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the House of the Wolf
Alison Baird
Baird (The Dragon Throne series) pays loving homage to her birthplace in the vibrant first installment of her contemporary paranormal series The Werewolves of Quebec. Hunter, a young wolf who lost his parents and siblings but survived thanks to a pack begrudgingly accepting him, is excited to discover that he’s a loup garou, a werewolf capable of changing forms. Hunter and his new friends come to the rescue of Chantal, a young woman who has lost her own parents, too, and faces a cruel betrayal, and the secrets of her father. Filled with “pity and tenderness” at Chantal’s situation, Hunter decides to live as “a man among men,” and the young wolf and woman develop a strong bond as they resist their mutual enemies and strive to accept their natures.

The tale is contemplative, attentive to pack and family dynamics, but it shifts deftly as it showcases Hunter and Chantal, city and country, dynastic conflict, philosophical musing, and high action. Although some characters could benefit from more fine-tuning, Baird excels at creating a lavishly detailed world. Her protagonists are newcomers, which gives Baird the opportunity to elaborate, entwining history and lore with vividly atmospheric imagery to introduce an absorbing milieu with a rich past. The immersive result feels a bit like a Gothic novel mixed with a nature story. It’s also surprisingly wholesome—despite having elements of romance and violence, like most modern werewolf takes, the story itself is never lurid or gratuitous.

Baird forgoes most of the modern werewolf traditions and favors a more natural approach to her depiction. She doesn't try to give a definite explanation of their existence, instead using werewolves and their lore as framework for an exploration of humanity and nature, and the relationship between the two. Her realistic yet loving outlook makes for a refreshingly optimistic read, which readers of paranormal or nature-minded YA will find compelling.

Takeaway: Lovers of the natural and supernatural alike will be captivated by Baird's striking and intricate world of werewolves.

Great for fans of: Maggie Stiefvater, Charles de Lint.

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

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The Lifespan Movement: Progress-Purpose-Happiness
Nayana Williams
In this memoir of self-actualization, Williams tells her story from childhood to present day, emphasizing challenges she faced and the strength and confidence it took to become a female CEO in a male-dominated culture. Beginning with her earliest years, Williams shares about her close bonds with her grandparents and parents, and the lessons she learned from them about work ethic and business practices. Not all her childhood was positive, but Williams’s story emphasizes how she learned to gather strength from challenging moments and hard choices, right into adulthood, as when she moved to California for better care for her special needs child while her husband stayed in Jamaica. When Williams came up with the idea to build the business that became Lifespan Spring Water, she put together a plan, showed it to her husband, and they immediately got to work.

“There are times when I have felt beaten and bruised, but I get up the very next morning and I go on, because I have no other choice,” Williams writes. She offers welcome insight into each step of building a business from the ground up, the hurdles entrepreneurs face, and finding multiple ways to overcome them. Williams explains the many practical difficulties they faced securing use of the land for their water source, the lessons they learned in finding trustworthy contractors, retailers, and employees, and the surprising number of nay-sayers who doubted her vision.

For Williams, business challenges have often crossed over into personal challenges as a woman and CEO. She ‘s frank about how difficult it was to be in meetings where other attendees only addressed her husband and the frustrating choice she made to not respond, knowing they would only judge her negatively for speaking out. Meanwhile, she has struggled with often being away from her children, a situation made worse when other women have shamed her rather than offer support. Williams tells this story of perseverance and success with clarity and power.

Takeaway: This memoir of a woman’s journey from hardship to being CEO of a company she created will inspire women to follow their dreams.

Great for fans of: Indra Nooyi’s My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future, Ursula M. Burns’s Where You Are Is Not Who You Are.

