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Happy Ever After A Pandemic Tale: A Pandemic Tale
Dr Marlene MD
Upon waking up one morning, Timmy Turtle and Speedy Seagull find that things aren’t right. Speedy can’t fly super fast, the town is closed and the streets are empty, and it’s all, according to Speedy, because of a virus. Wanting to help the town and get things back to normal, Speedy and Timmy decide to enlist the help of their unicorn friends, who announce, “We have magical unicorn dust to end the pandemic”—they just have to go home to get it. Full of colorful detailed digital illustrations and friendly characters, Happy Ever After attempts to explain the basics of the worldwide pandemic in an imaginative and approachable way to kids.

That’s a tricky task, of course, and Happy Ever After favors an upbeat simplicity over the challenges and complexities of an ongoing real-world crisis that has killed millions, a crisis the book’s title suggests has ended. Though it espouses a teamwork moral, there’s little teamwork involved in ending the pandemic in the book, as characters simply sprinkle the magical unicorn dust all over and wake up the next day to a pandemic-free city. If only it were that easy—parents should not expect guidance on addressing ongoing issues like seasonal outbreaks or further preventative measures. Discussion questions found at the end of the book likewise don’t address the complex topics that might confuse or upset kids.

Best suited to introducing the basic concepts of outbreaks, or to starting a deeper conversation, Happy Every After offers Andrew M.’s striking, inviting illustrations of a locked-down city, deserted beaches, and the animal helpers who work to set things right. Pages depicting seagulls taking wing to disperse the cure are charming and inspired, and exultant children returning to the beach is a heartening sight, as are the fun coloring-book pages included in the end matter.

Takeaway: Magical thinking ends a pandemic in this upbeat animal tale.

Great for fans of: Kitty O’Meara’s And the People Stayed Home, Tomos Roberts The Great Realisation.

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

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Pandemonium: Live to All Devices
Bill Harvey
Harvey’s inventive, epic-length near-future paranormal thriller kicks off with a surefire hook. Army Intelligence officer Ed Templegard, rowboating with the president at Camp David, gets tasked with spying on Theta Force, the top psychics in the U.S. military, after Theta’s head of security has gone missing —and the team has reportedly turned up evidence of a plot by literal Nazis. Templegard is skeptical of psychic phenomenon himself, though in dreams his inner psychic self connects to a pair of adversaries, the beautiful Captain Nastassia Slayevsky of Russia’s elite Psychotronic Corps, and Perse, leader of the Blueturbans, who once oversaw Templegard’s torture, and now is attempting to impose strict religious law on the world. From there, Harvey continually upends reader expectations, paying off these disparate elements yet also daring to go bigger and stranger, the in-the-moment suspense connected to the mind-blowingly cosmic.

Mad leaders, AIs, Nostradamus, numerology, the ancient secret history of the brain, militaries scrambling for a potential World War 3: Pandemonium lives up to its title, moving fast, continually raising the stakes, and never settling into predictability as the story romps from a Middle East in turmoil to the White House Situation Room to the hot tubs of Theta Force. The pleasures of Harvey’s sprawling novel rise from its cheerful abundance, its gush of ideas, puzzles, and even jokes—one of the best, pranking on the habitual horniness of thriller narrators, finds Templegard using the technique of erotic fantasizing to keep psychics from reading his mind.

Lovers of thrillers that move fast, take bold risks, and have lots on their minds will relish the ensuing chaos—and the revelation of a greater threat, the brain-sabotaging Rebels, whose infiltration of the U.S. has been extensive. Pandemonium gets wilder as it goes, with international romance and a savvy sense of how media shapes minds, nations, and history—at its heart pulses perhaps the greatest conspiracy theory in human history.

Takeaway: This inventive and epic psychic thriller finds the world facing war and an ancient brain conspiracy.

Great for fans of: Neal Stephenson, Dan Simmons’s Carrion Comfort.

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

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The Last Temptation : (Colorado Skies Book 3)
Amy O. Lewis
Kim Jackson, absorbed in her own complex past, must also help her friend Laurie Beltran, implicated in the death of a local man, in this gripping third entry in the Colorado Skies series. Now living in the small town of Creede, Colorado, Kim steps in when Laurie is arrested for the murder of Trip Garrett, who owed her babysitting money. But there's a lot more going on here: Laurie has to come to terms with a horrific event in her own past, Trip's wife Cathy also comes under suspicion, and in Lewis’s assured hand the multiple plot threads gradually resolve themselves into a stunning denouement.

