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A Longing for Justice: in a patriarchal society
Amy Croft
In this compendium of heartbreak, trauma, and triumph, Croft shares her personal story of the long-term effects of living in a patriarchal society. Her pain is searing, and her memoir impactful, a vital contribution to a worldwide discussion of the impacts of misogyny. She seeks to encourage more of such storytelling, arguing that women’s experience must be heard and studied as a distinctive form of expression that can help the world face the harm that so many women have endured throughout history and into the present. “Fighting for justice is better than longing for it,” she declares in a preface, and the book that follows stands as a testament to Croft’s strength and endurance.

Crafted to show readers what many women face each day, Croft's debut focuses on her own life and her experiences of motherhood, religious constructs, and society as a whole, including incidents of assault and trauma. While she takes on patriarchy—which she defines as “male control and domination over everyone else”—she makes it clear that she’s not anti-men, and in fact is sympathetic to the ways that men, too, have been harmed by a patriarchal society. Croft shares some life circumstances that are rather unique, but her portrait of these difficulties will draw readers in, leaving them with greater compassion and empathy while stirring awe at her resiliency.

Readers interested in feminist theory and calls for systemic change will enjoy Croft’s viewpoints on the current status of our society, and her hopes for a brighter future will inspire those looking for reformation. Though she does not claim to be a scholar or a renowned voice, this work persuasively projects her experiences and beliefs into the world, serving as an exemplar of the kind of change she wants to manifest. It’s her conviction that it is time for women’s stories to be heard and understood. This is a pained, eye-opening read appropriate for adults looking for change.

Takeaway: A story of trauma and resilience that urges women to share their experiences of living within a patriarchal society.

Great for fans of: Stephanie Land’s Maid, Nawal El Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero.

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

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Sitting on Top of the World
Cheryl King
King’s moving debut, a historical coming-of-age story, follows young June Baker and her family in Maynardville, Tennessee, at the height of the Great Depression. There’s no jobs or government assistance, the mortgage bills keep coming, and June’s mother is sick and her father has hurt himself chopping wood. It’s up to June and her brother Josy to save their family from losing the farm––their livelihood and home. At first, they start trapping rabbits, sewing bonnets, and trading eggs for other goods, but the times get so hard that that’s not enough anymore. So Josy and June jump on the railroads to find work in other towns and states, risking their lives to help their family––until tragedy threatens to take their last hope away.

King ably illustrates desperation and hardship, showcasing the resilience of this family as they lose everything––even, possibly, each other. June starts off as a scared child and ends up a strong woman with a couple of love interests, and King highlights the individual relationships in this striking portrait of a family––and town ––that is at once a look into the Great Depression and a reflection on the devastation that comes with putting profit over people, especially in the case of the railroad police (also known as bulls). June comes to the realization that she doesn’t need money to be rich.

Overall, a page-turning, heart wrenching, occasionally thrilling read about one family's struggle to survive, Sitting on Top of the World invites pree-teen and young teen readers into a hardscrabble stretch of the American past. Along the way, King offers memorable details and images: a game of marbles, pawpaw trees, Mama’s herb garden, a little stray mama cat called Bug. Still, the story’s tight focus on the poor white family at its center can make the historical scope feel small. The brief appearance of Pate, Josy’s friend, the novel’s only significant Black character, plays like a missed opportunity to broaden the novel’s purview.

Takeaway: The enthralling story of young people trying to save their family farm in the depths of the Great Depression.

Great for fans of: Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds, Lauren Wolk’s Echo Mountain, Jojo Moyes’s The Giver of Stars.

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

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Night Jasmine Tree : Bittersweet Stories of an Indian Youth
Debu Majumdar
A Somerset-award winning novel, Majumdar’s Night Jasmine Tree follows the bittersweet journey of an Indian youth from his hometown in Bengal to life in the United States. Narrated in a succession of flashbacks, the story begins with Shankar, now a grandfather comfortably settled in Bellport, New York, telling his grandchildren about his own childhood spent in a tiny village on the outskirts of Calcutta. With each flashback, Majumdar offers deeper insight into Shankar’s erstwhile life, and why he chose to leave it. Shankar fell in love with Durga, a girl from a different caste, upsetting his conservative Hindu family—his father refused the match. In anger and frustration, Shankar decided to sever all contact with his family and emigrate to the US to build a new life for himself. Night Jasmine Tree tells that tale but also a larger story of reconciliation between past and present, love and family, East and West.

