an abundance of historical detail while still providing a crisp overview of the mission and the goals of the major divisions involved (including the American 101st and 82nd Airborne). Each division’s mission is broken down into surveys of individual actions and battles, complete with summaries, maps, extensive footnotes offering additional biographical information, and specific coordinates for those visiting modern memorials.

A wealth of fascinating anecdotes accompanies the overarching details of the operation. Mueller’s account emphasizes a crucial truth: No matter how an operation is planned by the officers, it's up to the courage of the soldiers to carry them out. He illustrates this with stories of bravery and ingenuity from soldiers and civilians, including the Dutch resistance fighter cutting wires to a bridge that the Germans were going to destroy, the soldiers who escape a hospital prison on foot, and the farmer who talks Germans out of using a bridge by telling them it’s too fragile. Mueller's judgment at times is harsh, especially on the British officers whose arrogant planning failures led directly to the deaths of thousands.

The book’s practical purpose makes it a tough straight-ahead read, even for armchair historians. Instead, it’s intended as a field guide, and as such it’s jammed with invaluable details that would illuminate a traveler's experience. The exercise of reading these accounts where they actually occurred supports Mueller's idea that war is always a traumatic local experience dependent on the actions of individuals. When those individuals are betrayed by bad planning, the sacrifices become even more tragic.

Takeaway: Readers interested in the minutia of military operations will be fascinated by this guide’s thoroughness.

Great for fans of: Cornelius Ryan's A Bridge Too Far, John Buckley's Operation Market Garden: The Campaign For the Low Countries 1944: Seventy Years On.

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

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A Foreigner's Heart
Robert Valletta
Valletta’s (Crossfire) coming-of-age romance for young adults invites readers on a quasi-spiritual journey from a rural Pennsylvania hometown and on throughout Europe. Tony Schiavone, from the age of seventeen, has felt the compulsion to get out and see the world–and to escape his father (“I am the way I am because of him, but I’ve almost always hated him”). Two years after high school, with only $3,000 in his pocket, he wings away from his old life to London, setting sail on an epic hitchhiking trek across the continent, all the way to Turkey and Mount Ararat. His introspective adventure concludes in Ireland, where he meets a mysterious young woman whose mere presence brings him to life.

Tony’s travels expose him to cultural delights and spin him into the orbits of fellow voyagers and generous, gregarious locals. Valletta’s loving attention to detail brings Tony’s, destinations to life, and the people Tony encounters are true examples of humanity–from the woman who pays for his hotel stay one evening to the Irish gents with whom he shares a meal, a pint, and local tall tales of flying saucers (“While they were talkin’ the spaceman asked if it were true that the Irish believe in wife-swapping.”)

The novel functions more as a travelogue than a cohesive story, with little in the way of plot or narrative momentum. The dialogue at times is stilted, and readers will be left wondering about unresolved story points, such as Tony’s relationship with his father and the next steps in his relationship with Meaghan, the barkeep he meets in Donegal. On the positive, Valletta offers engaging details about his travels, from curious train bathrooms to camping in Irish rainstorms, and readers will be easily pulled into Tony’s musings on family dynamics, the ins and outs of depression, and the simple acts of human kindness that can transform lives.

Takeaway: This European travelogue follows one American’s journey toward romance.

Great for fans of: Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, Rob Spillman’s All Tomorrow’s Parties.

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

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The Wayward Haunt
Cas E Crowe
Nineteen year-old- Zaya Wayward is trapped. Imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit in a brutal “re-education facility” that aims to subdue zealots with labor and control, she spends her days dreaming of one thing: freedom. Yet five days before her next escape attempt, Zaya’s plans are forever changed when she’s conscripted into the Haxsan Guard, an elite military band of magicians who protect the world’s leading Council as well as all of Earth’s inhabitants. Zaya’s distant-future Earth has been completely restructured by natural disasters into a severe and unfriendly planet rife with radiation, storms, and monstrous creatures due to unknown causes. As a side effect, humanity has been ravaged by a virus that created two distinct groups: humans–who can only survive in Earth’s hostile climate with the help of inhalers and special radiation suits–and “casters,” or magic-users, who develop their own unique powers. As she transforms from prisoner to master caster, Zaya grapples with the truth of her power and her past all while uncovering the secrets of the mysterious woman who has long haunted her dreams.

Polished and sharply written, The Wayward Haunt grabs readers’ attention from the opening line of its prologue (“Ghosts haunt dreams”) and doesn’t let go until its thrilling conclusion. Case blends humor and intrigue in her literary debut to great effect, creating a protagonist that readers will root for from start to finish. Thriller lovers and romance fans alike will find much to love in this paranormal adventure, from the supernatural battles that Zaya must fight, to her alliance with Captain Jad Arden, who simultaneously infuriates and intrigues her.