Lewis neatly spins out each character's story. There's Kim's own dark past, rising in the corporate world, until "one day a good man turned over an unsuspecting rock and something terrible crawled out." Laurie's past includes rumors of a stint as a nun and, it seems, a reluctant heiress. Cathy also has a backstory that includes a deceased son, which sets in motion other developments. Occasionally, the many stories can be a challenge to keep up with—especially for those who haven't read the earlier books—but readers who pay attention until the end will be glad they did.

And although Lewis does a great job creating absorbing plotlines, the real joy of the book is her sharp eye on the colorful cast of characters and the rhythm of small town life. The portrait of a church service—a lively mix of faith and pettiness—is pitch-perfect. Kim runs a tax prep service, and a scene where she helps an angry and bewildered working-class couple understand tax law is an ideal slice of Americana that neatly highlights the milieu that Kim has to navigate. Lewis handsomely limns Kim's own character, as she observes the grave of a murdered child for whom she is seeking justice. The deft interplay between the gripping stories and well-developed characters makes for exceptionally engaging read.

Takeaway: The latest Colorado Skies mystery features murder, a small town, and gripping storytelling.

Great for fans of: Attica Locke, Kendra Elliot.

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

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The Ordeal: A Journey from Misfortune, Illness and Betrayal to Truth
Josephine Walden
Walden debuts with a harrowing account of her life, wrought with bravery, truth, and grief as she grapples with trauma in her family and the reality of her chronic illness. Josephine, nicknamed Josie, is still grieving the recent deaths of her parents when she is diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex illness that spirals her into years of memory loss and eventual financial ruin. Josie’s sister, Julie, takes Josie in during her time of crisis, only to later take advantage of her vulnerable state by stealing sentimental treasures left behind by their parents and unfairly taking control of the estate.

Josie’s writing is frank and direct as she describes uncovering secrets and working to regain control over the precious history their parents left behind. She unflinchingly digs into family wounds and traumas while still remaining hopeful: when describing the drawn out emotional and legal battle with her sister, Josie still describes a desire for reconciliation with the sister she once “loved, adored, and looked up to.” Even when her last semblance of family is stripped away by death, illness, and catastrophe, Josie’s words are full of peace as she recounts the most traumatic years of her life.

The accounts read something like personal, unaltered journal entries, particularly in regards to the diagnosis—readers will be able to experience every sentence as a vivid, painful ordeal. For this reason, the memoir’s most impactful turning points are not lingered on or expanded upon with a memoirist’s sense of context, leaving it to readers themselves to assess and digest their significance. Josie reclaims her voice by writing this memoir, in the process uncovering the truth while regaining her health. In the end, she acknowledges her challenges through the lens of grace: “There are tinges of sadness at what actions I had to take… [but] I have never regretted the decisions I made. I am at peace.”

Takeaway: A true story offering hope among pain and familial betrayal.

Great for fans of: Tara Westover’s Educated, Meghan O’Rourke’s The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness.

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

Unplugged- Haiku & Tanka
Jacob D. Salzer
Salzer’s eighth poetry collection, Unplugged is a pilgrimage from the self-referential megalomania of the “digital sea,” in which contemporary humanity drowns, toward a crepuscular dreamscape of “forest mist … “ where “thoughts drift into other worlds.” In this zone of silence and serenity, boundaries of time and space, darkness and light, life and death bend and vanish as readers “step into an owl’s dream” and observe “galaxies turning in the river’s darkness,” but these are not separate worlds. They are as one, like the “sound of rain;” individual droplets that unite to create an orchestra.

Salzer’s deft use of juxtaposition is his principal tool in establishing a sense of oneness in his collection. In lines like: “sleeping samurai . . . /// the ladybug sways // on a blade of grass,” a moment of peace bonds two disparate images, demonstrating that the boundaries between them are flimsy and capable of being pulled apart with something as gentle as wind. The poems disrupt several binaries, including darkness and light, life and death. Grandmother’s aging veins are compared to a kale leaf, and her cremated ashes flow toward the sea. Death, to Salzer, and to nature, behaves in the same way as everything else: like a river. It is not an end, but a continuity—part of the “ebb and flow of the stars” and the earth.