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

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Heart Value: Feel Appreciated in Ways That Matter and Discover Your True Stride
Mary Tess Rooney
With the encouraging tone and clarity of a good coach, Rooney offers highly practical, career-oriented guidance for people in a situation where they might not expect that practical guidance is possible. Heart Value aims squarely at those with “a voice deep inside you, tugging at your heart strings, reminding you that you want something and deserve something more.” Drawing on her experience in the corporate world and some private matters, too, Rooney invites readers to identify that something that the heart values but currently lacks, to embrace the adventure of finding it, to make “resonant choices” while striding toward it, and to voice their value and “activate appreciation” at work and in life. Above all else, she encourages “Striders” to “realize our truth and groove in all that we do.”

Rooney’s system for “getting your stride on” is flexible but not vague. It’s steeped in original terminology (the heart vibe; the “value vault” made up of all the experiences, good or bad, that make you you) and tools (the Feel-Choose-Act Amplifier, the Joy Frequency Grid) crafted to reveal what truly lights a reader up—and what steps to take to prioritize those findings in life. These coinages don’t just reveal Rooney’s acuity for branding. At the end of chapters, Rooney continually demonstrates how her simple, intuitive Feel-Choose-Act Amplifier offers a route to transforming a feeling or desire (“I felt frustrated that ...”) into action steps (“I made a choice to …”) and results.

The many original anecdotes—from Rooney’s own life, her coaching clients, and others—are relatable, relevant, and resonant, illustrating principles like “Schedule Joytime” and “Value Unique Over Same,” and her encouraging tone (“You are constantly gaining value. With age, your expansion experiences and value add up.”) feels steeped in wisdom rather than cloying. Still, what stands out most here are the shrewd tips, insights, and points for reflection that close each chapter, always connected to the essence of her message: appreciate your value and what you value.

Takeaway: A highly encouraging and practical guide to appreciating your value and your desires, especially in the workplace.

Great for fans of: Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass, Gretchen Rubin’s The Confidence Project.

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

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Stand a Little Out of My Sun: a novel of forgiveness and redemption
Angelyn Christy Voss
Visual artist Voss’s moving debut novel portrays an immigrant family’s struggles and triumphs with the same warmth and emotional depth that resonate in her paintings. The story centers around 12-year-old Sophie Peters, who lives with her parents and brother in the East Side neighborhood of Chicago in the 1950s. Sophie loves her mother’s big Greek family, especially her Yiayia Sophia and Papou George, but her father calls them “nosy and ignorant.” Her parents fight often, and Sophie worries that her father is a bad influence on her sensitive, empathetic younger brother Niko. When her father’s actions throw her family into turmoil, Sophie must summon the courage to cope.

Sophie is a perceptive, audacious heroine, and readers will admire her deep devotion to her family. Her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother’s stories are all woven into Sophie’s, offering a multi-faceted look at the family’s journey to America. Anecdotes about life with her Greek family—visits to Lake Michigan and the Field Museum, road trips to Detroit in her grandparents’ Oldsmobile, family scandals, and funny memories—bring the Poulos clan to life. Although Sophie and her family face outside dangers and challenges, their complex but profound ties are the heart of the novel, and Voss’s writing shines when it focuses on these relationships.

This intergenerational story spans eras and locations, but it transitions between them with smooth clarity. Voss immerses readers in settings from Tripoli, to a WWII women’s army barracks in Virginia, to a Chicago alive with possibility but also where “the numbing cold and steely skies [transform] Sophie’s raw, anger-driven sorrow into a dull ache.” Sophie’s Greek heritage is likewise finely detailed, with Greek food, rituals, and phrases incorporated throughout the story. But while these particulars will transport readers, universal themes of loss, forgiveness, and redemption will speak to their hearts. Voss’s gentle, compelling family drama offers a clear-eyed appreciation for our heritage and how it shapes us.

Takeaway: This uplifting 1950s coming-of-age saga demonstrates how courage, compassion, and faith can overcome emotional adversity.

Great for fans of: Pam Records’s Tied With Twine, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.