The novel unfolds in a series of smaller stories that Shankar tells his grandchildren. In these tales of small town life and piquant mischief, Majumdar layers in the innocence and intrigue that is characteristic of children’s stories. We are told of snakes and frogs, magical men who don strange costumes, and princesses from old Indian epics. In the process, Majumdar paints a vivid picture of India, replete with descriptions of festivals, foods, and customs. Over the course of the novel, Majumdar succeeds in relaying the insidiousness of caste and its discriminatory effects in Indian society.

At times, the nostalgia can give way to sentimentality. However, for the most part, Majumdar weaves a clear-eyed narrative that draws the reader in with its unfamiliarity and innocence. The novel’s story-within-a-story style is reminiscent of the storytelling in ancient Indian epics like the Mahabharata, creating a welcome layered complexity. Lovers of immigrant stories and tales of childhood will enjoy this novel that is a nostalgic remembrance of a simple childhood and its eventual loss.

Takeaway: A richly layered novel of immigrant stories, steeped in memories of an Indian childhood.

Great for fans of: Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands, 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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Blood Before Dawn: Book 2 of the Dung Beetles of Liberia Series
Daniel V. Meier, Jr.
This assured follow up to The Dung Beetles of Liberia, Meier’s striking debut, again plunges readers into a West African nation of great wealth, inequality, corruption—and, for protagonist Ken Verrier, opportunity. At least that’s how it seems at first as Ken, with his wife Sam, returns to Liberia’s capital of Monrovia in 1979, eager to score a quick profit in the diamond business, to find riots and revolution in the streets as the nation teeters on the brink. As President Tobert confiscates the Liberian Army’s ammunition, after soldiers refused to fire on furious citizens, Ken, a pilot, goes about securing an airplane for his diamond hunt, at every step encountering signs of Liberia’s instability and foreign nationals (Russians, Chinese, CIA) jockeying to shape its future.

Thanks to Meier’s vivid scene craft and the prevailing sense of tension, even readers not aware of the tragedies of Liberia at the dawn of the 1980s will feel the inevitable coming: an assassination, military rule, and Ken and Sam caught up in it all. Unlike many thriller authors, though, Meier doesn’t treat his setting like a mere romantic backdrop. Instead, for all the scrapes and suspense, and the excitement of rainy season plane trips and Ken;s unexpected surveillance work for the Liberian Army, the book’s beating heart is its evocation of a nation in crisis and the way that, in games of power, it’s the citizenry who suffer the most. “Life is hard and life is cheap,” Ken thinks, after watching the offhand execution of a mine worker. “It doesn’t pay to break the rules.”

Ken’s mistake, of course, is believing he’s mastered those rules and that he could engineer a big score without being compromised by the brutality. Verrier alternates between Ken’s first-person narration and third-person chapters detailing the coup and the burning of Monrovia, threads that readers will dread eventually tying together. Swift, engaging, and tragic, Blood Before Dawn is an uncommonly thoughtful and humane thriller.

Takeaway: Thriller fans who demand realism and humanity will find much to love in this novel of revolutionary Liberia.

Great for fans of: Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist, Mukuka Chipanta’s Five Nights Before the Summit.

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

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Heroes of Time Legends: Murdoch's Choice
Wayne D. Kramer
Kramer’s exciting debut, the first in the high seas fantasy Heroes of Time series, introduces the Warvonia Guild’s best captain, Zale “the Gale” Murdoch, and the crew of the Queenie as they search for their most elusive bounty yet. With little time left to meet the guild’s (newly increased) “mastery bar” for the year and earn “grandmaster” status, Murdoch and his first mate, Dippy, search for fast, easy jobs to meet their quota. They’re approached by a strange man offering a payout bigger than they can imagine—but they’d be committing to a long and dangerous journey to hunt something out of myth. The new physicker for the ship tells Murdoch that only his bloodline can acquire their quarry, known as the Grimstone, and in the wrong hands it could plunge their world into permanent darkness.

Kramer takes readers on a heart-pounding adventure across the sea featuring fearsome enemies and treacherous lands. While Murdoch and his crew prepare to contend with his biggest rival and archenemy, Seadread, Kramer adds another layer of intrigue with Seadread’s hiring of creepy, non-human, feathered mercenaries. Kramer shows great attention to detail, particularly in the intense battles throughout the story, and readers will be on the edge of their seats as they’re immersed into the furious fight scenes with powerful foes and unpredictable outcomes.