The poems’ evocation of the unity of the universe echoes disparate indigenous beliefs, and the references Salzer makes throughout the collection, from the Makah totem pole to the Sioux words “wichoni mini” which mean “life-giving rains,” also pay homage to the people who were stewards of Earth instead of conquerors. Though concise, Salzer’s collection expands in meaning toward the outermost reaches of the universe, but it is written simply enough for readers of all levels to find power and value in the poems.

Takeaway: A starlit collection that dissolves boundaries between humanity and nature, time and space.

Great for fans of: Yosa Buson, Matsuo Basho.

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

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George Washington Dealmaker-In-Chief: The Story of How The Father of Our Country Unleashed The Entrepreneurial Spirit in America
Cyrus A. Ansary
Ansary’s comprehensive, eye-opening study and celebration charts the “entrepreneurial dealmaking” of the American Republic’s first president, and how this enterprising spirit powered both the specific choices and priorities of building a country and an economy in his two presidential administrations, but also the spirit of the nation itself, over two centuries later. Celebrating George Washington as a “serial entrepreneur” adept at “structuring and negotiating complex transactions,” Ansary’s lively, inviting account links Washington’s private commercial pursuits—coal, mills, land accumulation, ambitious real-estate projects, building a canal—to his initiatives in office. Washington, he argues, established an entrepreneurial economy whose genius only was understood generations later.

Writing with verve, clarity, and occasional expressions of awe, Ansary charts Washington’s colorful efforts at the pursuit of wealth “at a time when the private equity world was not even a gleam in the eye of the most farsighted financier.” The most arresting passages illustrate how that experience shaped Washington’s endeavors as the president of a new nation facing substantial debt, as his administration established transportation and communication infrastructure, the Bank of the United States, a commercial credit system, sources of government revenue, and more. Crucially, Washington strove to eliminate “disincentives built into the colonial system for entrepreneurial activity,” especially compulsory servitude and debtors’ prisons. (A supreme court justice languished in these in several states.)

With richly sourced insight and memorable in-the-moment scene-setting, Ansary digs deep into Washington’s presidential decision- and deal- making, offering in-depth accounts of the first president’s efforts to create a country without an aristocracy while also detailing foreign policy challenges, the planning and building of the capital city, and the highly contentious establishment of a a national bank and currency. Guiding readers through these complex matters, Ansary deftly establishes the stakes and stakeholders, plus Washington’s often inspired navigation of both, with subject and author both always keeping a welcome eye on the impact of these choices over centuries.

Takeaway: This thorough, inviting history of George Washington’s entrepreneurial spirit offers fresh insights.

Great for fans of: Edward G. Lengel’s First Entrepreneur, Germinal G. Van’s The Economic Policy of Thomas Jefferson.

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

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The Accidental Warriors
Karl Fields
Written by Fields, drawn by Velasquez, and colored by Wolf, this entertaining graphic novella quietly emphasizes themes of self-forgiveness and feeling comfortable in your skin. The story’s main protagonists—Jalen and Ram—function as polar opposites throughout: Jalen is boastful and a risk-taker, while Ram is more reserved and clearly portrayed as neurodivergent. When the two make their way to a martial arts class in Los Angeles, they are stunned to see their teacher’s daughter, Kai, being kidnapped by a monster. When the monster escapes with Kai through an interdimensional portal, Jalen and Ram follow him to a strange realm to save her.

The story’s beginning is rather abrupt, as Fields quickly delves into the fantasy aspects, a choice that at first makes the characters, who we’ve spent too little time with in the real world, feel a touch underbaked. However, once they arrive on the shores of this other dimension, the leads flower into distinct and convincing personalities, and Fields keeps readers on their toes with lightning-paced transitions and supercharged magic. In their quest to save Kai and go home, they encounter a riddling rabbit, a nightmarish middle school run by monsters, a friendly village of young magicians, and a greedy bird woman named Ava Rice. Fields brings the story to a sudden close as well, revealing loads of backstory right before the final battle, but despite the pacing issues, there’s a genuine sense of warmth in the friendships that Jalen makes along the way.