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

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Summer's End
Tim Ranney
As its title suggests, Ranney’s warm novel centers on a small-town summer where everything changes, in this case in Connecticut in 1969, a season of national turmoil and triumph. Ranney throws us into the life of Grant, who is just finishing his freshman year of high school and in the throes of the usual adolescent preoccupations, namely, girls and dating, a troublesome best friend bullies who threaten violence, and summer jobs that offer a glimpse of real life. Over the summer, Grant experiences a slew of firsts: his first double date and his first kiss: “a real game changer, a genuine, incredible, fantastic, spectacular kiss that sent chills down his spine”). But there other, more unexpected firsts crammed into those months afford Grant a glimpse of what it truly means to grow up.

The story is simple and narrated in an easy and engaging manner. Even though the things Grant is experiencing are hardly uncharted territory, Ramney’s story is likely to evoke in readers a strong nostalgia for their school days. Whether it is Grant’s exasperation at David dragging him into another mess, his wonder as he learns what “second base” means, or his sincerity when it comes to doing a good job delivering the daily newspaper, Ranney stirs emotion with crisp language and precise detail. Sporadic moments of humor enliven the narrative, giving it a piquant punch.

Ranney charts social changes, as when Grant’s friend suggests it’s never a good idea to ask a girls’ permission before making a move, though the sexual encounters are all consensual and handled with sometimes playful respect. The narrative picks up pace towards the end, where a lazy summer threatens to be overwhelmed by grown-up concerns. But this is a fitting culmination to what turns out to be Grant’s metamorphosis into maturity. This book is a good fit for anyone who enjoys coming-of-age stories in small-town America.

Takeaway: An engaging story of growing up in small town America—and how things have changed.

Great for fans of: Stuart Dybeck’s The Coast of Chicago, Stephen King’s Different Seasons.

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

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Management by Intent, the 5 Principles
Abrar Ansari
Certified Management Consultant Ansari challenges corporate leadership and management teams “to transform and recalibrate corporate culture” through accountable, transparent governance and with intentional purpose in this clear-eyed and practical leadership guide. Ansari introduces MBI (Management by Intent), an original operational framework created to help business leaders leverage universal values and beliefs to maintain balance between profitability, integrity, and equity for all stakeholders. Ansari warns that trending negative attitudes toward capitalism and corporate growth demand “a higher level of leadership and consciousness” and ‘’rewriting the wrongs of a free enterprise system gone sideways.” To achieve this, Ansari asserts that leaders must redefine corporate values and business practices with the intent to do no harm while embracing the foundational principles of MBI: life, dignity, reason, wealth, and the future.

Ansari’s goal is clear: to encourage thought leaders to explore MBI principles and enact the transformational changes needed to ensure sustainable, long-term growth in a fractious climate. Unlike many familiar process improvement methodologies, the building blocks of the MBI framework take on a philosophical approach, influenced by Sufism, Ansari’s personal belief system, and the teachings of 11th century revivalist philosopher Al-Ghazali. To combat the short-sighted, profit-focused mindset prevalent in corporate governance, Ansari argues that leaders must realign intentions and make a commitment to prevent what is harmful, while promoting what is good.

The bulk of the guide delves into Ansari’s five foundational MBI principles and how they can help guide a rebalancing of the “derailed free enterprise system.” Ansari’s explanations are direct, and at times, poetic. He states: “It is the character of the leadership that shapes the organization’s value system, just like the tenacity and the intensity of the wind that shapes the dunes in the desert.” This thought-provoking leadership guide is a call to action for purposeful change to ensure a sustainable, profitable future for us all.

Takeaway: This impassioned guide challenges CEOs and corporate governance teams to redefine their purpose for intentional sustainable growth.

Great for fans of: Jason Isaacs and Jeremy Isaacs’s Toxic Soul, Stephen M.R. Covey’s The Speed of Trust.