The crew of the Queenie will be immediately endearing to readers of heroic maritime fantasy. Each exhibits a healthy respect for —and a dash of fear of—their captain. It’s clear the crew has also become family while spending most of their lives on the ship, and even new arrivals are instantly welcomed and initiated with a nickname. Kramer’s character development is strong enough that readers will distinguish the main players easily, just from the way they speak or think, and Murdoch’s clear love for family and crew will have readers pulling for them throughout their memorable journey, especially in the emotional ending.

Takeaway: A thrilling sea-faring fantasy packed with swords, magic, inhuman foes, and endearing heroes.

Great for fans of: Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series, Hafsah Faizal’s We Hunt the Flame.

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

The Dividing: The Adamic Trilogy Book 1
Devin Downing
When 18-year-old Matt MacArthur follows a stranger onto the grounds of the long-abandoned power plant near his Colorado home, he inadvertently discovers a hidden society that may hold the answers to questions he’s held all his life regarding the birth parents he never knew and the mysterious tattoos that already were on his flesh when he was found as a baby. Attacked by a vampiric creature, he’s rescued by the stranger and taken to Cavernum, a sanctuary in Washington State, home to the Adamic—a people claiming direct descent from Adam and Eve who believe Matt is one of them. In search of help for his adoptive mother, who is dying of breast cancer, Matt undergoes the deadly trials to join their royal guard. Meanwhile, Princess Roselyn, heir-apparent to Cavernum’s throne, also competes to join the guard, even as the city faces an uprising from its lower castes.

Telling the story of an age-old secret civilization hiding from modern society, this initial installment of Downing’s Adamic Trilogy takes on a great deal of heavy lifting with its dual perspectives and ambitious scope. Running throughout the narrative is a heavy focus on the magical system that ties into an intriguing but often vague mythology inspired by biblical themes like Cain’s murder of Abel and Adam’s God-granted dominion over elements. The emphasis on all this, as Matt immerses himself in his new surroundings and Roselyn copes with political intrigue and changing traditions, leaves little room to explore what makes the Adamic society singular or to delve into the richest, more complex elements of the material.

Still, the ongoing contrast of Cavernum’s oppressive, classist societal structure versus modern sensibilities adds plenty of tension, and readers will appreciate the slow-simmering attraction between Matt and Roselyn as well as their respective struggles for success against overwhelming odds. The life-and-death stakes, romantic subplot, and combination of epic fantasy worldbuilding with political intrigue will appeal to YA fans looking for a serious read.

Takeaway: This dystopian YA epic boasts a secret society, high stakes, and bold worldbuilding.

Great for fans of: Leah Bobet’s An Inheritance of Ashes, Joelle Charbonneau’s Testing Trilogy.

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

Click here for more about The Dividing
Nana, the Yoga Teaching Gnome
Jennifer Lang Boehl
Stress will melt away when readers absorb this magical tale of friends, tranquility, and playfulness. Emily and Josephine, two young gnomes who live in an enchanted forest, set off one day in search of Nana, a gnome who teaches the wood’s inhabitants yoga. Along the way, the girls meet a bevy of animal friends who teach them yoga poses and join their quest to meet up with Nana. Young readers will delight in the bubbly pair as they convince frazzled forest animals to take a break and do “some yoga on this warm and sunny day.”

In this first installment of her Gnome Series, Boehl (That’s Mine, Sissy!) has crafted a charming story centered on learning how to be grateful and live in the moment. Emily and Josephine gain a bundle of whimsical new friends on their walk to Nana’s house, including a fly with “a head full of fuzz,” a fox whose favorite pose is downward facing dog, and an owl who wonders if yoga would eliminate his stress. The lesson on managing frustrations won’t be lost on younger readers when the “mischievous troll” demands a toll for crossing his bridge–but later relents because “yoga would make me less grumpy!”

Roperos’s dreamy illustrations meld with the story’s mythical feel, and kids will enjoy pointing out the entertaining details–like the tiny fly demonstrating a yoga pose on its mat–that add life to the tale. Health-minded parents will appreciate the introduction to making exercise fun, complete with gentle reminders to incorporate thankfulness into daily meditations. When Nana finally makes her appearance, she encourages the animals to “release all your worries” and leads the whole crew in a beautiful twilight yoga session, courtesy of the resident fireflies. This warm tale will leave readers feeling mellow and relaxed.