A flashback to Jalen's past reveals unresolved guilt, and a pep talk from a village elder motivates him to keep going, despite the odds stacked against him. Fields makes a point of having a diverse cast without treating them as tokens, especially in regards to Ram. Velasquez's expressive art communicates a great deal of nuance in relating unspoken feeling and essential information, and the open-ended conclusion points to potential and welcome future installments.

Takeaway: This YA fantasy boasts a diverse cast, classic quest storytelling, and appealing art.

Great for fans of: Jason Walz’s Last Pick: Rise Up; Tom King’s Heroes in Crisis.

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

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Let Flowers Be Flowers
Daniel Rehm
“It’s a perfect place to die,” we’re told of a cabin in the woods early in Rehm’s action-packed psychological thriller. The narrator declaring that is a young man whose mind has been twisted by loss, the feeling of not being loved by his parents, and the certainty that his dead eldest brother is there with him as he seems to discover, in the woods of the Upper Midwest, bodies moldering in a crude structure—bodies he keeps a secret from his indifferent mother and father. Eventually, after a novella’s worth of tense and unsettling buildup, fresh tragedy burns through those woods. From the ashes a new narrative takes over, the perspective shifting between first and third person, as a hunter with “blue emotionless eyes” stalks game hunters during Western Wisconsin’s deer hunting season, and a game warden tries to make sense of it all as the bodies pile up.

Rehm (The Adventures of Philippine Maximine, P.I. ) writes a fast-moving, expectations-defying plot that will grip thriller readers open to immersing themselves in the minds of damaged men. The daring first section leaves us to guess whether we can trust a narrator who boasts about lacking empathy and tells the tale with a cruel poetry—hitting a man with a rock sounds “like stepping on a crayfish.” Later, the new characters are complex and not much more likable, with Rehm not tipping his hand about who to root for in the extended, convincing cat-and-mouse game that follows.

Rehm puts more trust in readers than many thriller authors, and at times the narrative can seem challenging. But Let Flowers Be Flowers plays fair, especially when it comes to the realities of hunting and forests, and patient readers with the stomach for the killing—and a love for sentences like “There is nothing like a human scream to break the silence of the forest”—will find this harrowing and satisfying.

Takeaway: Nothing is as it seems in this character-driven psychological thriller of hunters and hunted.

Great for fans of: Jack Carr’s Savage Son, Laird Hunt’s In the House in the Dark of the Woods.

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

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Servitude
Costi Gurgu
In this gripping near-future dystopian thriller, Gurgu (RecipeArium) explores, with uncommon persuasive power, a potential outcome of what could happen if class systems became even more dangerously one-sided. After watching debt servitude become legal in England, Blake and Isabelle (Isa) Frye are determined to ensure it doesn’t happen in America—but they’re in a race against time after learning that a bill legalizing it is about to be passed by a Republican (and corporate) controlled Congress. When Blake, an NYPD detective, begins looking into whether debt servitude has actually already begun in America, he and Isa, a producer at the last truly journalistic news station, put together a small team to investigate and expose the man at the head of it all—but they quickly learn the hard way how connected he really is, and how deeply in danger they are.

Gurgu creates a deeply unsettling foreboding future of the haves and have-nots, of slave labor and mass graves, where the corporate elite have it all, and everyone else is owned by them—whether they know it yet or not. Missing one payment in any debt gives corporations the right to dehumanize entire families and sell them into any type of servitude, no matter how horrible or deadly.

Gurgu takes readers down a dark path that they will find uncomfortably believable, digging into how this future came about through smartly structured flashbacks, but he reserves hope by illustrating how everyday people can still change the future. Blake isn’t your average hero in taking-down-the-establishment stories; he is in fact very imperfect, struggling to keep his severe obsessive compulsive disorder from controlling his life, and when he’s forced out of his comfort zone to strategize before acting, he has to think on his feet to save those he loves—and himself. Gurgu adds twists and turns that will shock readers and keep them on the edge of their seats.

Takeaway: A disturbingly realistic dystopian future that will get under readers’ skin in all the best ways.

Great for fans of: Cynthia Kadohata’s In the Heart of the Valley of Love; Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents.