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

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Sparks and Disperses
Cathleen Cohen
“We may grasp / fragments / that fall into our hands,” artist and poet Cohen (Etching the Ghost) writes at the start of “When We Enter the Story,” the poem that kicks off this accomplished collection. The poem goes on to address the temptation to overwork the “countless bits / swirling around us” as we shape them into art: Cohen sees “no need / to solder them together with gold” because “They already glitter.” This powerful idea exemplifies the poems that follow, which find the poet contemplating and celebrating the process of the creation of art inspired by—or in collaboration with--the world around us. “Ritual” centers on the idea of attaching “sticks of roasted willow” to one’s feet and leaving “bright filaments” where one has passed, while “Color Wheel,” “Painting with Family,” “Space,” “Exhibition” and others directly concern the practicalities of art-making, from mixing colors to accepting the inevitability that art will be contemplated by “souls // I haven’t reckoned with.”

With crisp lines, precise yet vibrant language, and rare communicative power, Cohen--the founder of the We the Poets outreach program at the nonprofit ArtWell--invites readers in, exhibiting a light, welcoming touch throughout. The lively “Red Flags” likens the Spotted Lanternfly to “winged bits of red / cellophane, undiluted traffic lights,” two ways of seeing the invasive insect that will stick with anyone who reads them, while poems about children mine universal feeling from sharply rendered specifics: “The Children Sequester Themselves” concerns kids’ eagerness to hide in play castles or forts, like their parents once did, a tendency that reveals “all of us, desirous // of any dark space to launch into.”

Cohen’s work is uncommonly accessible in form and language yet rich in potential meanings and ambiguities. She resists the urge to gild or burden the glittering bits that she collects from the world around her. Instead she catches them, examines them, commemorates them for the rest of us, and lets them go.

Takeaway: An inviting, incisive collection of poems about making art and finding meaning in the swirl of life.

Great for fans of: Jane Hirschfield, Tess Taylor.

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

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The Ptolemy Project
Kate St.Clair
St. Clair creates a compelling, character-driven YA science-fiction thriller with mature themes that will reward contemplation long after the final page is read. Set in a future after humanity has colonized Titan, The Ptolemy Project centers on teenagers who wake up on a mysterious space station, a puzzling habitat that has been redesigned for some nefarious purpose. A wide variety of characters are trapped there, though the story focuses on fire-obsessed Lyra, sociopath Pollux, paranoid schizophrenic Zeke, and Aquila, a young trans woman with a split personality. In order to survive, they are subjected to a series of challenges. While their lives are in danger, it’s their mental health that quickly becomes their worst enemy. Together, they must navigate their new reality if they want to survive.

Sci-fi fans will enjoy this arresting premise and its escalating mysteries, as well as the crisp dialogue, fast pace, and the chance to get to know these characters. Occasionally, a flourish of prose—“There’s a flash in the firelight, a bead of reflection falling from Lyra’s hands to land on her thigh”—obscures rather than highlights the meaning of a passage, but the action sequences skillfully ramp up the stakes and tension as St. Clair’s diverse cast find a way to navigate the challenges and conundrums they face as a team. Those characters can be polarizing by design, especially Pollux, whose mental health concerns and backstory prove truly disturbing. Whether he or the others in the end find the redemption they seek will make for stimulating discussion.

St. Clair doesn’t shy away from heavy themes such the rehabilitation of society’s outcasts, that possibility of redemption for those who might have been deemed unredeemable, and the persistent debate between nurture and nature, played out in the budding friendship between Pollux and Lyra. There’s also hints of class struggles and inequities between characters as well as tight friendships and possible romances as St. Clair’s teens dig into their mind-bending situation—and as St. Clair digs into them.

Takeaway: Sci-fi fans looking for diverse characters facing high stakes mysteries and their own demons will enjoy this swift read.

Great for fans of: Marie Lu’s Warcross, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner Series.