Takeaway: Two young gnomes learn the benefits of yoga alongside their enchanted animal friends in this charming tale.

Great for fans of: Mariam Gates’s Goodnight Yoga, Nicola Edwards’s Happy.

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

Click here for more about Nana, the Yoga Teaching Gnome
Fallen Child
Kathleen Morris
Morris, winner of the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best First Western Novel, follows up The Lily of the West by taking readers back to the 1800s on a wild adventure through the Arizona territories. Sixteen-year-old Josie Fallon survives an abusive childhood at Angel’s Refuge, an orphanage that sells its boys to the mines and its young women to the brothels. With the help of her friend, Colin, Josie escapes that life, but she finds that freedom comes at a price as she seeks vengeance on those who have wronged her. Along with a ragtag team of friends, including her love interest Billy, Josie does whatever is necessary to survive.

With the line between right and wrong blurred, anything is possible as the vividly realized Josie becomes a vigilante, righting the wrongs from her cruel past while ensuring the same evil doesn’t befall other orphans in the region. She’s a dynamic, independent young woman who takes her life by the reins despite her dire circumstances. While the 1800s isn’t a kind time for women, Jodie refuses to be a victim, preparing for the worst while holding to the hope of a future with a little bit of love and peace, all as her crew comes to depend on her wisdom and skills to get them out of danger.

Josie isn’t the only bold female character. Her best friend Isabella, fellow orphan whom Josie rescues from prostitution, also shines in the spotlight. Both prove that the Wild West is no match for them. The plot follows a cyclical pattern of action and reaction, where similar conversations and ideas recur with situational variations. But rather than get bogged down in this formula, Fallen Child offers twists that will keep readers of the genre glued to the page and eager for more escapades. Morris’s love for westerns and her passion for developing charismatic women protagonists blend seamlessly in a lively adventure sure to lasso fans of western fiction.

Takeaway: Western fans looking for strong-willed, capable, and dynamic women characters will relish this action-packed adventure.

Great for fans of: Olivia Hawker, Sandra Davis.

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

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Face the Night: A Novel
Alan Lastufka
Lastufka’s debut introduces Adriana, a talented artist and young, single mom who finds herself in a custody battle with her father for her son, Dylan. When Adriana wins temporary custody that’s dependent on gainful employment, she manages to convince the police chief of Cellar, Ohio, to bring her on board with the department as a sketch artist and administrative assistant. Unfortunately for Adriana, her new job and the fight for her child resurfaces a recurring nightmare from her past. As she connects with her neighbors—and the newest police officer on the force—she increasingly begins to wonder if her nightmare is a reminder of a heinous crime long buried and forgotten.

Adriana is a classic heroine, fighting for a better life for herself and her son, while her ex is a stereotypical deadbeat dad and drug user; Lastufka’s characters are consistent, but some tend toward the one dimensional. Her father, Bradley, adeptly plays the role of a corrupt, scheming mayor, and Matt Hinkley is the eager, straight-as-an-arrow cop who’s ready to swoop in and save the day for Adriana, even if it means bending the rules.

Still, the plot, in which danger from the past and the present threatens Adriana and her son as she’s trying to rebuild, will stir anticipation in readers of thrillers, although one of the story’s biggest surprises is how much information gets revealed early rather than teased out. The shocking incidents that transpire in and around the community of Cellar during a contentious mayoral race—one that Adriana’s father is determined not to lose, at any cost— reach a fever pitch with a terrible act of violence. Meanwhile, the increasing intensity of Adriana’s nightmares leaves her determined to uncover the memories she believes she’s repressed, putting her and her new friends in danger from those who would prefer the past stay buried. The cast might be familiar, but Lastufka’s storytelling keeps Face the Night suspenseful.

Takeaway: A single mother faces danger from the past and present in this engaging small-town thriller.

Great for fans of: Alex North, Stephen Graham Jones’s My Heart Is a Chainsaw.

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

Click here for more about Face the Night
The Boy Who Wanted to Rock
David Weiser
A young boy celebrates all things music in Weiser’s lively debut. The story opens with a “a boy who wanted to rock” but can’t seem to put notes together on his guitar or drum, despite his best efforts. After giving up and charging out of his house, he runs into a playful dog who offers him a quick, rhyming lesson in beats and rhythm: “One is the downbeat,/ the start of all songs.” The boy masters basic rock tempos and continues on his way, soon encountering other animals eager to teach him the nuts and bolts of rock and roll. Whether it’s the octopus who uses its eight arms to introduce the boy to scales, or the cats who hip him to guitars’ notes, frets and strings, the boy’s animal friends coach him into becoming the rock star he’s always dreamed about.