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

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The Struggle: 10 Years Later
Brian Storm
“Truth be told, I was excited to see what was waiting for me on the other side,” Storm writes in the first chapter of this unflinching yet hopeful memoir of facing addiction. Before Storm, ten years sober at publication time, could choose to live and dedicate himself to the hard work of sobriety, he faced death itself, willingly, with a chilling sense of ceremony. That harrowing opening chapter recounts, with detail worthy of a noir novel, the thieving, multiple drug transactions, and curious excitement of the January night that Storm tried to die on the train tracks in Northeast Philadelphia—and how he was jolted back by an ex’s out-of-the-blue effort to contact him. The book that follows reveals how he got to that point, what happened next, his AA journey, and how, a little over a decade later, he’s found purpose in helping others who are facing similar demons.

Despite the title, there’s excitement and wit here, too. Writing with crisp clarity and power, plus an eye for the telling detail, Storm digs into his love of hip hop, his youthful penning of rhymes, and the way trouble at first seemed manageable. But some of the kids living on the edge in any high school fall off. For Storm, working in a Xanax blur at McDonald’s at 16 soon leads to hustling “works” (syringes) on the street, subsisting on “sugar sandwiches” made from purloined sugar packets, and working with an addict whom he fell for in detox to shake down her ex-boyfriend.

Tense confrontations, dope-sick sweats, HIV scares, a murder, lost time with loved ones: The Struggle lays out its tragedies and miseries without a sense of romance or braggadocio, instead relating the facts (as Storm recalls them) in prose that moves quickly and never suggests self-pity. Material about AA and recovery proves as compelling as the dark stuff, and the everyday victories in the final chapters—marriage, home ownership, a degree—are especially moving.

Takeaway: This searing but wise account of addiction and recovery inspires as much as it harrows.

Great for fans of: Nic Sheff’s Tweak, Koren Zailckas’s Smashed.

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

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Conversations Across America: A Father and Son, Alzheimer's, and 300 Conversations Along the TransAmerica Bike Trail that Capture the Soul of America
Kari Loya
Loya tells the story of cycling with his father, Merv, across America on the TransAmerica route, an odyssey undertaken when his father was 75 and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Loya relates the ups and downs of their own journey (literal and metaphorical), but also, as the title suggests, shares the hundreds of interactions that they had with people they met along the way. From servers (“What can I get you, sweetheart?”), hikers (“My trail name is Race”), police officers (“I’m on the SWAT team here in Idaho County”), to the costumed staff at Colonial Williamsburg (“I have the rare ability to look at your plate of food and tell your fortune”) he shares their cheerful essences, offering photos and brief accounts of their conversations, giving a broad view of America, coast to coast.

Loya’s focus is on the relationships he uncovered on the journey, both between him and his father and with others they met, but he still includes a helpful appendix with information about cycling gear, Alzheimer’s and the technical aspects of the trip. The photos and anecdotes provide an encouraging snapshot of an America where people cheer on Kari and Merv and their feat. Kari’s stamina is remarkable as he took these photographs, recalled these conversations, navigated himself and his father and traveled the continent. As a recollection of the journey which brings the reader along, Conversations Across America succeeds admirably.

The most moving conversations, though, come between father and son. From difficult nights spent in the cold to healing discussions of Merv’s health and his future, the emotional heart of the book is deeply moving. Travel readers may wish for even more descriptions of the vistas, challenges, and memorable moments of the trip itself. The journey proved healing for both men, and readers of travel and family memoirs will grow invested in their adventures and relationship.

Takeaway: A travelog of American characters, an epic cycling journey, and a touching father/son relationship.

Great for fans of: Robert Cocuzzo’s The Road to San Donato: Fathers, Sons, and Cycling Across Italy, Jedidiah Jenkins’s To Shake the Sleeping Self.

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

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UN/Reconciled: poems of a love gone off
Pasquale Trozzolo
In Trozzolo’s second poetry collection, readers are led through a series of poem-vignettes that offer fragmentary glimpses into a doomed love story fraught with turbulence, passion, and woe. The collection begins with a preface detailing an elusive woman whom the speaker has been “writing poems about [...] for decades” and doesn’t “want to forget,” and most of the selections that follow include a few introductory lines of prose addressed to this longtime muse, providing narrative context and a juxtaposing tension. Trozzolo’s shadowy, concise stanzas about a man captivated by the memory of a lover who “kill[ed] the future so beautifully” behave like planets: unstoppable in their motion of revolution, of departure and return.