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

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E. Z. and the Chikasha Warrior
Tony L. Turnbow
Turnbow’s second page-turning middle-grade frontier novel in the Fighting Devil’s Backbone series continues to follow E. Z. and David Perkins’s fight for survival along the Natchez Trace, dubbed the Devil’s Backbone, in the early 19th century after the death of their mother. Trying to escape Mr. Burton––the mysterious man their mother supposedly trusted their lives with if anything should happen to her but who may have ulterior motives––E. Z. and David attempt to earn acceptance from the Chickasaw Nation and local Chickasaw warrior Tashka. But when their friend’s family is taken by Muskogee (here dubbed “Creek Indians”), Mr. Burton is tracking them down, and the games of boys turn into the wars of men.

A break from non-stop action, this well-written and well-paced second book gets more into characterization of the main characters and slows down the plot, taking readers through several indigenous rituals as the boys prepare for hunting and battle and centering on themes of bravery, selflessness and self-sufficiency. New readers should know this follow-up does not entirely stand alone, but it is still easy to follow the overarching story. Turnbow’s depiction of indigenous peoples is non-stereotypical, sometimes even contesting familiar adventure story tropes, with respectful treatment of Chickasaw culture and rituals and Native American characters playing significant roles. That said, the plot ultimately casts as the bad guys the Muskogee, indigenous people who don’t want white men “buying” their land, and the Chickasaw as the good guys––indigenous people that cooperate with white men.

A pressing conversation about the Muskogee perspective (“This is our land. We do not want to change.”) gets cut off by a well-aimed Chickasaw arrow. That moment exemplifies the challenge of updating frontier adventure storytelling for contemporary readers who reject the term “Indian” (which appears in both dialogue and narration), which weighs over the book, including elements like the treasure map that E.Z. holds and Mr. Burton seeks. Readers today are likely to ask “whose treasure is it, actually?”

Takeaway: A well-paced coming-of-age frontier adventure that doesn’t fully update the genre for contemporary readers.

Great for fans of: Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Journey of Little Charlie, Stan Applegate’s The Devil’s Highway, Gary Paulsen’s Tucket Adventure series.

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

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Gentleman's Club
NT Herrgott
In this engaging series opener, 17-year-old Luca Wexler is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps as the newest version of the San Francisco-based crimefighter known as the Avalon Knight. As an unlicensed hero who’s spent years secretly training behind his father’s back, Luca has a lot to live up to, and a lot to lose if he screws up, which is why so far he’s stuck to street-level crime like muggings. But when The Gentleman, a mysterious hacker, launches a campaign of blackmail and destruction across San Francisco while America’s A-list heroes are all missing, Luca must ally himself with a ragtag band of untested heroes in order to save the day.

Herrgott offers a fast-paced adventure, pitting his scrappy underdog protagonist against a host of superhuman threats. However, while the story primarily focuses on Luca’s attempt to prove himself a hero—or Vigil as they’re known here—Herrgott never loses sight of his human side. As a bisexual transmasc only out to a select handful of people, Luca wrestles with teenage hormones and debates whether he’s ready to reveal himself on a wider scope—something that weighs on his desire for a love life. Herrgott wisely avoids any deeper manifestation of angst or trauma, instead concentrating on the character’s confidence and positivity. With the intertwining of drama and action, this story definitely lives up to its comic book inspirations.

However, there are times when Herrgott’s world lacks a greater sense of development. In hewing so close to Luca’s street-level heroism and holding other elements at arm’s length, the setting doesn’t always feel like one where superhumans are an everyday thing. Numerous promising elements are hinted at but left unexplored for the moment. Luca’s narrative voice is sympathetic and energetic, suiting his nature, but occasionally comes across as a little too flippant or lax, especially when addressing the reader directly. Still, Luca’s heroic journey is satisfying, relatable, and encouraging.

Takeaway: Ideal for readers in search of a queer superhero story that normalizes the protagonist’s identity and emphasizes universal goals of heroism and resilience.

Great for fans of: Perry Moore’s Hero, C.B. Lee’s Sidekick Squad Series, April Daniels’s Dreadnought.