Weiser’s experience in the music industry is clear throughout this rhythmic narrative. Some of the lessons may prove slightly challenging for young readers who have not started music lessons, but the animals break things down in rhymes that invite the repeat readings that will help crystallize key ideas about keys and octaves. Meanwhile, climactic lessons from trolls and gnomes about how to pose while rocking out—complete with a rock n’ roll swagger “just like we taught/ Angus, Prince, and Mick Jagger”—are a silly delight, a reward for the introduction to music theory.

Derek Lavoie’s illustrations are intricately complex, with layers of color and tiny details waiting to be discovered in each scene but an overall sense of propulsive movement appropriate to the subject. Readers will want to pay attention to the graphics’ secrets, like the bioluminescent plants in the trolls’ cave or the boy’s fishbowl air tank in the underwater sections. Weiser’s story situates music as part of the natural world, and for young music students, or readers of any age with a passion for song, this rousing tale will invite calls for an encore.

Takeaway: Animals help a young boy discover the basics and brilliance of music making in this energetic tale.

Great for fans of: Connie Schofield-Morrison’s I Got the Rhythm, David Weinstone’s Music Class Today!

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

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The Parenting Backpack: Strategies and Tools to Help You Parent with Confidence
Susie Garlick
“The more we understand about ourselves, the more we can help our children,” Garlick declares early in this clear-eyed, parent-focused guide, her follow up to DiddleDots: Tips to Ease the Madness of Parenting. She argues that it’s impossible to become the perfect parent raising the perfect kids, and instead advises readers to face and deal with their mistakes and failings—and to learn how to react to imperfection. To that end, she urges parents to understand what rocks (or “fears and insecurities” from their own parents, life experiences, genes, and society) they’re carrying in their “backpacks,” as well as how those rocks affect their parenting–and what they’re putting into their own kids’ metaphorical backpacks.

“We all have rocks,” she notes, before offering welcome practical advice about how to turn them into strengths. Garlick guides readers through this idea with compelling stories from her personal and professional experience as a mental health counselor, questions for contemplation and self-investigation, and reports on established research: she digs into alarming studies that suggest children today are often more safe than before but more likely to struggle emotionally. She urges readers to know themselves well, to practice apologies and forgiveness, and to accept that their brains, habits, and responses are malleable.

Garlick’s original exercises include prompts for readers to examine the rocks they’re carrying, identifying the source (mother, father, life itself) and boiling each stone down to its essence: FEAR. SHAME. WORRY. Identifying them, in Garlick’s estimation, is the hardest part. She demonstrates techniques for dealing with their weight, demonstrating the cycles connecting thought, feeling, and behavior, and considers approaches to handling anger, the temptation to try to fix everything in a child’s life, and the urgency of occasional adult time outs. The book’s second half, centers on parenting techniques, such as teaching problem solving, creating a safety net, and how establishing boundaries is like giving a child a compass. Encouraging, pragmatic, and always clear and honest, The Parenting Backpack should lighten parents’ load.

Takeaway: This parenting guide showcases how knowing yourself will better prepare you for being there for kids.

Great for fans of: Hunter Clarke-Fields’s Raising Good Humans, Ruby Usman’s Self-Care for Parents.

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

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The Fortuna Coin
Karen Ann Hopkins
Hopkins (Blood Rock) introduces readers to Wendy Catalano, a single mother of four ready to begin a new chapter of her life after marrying her soul mate, Ben Engel, in this spectral, emotionally charged psychological thriller. When violent tragedy strikes, Wendy is thrust back in time, giving her a magical opportunity to correct past mistakes. After divorcing her abusive ex-husband, Josh, Wendy looks forward to her future—but her past soon interferes and puts a stop to her plans. Plagued by crazy dreams and premonitions, Wendy struggles with reliving moments she only vaguely remembers, until a psychic reading sheds insight into her problem and leaves her with a devastating choice to make.