Despite its designation as “YA,” The Wayward Haunt is written with maturity and depth that will appeal to fantasy-minded readers of any age. Equal parts spooky and engrossing, Zaya’s adventure verges on epic, with plenty of magic, war, drama, and darkness. Readers will be thrilled to learn that a sequel is currently in the works.

Takeaway: Mysteries and magic abound in this stellar YA fantasy debut.

Great for fans of: Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth.

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

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THE MIND IS MIGHTIER: Reflections on the Historic Rise of Cognition and Complexity
Bar-Giora Goldberg
Goldberg’s analysis of humanity’s cognitive evolution reframes our past and re-envisions our future. He argues that humanity’s rapid acceleration of “cognition,” or the ability to generate and communicate abstract thoughts, has allowed us to transcend the Darwinian endgame of mere physical survival and instead live in “the age of Idea, Data and Cognition.” Because abstract thinking is now the primary mode of our existence, we each inhabit the “Cognitive-Cloud,” Goldberg’s term for the “mental universe” composed of our own ideas and beliefs that mediates our relationship with reality. Goldberg goes on to argue that the Cognitive-Cloud’s growing power has increased the complexity of nearly every aspect of human life, including government, economics, religion, and the arts.

While he celebrates the generative possibilities of the Cognitive-Cloud, Goldberg also warns that “much of what we do and imagine is the invention of our mind” and notes the dangers of not recognizing that we can be “prisoners” of our clouds. He embraces the complexity of his subject, and there’s much that’s fascinating and challenging in his abundant details and wide survey of topics. The material can also overwhelm, though, and some readers will struggle to synthesize all the information and connect it to Goldberg’s ideas on cognition and complexity. In addition to his broad scope, Goldberg’s writing style amplifies the intricacy of his subject, as he shifts topics quickly and frequently circles back to previous points. Some readers will revel in the kaleidoscope of facts that he presents, while others will wish for a more focused discussion.

Goldberg presents a steady stream of intriguing facts and thought-provoking quotations. His analysis of the Cognitive-Cloud’s impact on frontiers like Artificial Intelligence, cryptocurrency, and climate change offers a fascinating peek at our future. Readers who are up for the challenge will be rewarded by this exciting and in-depth examination of our species’ past and its potential.

Takeaway: Goldberg’s wide-ranging commentary on humanity’s next steps offers abundant food for thought for the intellectually curious.

Great for fans of: Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

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

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Jackie Wins Them All
Fabian Ferguson
The exuberant Jackie J. Spade in Ferguson’s debut picture book is a young but seasoned competitor who, so far, has only experienced victory. Jackie’s an all-around over-achiever: an exemplary athlete in multiple sports who’s also taken first prize at science fairs and a spelling bee, and even won a chess match against a college student. Now, expecting to add another first place medal to her trophy case, the Albany Middle School sixth-grader will run the 200-meter race in a city-wide competition. The book’s title is both a confident declaration and a hint that, this time, things may be different.

Ferguson celebrates Jackie’s accomplishments with an infectious enthusiasm that encourages readers (especially Black girls) to identify with the protagonist and feel like winners. Illustrator Alisa Aryutova has made Jackie a joyous dynamo with endearing geek-chic aplomb. But Ferguson’s point about good sportsmanship (“Work hard, give your best, and do all you can do./That’s what matters most, and this Jackie knew!”) is somewhat blunted by only appearing at the story’s conclusion. An earlier glimpse of Jackie’s healthy attitude toward competition would show young readers how she’s able to recover from a painful disappointment and quickly get herself back on the right track.

Aryutova’s energetic illustrations are vivid color blocks with bold lines and textures, and she employs glowing gold on every page (including the end papers) in a nod to Jackie’s shiny trophies. The most emotional drawing is a textless spread that shows a hunched-over Jackie expressing in body language what her mind cannot yet process. With this pause in the narration, Jackie Wins Them All offers emotional catharsis by showing a successful athlete facing an upset. It will resonate with young readers ready to challenge themselves, reminding them that good sportsmanship--and always putting your best foot forward-- keeps them in the race.

Takeaway: Young readers will be inspired by this lively achiever who’s reminded that winning isn’t guaranteed.

Great for fans of: Brian Pinkney’s JoJo’s Flying Side Kick, Sharon Bell Mathis’s Running Girl: The Diary of Ebonee Rose, Addie Boswell’s The Rain Stomper.

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

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I Am Nuclear Fusion!
Muriel Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick’s colorful, customizable storybook teaches elementary school kids that everyone has a special gift or talent, but that some people blossom later than others–and that is perfectly okay. Seven-year-old Rita often compares herself to her talented friends, Emma and Lily, and feels that she always comes up short. “I am not a star,” she laments. She eventually remembers some advice from her aunt and concludes that her time to shine will likely come later in her life. Until then, she will be like “nuclear fusion” and work on building the energy her star will need to shine by being kind and always trying her best.