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

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Belluna's Big Adventure in the Sky : A Dance-It-Out Creative Movement Story for Young Movers
Once Upon a Dance
Being different is celebrated in the latest title in the mother-daughter writing duo Once Upon a Dance’s (after Brielle’s Birthday Ball) Dance-It-Out! Collection. Belluna, the youngest of the Noollabs, is like most kids her age–she loves to play basketball, goes on vacations with her parents and brother, and has a penchant for family game nights. There’s one thing that sets Belluna and her family apart: their heads resemble purple balloons, complete with the properties of helium balloons, such as buoyancy and a gravity-defying lift. Despite their unconventional appearance, the Noollabs find their heads helpful, keeping them from getting tired while swimming and even earningstraigtening out their posture. But tragedy strikes when the family is enjoying weekend apple picking and Belluna gets caught up in a windstorm, making her wonder if being different isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Though parents will appreciate the message that being unique is an advantage, the treasure of Belluna’s story lies in the interactive dance moves the authors have designed to go along with each page. The writing team, both deeply involved in the dance world, embellish this heartwarming tale with creative exercises that young readers can try out as they move through the adventure, guided in photos by a beaming ballerina named Korona. Whether it’s acting out the family’s favorite activities or physically exploring emotions related to the storyline, playing along is delightful.

Mongodi’s dazzling illustrations, alive with cool hues and watercolor backdrops, work in tandem with the dreamy motif, and readers will be charmed by the pictures’ intricate details, such as the tiny pet hamster hiding out in several action shots. Belluna wisely shares “[e]verything is scary in the beginning, but it always gets better.” The story’s ending feels a bit rushed, and readers may wish for more insight into exactly how Belluna overcomes her calamity, but this whimsical, interactive offering will be sure to please.

Takeaway: A fanciful tale of why being different is appealing, paired with interactive dance opportunities that match the story.

Great for fans of: Jessica Collaco’s Firenze’s Light, Ashley Bouder’s Welcome to Ballet School.

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

Click here for more about Belluna's Big Adventure in the Sky
Lady Be Good: The Life and Times of Dorothy Hale
Pamela Hamilton
Immersed in the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood and New York City in the roaring 1920s and into the ’30s, Hamilton’s debut novel sheds light on the life and death of the socialite Dorothy Hale. Chronicling Hale's life from her early school days to the aspiring actress’s rise to fame and, finally, to her untimely death, Hamilton pieces together Hale's existence in a sweeping historical fiction that pulses with romance, drama, high society life, and tragedy. Touching Hale's encounters and friendships with luminaries such as Cole Porter, Fred Astaire, Fanny Brice, and George and Ira Gershwin, whose hit song provides Hamilton’s title, Lady Be Good combines character study, historical recreation, and the welcome fizz of a Hollywood tell-all.

Hamilton instantly captivates readers by dramatizing Hale’s death by suicide in “a black velvet dress from Bergdorf Goodman” in the opening chapter. Writing with beautiful detail, she delivers riveting insight into the events that culminated in that ending, especially Hale’s highly active life in old Hollywood and Manhattan. The elegant timeframe and high fashion of the era, replete with Broadway stars, jazz music, and roaring parties that would be the envy of Gatsby’s crowd. Hale was in the thick of high society life, and through big breaks and let downs, grand romances and heartaches, Hamilton paints a striking portrait of this extraordinary life much like Frida Kahlo did, too, when she immortalized the troubled socialite in one of her most famous paintings.

"The more success you have, the more people want to take you down," is Fred Astaire’s sage advice to Hale, a truth that captures the spirit of her fight to hold fast to her rising star. With precision and careful research, Hamilton reveals the story of a woman determined to make a name for herself in a world ruled by men and governed by money, power, and connections. Readers who love glamorous historical fiction will be mesmerized by the life of Dorothy Hale.

Takeaway: An entertaining and appealing account of Dorothy Hale’s life, full of pomp and old Hollywood glamour.

Great for fans of: Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in Heaven, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone.