The story begins with an emotionally charged prologue that introduces Wendy and The Fortuna Coin–a good luck charm with mystical properties that most of the plot centers around. Hopkins has broken the novel into three parts, the first fast-paced, intense, and told from Wendy’s point-of-view. The pace slows in the second part, alternating chapters from Ben’s perspective, which adds depth and welcome romantic tension. Emotions run high throughout the entire story, but they take a somewhat darker turn during the urgent final part, as the abuse and manipulation Wendy suffers at Josh’s hands escalates.

Scenes depicting domestic violence and emotional abuse may trigger some readers; however, Hopkins is not gratuitous, and these harrowing moments raise the stakes for Wendy and signify the enormity of the decision that she is destined to make. Wendy and Ben’s relationship adds a tension-filled romantic subplot–complete with a happy ending–without sacrificing the suspense. With clear, compelling prose, Hopkins has constructed a seemingly effortless story that weaves together paranormal fantasy and romance with mind-bending elements of psychological thrillers. Readers will become quickly engrossed in The Fortuna Coin’s richly emotional tale of good luck charms, psychic visions, and premonitions.

Takeaway: This urgent, personal thriller combines paranormal and romantic elements as a woman out of time faces an agonizing choice.

Great for fans of: Kate White’s The Secrets You Keep, Julie Clark’s The Last Flight.

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

Click here for more about The Fortuna Coin
The Tocks on the Clock
Jozef K. Richards
Desi’s clock is unlike most clocks—there aren’t just hands pointing to numbers, there’s a monster known as a Tock living in each number, with the birdlike Drix residing at six and the fearsome Yeven dwelling in a cavern at seven. Richards offers readers a whimsical rhyming journey to a fantasy world full of creatures reminiscent of Seussian wockets and sneetches but also the leading edge of contemporary horror beast design. Vibrant and lively illustrations bring the Tocks to life, with flowing hair, grumpy faces, fascinating habitats, and frightening accessories, like the skull around the neck of the Dren who lives—yes—at ten. The Tocks on the Clock has been crafted to familiarize young readers with key concepts of clocks and timekeeping while stirring a sense of adventure and intrigue from the inventive characters on each page, including Desi’s travel companions Lola the dog and Jack the cat.

The Tocks’s efforts to teach about clocks through rhyme proves tricky at moments, as there’s little beyond the rhyming names to reinforce connections between each Tock and their number or the time of day or night that number represents: the Drix feeds her chicks, but there are three of them, rather than six. The illustrations likewise feature no elements linking each Tock to its number, drawing no clear link between each nonsense word a clock number.

There’s one exception. A masterful detail, especially for a book about time, is the addition of a character that represents midnight. Desi and her companions must return to where the Phloon was to meet the Zight, which is a clever way to differentiate and make clear the difference between noon and midnight. Ultimately a simple and playful, yet thoughtfully crafted and beautifully illustrated, primer on clocks and time, The Tocks on the Clock is sure to delight and occasionally gently spook younger readers, even if they are only enjoying this story as a story, without their eyes on the clock just yet.

Takeaway: A beautiful, slightly spooky journey through the numbers of a clock—and the monsters who reside at each.

Great for fans of: Tom Fletcher’s The Creakers, D. M. Cornish’s Monster: Blood Tattoo.

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

Click here for more about The Tocks on the Clock
Monologues for Adults
Mike Kimmel
In this follow-up to Monologues for Teens, Kimmel again centers positivity and personal choices in its host of original showcase audition pieces for actors. In an introduction, Kimmel notes that it’s too rare to encounter an audition monologue with “an uplifting or encouraging message” and identifies a reliance upon “edgy” material as a “trap” that many actors fall into. He urges actors to think like producers or casting directors, asking “Would you want to invite a walking black cloud of gloom, pessimism, and negativity into a production you’ve been developing for years”? The 60 monologues he’s crafted here—centered on moments of everyday realization and transcendence, like a celebration of an ugly sweatshirt, or the story of an apartment-dweller who manages to focus despite his neighbors’ intrusive marijuana smoke—can double as both audition piece and upbeat demonstrations of character.

In short, Monologues for Adults offer a chance to demonstrate mastery of craft while also announcing that an actor would be a pleasure to work with. Light pieces like “An Inconvenient Convenience,” which gives performers the arresting and flexible first line “I need your advice,” have been composed to start small, describing a relatable moment or incident, and then over a page or two tease out some broader significance or insight (in this case, a narrator’s objection to “that highly inconvenient ritual of valet parking.”)