Rita tells her story four separate times, with each fresh revision a response to advice from a teacher to incorporate new details such as dialogue, description, and action. Rita’s final draft features bright, lively illustrations and a fleshed-out story that underscores the book’s central message: that practice is essential to success. It also suggests that Rita’s own burgeoning skill just might be writing and storytelling, which kids will recognize in themselves, too, as they work with their parents or a teacher to add details to their own stories. Fitzpatrick invites readers to copy the opening sections of the book–Rita’s first drafts–to allow children to color the pictures and add their own words in the same way that Rita eventually does.

Rita serves as a relatable and indomitable protagonist, revealing her disappointment over not being as good as her friends at singing and gymnastics but never letting it get the best of her. Her resilience demonstrates not only that failure is a part of life, even in a world that tends to worship superstars, but that it’s okay and even admirable to be supportive of other people. Most importantly, the book reminds kids never to give up, even if success doesn’t happen immediately.

Takeaway: This innovative storybook teaches young readers that everyone has a special gift or talent, but that sometimes it needs to be nurtured.

Great for fans of: Barney Saltzberg’s Beautiful Oops, Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing.

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

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Revelation!: The Single Story of Divine Prophecy to Abraham and His Descendants - the Jews, Christians and Muslims
Jane McCabe
In this religious history surveying Creation to Mohammed, McCabe attempts to reconcile the Judeo-Christian tradition with the text of the Koran. Looking solely at the “revelatory texts” of the Bible and the Koran (that is, the passages believed to be transmitted directly from God), McCabe examines areas of overlap and dissonance among the three faiths’ holy texts. Placing particular weight on the Nicene Creed and its emphasis on consubstantiation, she explores how human interpretation shapes traditional understandings of these texts, all as she considers each religious tradition through the lens of the others. A Christian with an interest and education in Islam, McCabe takes a respectful, calculated approach.

Much of this work is a summary of, or direct quotes from, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Koran. While McCabe’s analysis of these texts and their historical background is cogent and absorbing, the often lengthy quotations themselves might frustrate lay readers. The most engaging sections center on McCabe’s own words, such as her succinct and illuminating recounting of the Nicene Creed and the key players involved. For the purposes of this exploration, McCabe treats all of these “revealed” texts as inviolably true and uncorrupted by millenia of translations, limiting the work’s utility for those who favor a more clinical approach to religious history. Others will balk at the premise: treating Mohammed as a true prophet in the Judeo-Christian religion. But her detailed explanation of each tradition is perfect for believers eager to expand their worldview.

While McCabe emphasizes the similarities in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the sovereignty of God, codes of ethics), in the concluding chapter she acknowledges the immutable differences in the text of the various Revelations. But McCabe’s respectful treatment and analysis of the three religions is interesting on its own as she examines how religious traditions build upon earlier groundwork.

Takeaway: This measured look at the foundational texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam will appeal to believers eager to understand the origins of their faith.

Great for fans of: Ahmed Deedat’s The Choice: Islam and Christianity, David B. Burrell’s Towards a Jewish-Christian-Muslim Theology.

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

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The Season of Living Dangerously: A Fan's Notes on Baseball's Strangest Season
Robert Kopecky
When the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 Major League Baseball season to 60 games, it meant significant changes to a sport typically characterized by endurance. Like many baseball aficionados, Kopecky found the abbreviated season both fascinating and frustrating. His conversational book chronicles day-to-day observations of the year’s standout plays, memorable moments, and brushes with the coronavirus, as originally published on his blog. He also focuses on new, unique rule changes intended to shorten games, such as starting each extra inning with a runner on second base, as well as the strangeness of fake crowd noise coming from empty stands during game broadcasts, and how the sport could change going forward.

Kopecky offers plenty of wonky baseball stats and lamentations over missed opportunities for the game’s greats, such as Nelson Cruz and Mike Trout. He also places the sport in its larger context in an evolving and volatile world, acknowledging that the 2020 season was exceptional because players began to show unity on issues of racial inequality and injustice, and noting that several Giants players knelt during a “rousing gospel version of the [national] anthem.” At times, he questions whether the season should have been played at all during a public health crisis. Baseball, he philosophizes, could be considered “just a form of entertainment,” though it also provides “a needed psychological boost at a time when many are coping with the stresses occasioned by the pandemic and its consequences.”

Kopecky writes with a passion for the sport cultivated over many decades, as well as deep knowledge of the game’s complex statistics, sabermetrics, and unwritten rules. His book provides a thorough account of perhaps the strangest season in baseball’s 150-year history, one that fans will find both meaningful and enduring, particularly after the pandemic has ended and life has returned to something resembling normal.

Takeaway: Conversational, philosophical observations of the pandemic-shortened baseball season of 2020.

Great for fans of: Roger Angell; Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King’s Faithful.

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

Click here for more about The Season of Living Dangerously

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