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

Click here for more about Lady Be Good
Journal of the Plague Year 20/20: : from Pax Americana to the Apocalypse
Michelle A Christides
Christides’s intimate, apocalyptic journal documents both hers and the world’s experience of that annus horribilis of 2020, from the perspective of a Jungian therapist who splits her time between Florida and France, covering the plague referred to in the title, keeping a running total of deaths as the year passes, and the bumptious events that shook the world at the same time, including what she calls “mass psychosis,” the U.S. election, the rise of “Q-Anon psychos,” and more. The journal extends into 2021, as she faces the refusal of President Trump (whom she dubs “our Mafioso boss”) and the January 6 insurrectionists to concede the election. Of the latter, she notes “It is an insidious, that is, gradual and subtler approach to sedition, which is to overthrow democracy because of the fear that America is losing its demographic identity with the European ‘race.’

Throughout, alongside such sharp-elbowed and at times despairing analysis, Christides reflects on news events and food for thought from sources as disparate as an interview with Paul McCartney or insights from Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind. One of the crucial threads tying all this together: Christides’s sense that “the Revelation of the Apocalypse is happening,” brought on by humanity’s choice “to impede our transformation or to accept the future responsibility to the planet the Cosmos requires of us.”

Christides contends that society, rooted in imperialism, has reduced life “to its material components,” cutting us off from each other, from “the planetary web of life,” and from the soul. These spiritual concerns, laid out with clarity, pulse through the book’s overwhelming beat-by-beat recounting of Covid-19, impeachment proceedings, relentless Trump headlines, plus all the corridors her mind journeys down while watching news, listening to podcasts, contemplating Hubble images of the Lagoon Nebula, and even reckoning with the darkness of history, the horror of the present, and even, on occasion, the hope that humanity can be more than this.

Takeaway: A blow-by-blow account of life during the era of Covid and political instability, from a Jungian perspective.

Great for fans of: Madi Atkins’s The Covid Diaries, Vic Lee's Corona Diary: A Personal Illustrated Journal of the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 .

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

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The Bastard of Colonia: Volume One of The Song of the Francs
T.J.S. Hayes
Hayes’s historical epic, the start to the “Song of the Francs” series, centers on the figure of Charles Martel, destined to become the epochal Frankish general, hero, and statesmen—and the grandfather of Charlemagne. As the title suggests, though, this first volume finds this “bastard of Colonia” growing up. striving to master his own life, and the complications of family and royalty and power, well before the days when he’ll master the seventh century itself. A framing device finds Charles, on his deathbed, reflecting back in an engaging first person voice, recounting with a storyteller’s zeal his arrival as a child in the walled city of Colonia (“Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined something so grand, so massive, so alive”).

The cousin of King Clovis IV, and the illegitimate son of the true force behind the throne, Pepin of Herstal, Charles grows up acquainted with power but not welcome to it. The first time young Charles meets Pepin of Herstal, the Duke of the Franks and Mayor of the Palace of Austrasi, the headstrong child attacks the duke for laughing rudely at Elfida, Charles’s mother. That impresses Pepin, and in crisp prose alive with historic detail, Charles makes a home at the palace of Colonia, determined to prove his quality. “Even if I don’t rise to power, a bastard can still become a great soldier,” he declares.

Raids on Burgundia and conflict between Pepin and the “boy-king” Clovis will afford that chance. Hayes’s telling is lengthy but assured, as committed to political machinations and extraordinary conflicts as it is to capturing the spirit of everyday life: “So my first night of adventure as a warrior was spent preparing food,” Charles notes. “My weapon was a knife for peeling and my enemies were vegetables to thicken our rabbit stew.” That exemplifies Hayes’s project: historical fiction dedicated as much to the way people of the past lived and thought as it is to how they fought.

Takeaway: A richly imagined novel of the early years of Frankish hero Charles Martel.

Great for fans of: Hillary Mantel, J. Boyce Gleason’s Anvil of God.