The language is crisp, but the structure of the pieces loose enough for a performer to showcase personal rhythms and approaches, as Kimmel always includes chances to trail off, change the subject, crack a joke, express mild embarrassment, and build to a memorable conclusion. One begins “I had a blind date last night. Don’t even say it, okay?” and then, rather than report romantic disasters with snark or bitterness, settles into quiet, moving realizations about how loneliness alone is less lonely than loneliness on a date. Kimmel’s warm, inviting monologues will make auditioning actors feel less lonely, too.

Takeaway: These upbeat, engaging monologues for actors have been crafted to showcase both talent and character.

Great for fans of: Andrew Biss’s Monologues They'll Remember You By, Alisha Gaddis’s Women's Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny and Men's Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny.

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

Click here for more about Monologues for Adults
A Different Slant of Light
J.D. Levin
The energetic follow-up to Levin’s warm punk-rock tale Incomplete finds songwriting-bassist-turned-English teacher Brian Smith, named for Brian Wilson, thrust back into the life he’d left behind after the ugly dissolution of his ‘90s band, Call Field, who despite being signed to a major label “didn’t even last long enough to put out a Greatest Hits.” But in the online age, rock (and fleeting almost-fame) never goes away. Two decades later, precocious student Veronica, Brian’s daughter’s favorite babysitter, has found Call Field on YouTube, Brian realizes something’s missing in his life. Though he’s wise enough to recognize that “nostalgia is a beautiful liar,” soon he’s relishing the possibility of a life touched with music again, first reluctantly agreeing to accompany Veronica at a talent show, and then—maybe—something more.

Levin again demonstrates a sure hand writing about music, inspiration, prickly band relationships, and the complexities of aging, all of which he renders in vivid, persuasive detail and prose as direct as good pop punk lyrics. He’s especially adept at charting the excitement and humiliations of the rock life, which comes up when Brian, stuck in a locked down high school, tells Veronica about the band’s breakup: the CD cover of a Call Field album with only the lead singer’s photo on it is hilarious yet painful, and a dismissive Rolling Stone review is pitch perfect. That protracted flashback, while engaging as it builds to a crisis at the Fillmore, slows the narrative momentum of a novel at first set firmly in Brian’s adult present of plodding jogs and dental travails (“As it turns out, I’m a bit long-winded,” Brian confesses, which is true of both books about him). But fans of spirited rock stories will love it.

Brian must face that flashback’s tragedy and trauma in the present when, inevitably, Call Field gets the call to give it another shot. Levin’s attention to stung to egos, unburied hatchets, and grown-up healing proves almost as exciting as his love for riffs, melodies, and hooks.

Takeaway: A punk rock novel about break ups, aging, and healing, bursting with energy and vivid detail.

Great for fans of: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six, Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments.

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

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A Matchbox Full of Pearls
Kamille Roach
Roach threads love and mystery in this impassioned debut. The death of her foster mother Blossom brings Lola back to the small Australian town in which she grew up. After two years of an emotionally sterile existence in Melbourne, Lola must face questions about her life and her relationship with Walshy–her savior, best friend, love of her life, and the reason she left town after her eighteen birthday. At the same time, the usually peaceful Wheatbelt town roils from the reemergence of a serial rapist, and soon Lola finds herself absorbed in another crime from the past: trying to understand why the only thing that Blossom left her points her to the story of Lovely Lorrelai, an exotic dancer who was convicted in the murder of her lover's wife in the 1970s. Before long, Lola starts to wonder if past may be dangerously relevant to the present.

The novel's strength lies in Roach's ability to generate question marks and red herrings that keep readers guessing. She also succeeds in imbuing the story with a great affection for Australian nature (especially in a chase scene), and in imbuing her characters with a strong sense of yearning and love. Lola and Lorrelai are the center of the narrative—to the point of overshadowing everything else—and their parallel stories roll out in a rugged style that matches Lola's bristliness.

The relaxed pacing picks up at Lorrelai's part, though some repeated information in her section still slows down the story, and a stereotypical representation of mental illness that plays into the novel’s bigger revelations, will give some readers pause. Still, Roach utilizes her characters’ back stories to showcase the many facets of love, illuminating its power and potential for destruction at the same time. Readers whose heart strings are compelled by stories about resilience and love will be drawn to this heroine in her search for roots.

Takeaway: An Australian novel of love, mystery, and resilience that finds a woman facing her hometown and past.

Great for fans of: Rhys Bowen’s The Victory Garden, Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

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

Click here for more about A Matchbox Full of Pearls

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