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

Click here for more about The Bastard of Colonia
Shadowgraph
John C. Wunsch
In his wide-ranging first published book of poetry, Wunsch offers melodic examination of the human experience, often with an emphasis on nature and our involvement with it, in verses of varied form and subject. Much of the collection reflects on life as it’s lived, with inspired musings on farmland (“the knotted corrugations / of stalk and leaf”), cityscapes (“Chicago’s hand-stuffed cornucopia”), freezing winters (“runnels of glistening ice, / diamond-faceted like reticulated glassware”) and relentless heat (“The wind-sharpened / growl of summer.” At times, an ominous voice rises even from poems with apparently hopeful themes: “Saturday Street Music,” which concerns Mozart and a toy piano, closes with reference to “the unseen gaze/ and surveillance of an all-observant eye.” Elsewhere, Wunsch dares to dream beyond the everyday, incorporating relatable experiences with those that can only be imagined.

A scrupulous, beautiful vocabulary showcases the poet’s skill and depth. Though some of the pieces can be verbose, it’s clear the intention is wonder, not obscurity. That means the work is accessible enough that even inexperienced readers of contemporary poetry will find pieces like “Cryptarithm”—which finds the poet contemplating his choices in the penning of a poem—somewhat challenging but worth the effort, even if they do not apprehend the full richness of the allusions, structure, and metaphor. Readers from the Midwest especially will find much here familiar yet fresh: “our tracks have disappeared /in curls of buffalo hair and deerskin” he writes, in a paean to back-roads driving.

Wunsch deftly handles formulaic structures as well as freeform styles, exhibiting a firm grasp on poetic devices and deft use of ambiguity. He skirts away from revealing the deeply personal instead choosing, at times, to minimize, and in the same turn universalize, experiences. The spark of imagination that nature and the heavens nature inspire in the poet are worth the cover price, as his work invites us deeper in concrete imagery, sympathetic feelings, and fruitful metaphor.

Takeaway: A talented poet with a relish for nature and the human experience offers a strong, skillful poetry debut.

Great for fans of: Wendell Berry, Alice Oswald.

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

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ETERNAL VIGILANCE: GUARDING AGAINST THE PREDATORY STATE
Ralph L. Bayrer
The title of Bayrer’s impassioned, deeply researched study refers to the price of freedom: the “eternal vigilance” demanded of those who would protect the “Free Extended Order” (a mutually beneficial economic system in which individuals freely enter voluntary transactions while government protects private property) from what Bayrer calls governmental or political “predation.” Bayrer writes, “The last century has shown how the FEO can be smothered by misguided universal utopian programs or continuously undermined by regulations and taxes that pander to special interests.” In that spirit, Eternal Vigilance champions free markets and small government and calls for the defense of both from efforts to drive up government spending or “soak the investor class” by running “the old leftist playbook about income inequality.”

Bayrer shores up his case with much fresh argument and analysis, stretching back to the founders (“Buchanan’s criterion that state activity is justified only to remove external diseconomies that prevent individuals from accomplishing objectives through voluntary contractual relations”), plus Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and more, and on to consideration of recent history, especially countries’ approaches to FEO. Those nations most “aligned” with FEO principles eschew the “singular weakness” of representative governments, a “tendency to overpromise benefits and impose regulations supporting special interests.” Bayrer draws cautionary examples from the “utopian temptations” and “profligate behavior” of Greece, the EU, Argentina, and more.

While the thrust of the arguments is familiar, Bayrer offers original research, unique and persuasive examples, and a welcome tendency toward clarity, guiding readers in approachable prose. Despite his use of terms like “predation” to describe, say, the implementation of regulatory frameworks, Bayrer acknowledges that most people concerned more with inequality than the purity of FEO operate from good intentions or a surfeit of sentimental feeling. His arguments and analysis will buoy free market fellow travelers but likely not engage those who believe government should level playing fields.

Takeaway: A thorough, impassioned defense of free markets, small government, and resisting “utopian temptations.”

Great for fans of: Jane A. Williams and Kathryn Daniels’s Economics: A Free Market Reader, David F. DeRosa’s In Defense of Free Markets.

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

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