Motion is a common thread in the collections’ metaphors, which compare the woman to “a ship at sea” or the couple’s love to an airplane struggling in flight, while at one point the speaker professes that “watching you come and go was almost perfect.” Additionally, certain words and clauses reappear throughout, which make the collection function as a sort of poetic wheel in tandem with the speaker’s boomerang recollections. Clever ambiguities shade meaning, even in a despairing entry like “Rumble,” which concerns the realization that a romantic partner too often prefers to be alone but can be read, in its climax, to hint at something luxuriant in the misery: “This is meaningless/ at its best.”

In some ways, UN/Reconciled is an ill-fated love story: two lovers meet, love, and eventually fall apart. But this collection is also a report on the behavior of a memory that cannot be forgotten; it comes and goes, just as the woman’s love, “distant and familiar” once did, but the recall never ends. Readers looking for poems on heartbreak and loss will find value in Trozzolo’s collection that is at times striking and offers a somewhat sophisticated brand of sharp-edged melancholy.

Takeaway: Trozzolo’s sensuous, saturnine collection finds a poet struggling over the memory of a lost love.

Great for fans of: Tyler Knott Gregson, Rupi Kaur.

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

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Freddy's Magic Garden: Incredible Cat Stories
Angelina Dayan
Compassionate and dedicated cat lover Dayan tickles with charming tales of her clowder of cats, led by the effervescent black and white cutie Freddy. Living in Paris, Dayan fills her house and garden with cats both bought and rescued. She describes the harrowing events of discovering little Freddy, his sister Caramel, and mother Maman in a rainstorm. Covering the details of the story that Dayan could only imagine, Freddy himself narrates his life with his feral mother, the dangers of living in a vacant lot, and starving when they can’t find food. Only in Dayan’s “magic garden,” where food is always left out for the strays, does Freddy find his chance for a forever home. Dayan succumbs to the allure of warm fur and kisses. She soon amasses a household full, admitting, “Little did I know that my seven Maine Coons were only the beginning and that very soon, there would be fifteen cats.”

Dayan and her cats narrate their delightful and sometimes scary episodes of mischief in brief chapters that capture the energy of living with and loving cats. There’s Panda meeting the giant dog next door, who is labeled a “killer” but really just wants to give kisses; Tahiti performing her dance of loneliness in front of the security camera so she can be brought to Dayan’s office; and Valentina getting lost outside and found a week later in a concrete pipe in a parking garage. Stories of hungry and abandoned animals will bring mist to readers’ eyes, while amusing stories of encounters with squirrels and hedgehogs guarantee smiles.

Dayan writes her memoir with the passion of a true animal lover, and she captures the elegance and playfulness of each of the characters in her brood. The book includes adorable color photos, information on the Maine Coon breed, places Dayan has traveled to, and of course, French sensibilities. A truly joyful and rich portrait of life with cats.

Takeaway: Charming slice-of-life adventures told from the points of view of cats and their compassionate caretaker.

Great for fans of: Muriel Barbery’s The Writer’s Cats, Lena Divani’s Seven Lives and One Great Love.

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

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The Billionaire's Folly: The Untold Story of Ethereum and the Unicorn That Wasn't
FAISAL KHAN
In his fast-paced, engagingly written debut, Khan takes readers into the dizzying world of successful entrepreneurs and young idealistic businessmen hoping to cash in on the crypto currency mania of the late 2010s—and maybe change the world for the better. Khan worked for ConsenSys between 2017 and 2020, and he narrates in striking detail the ups and downs he and his colleagues navigated as ConsenSys became the world’s largest blockchain-focused company, pitching their products to clients from around the world and hoping to make Ethereum—“the software cum cryptocurrency cum ‘world computer’”—technology pervasive across all sectors of finance.

Khan opens this rise-and-fall story with a clarifying and succinctly written primer on block chain technology and crypto currency. Then, throughout, he emphasizes the idealism and ambition that drove him and his colleagues, qualities exemplified by ConsenSys founder, CEO, and Ethereum inventor Joseph Lubin’s goal of decentralizing global finance and building “an internet that was decentralized and fair rather than exploitative and foul.” Those goals, and the desire to bring change to big tech and big banks, drove Khan, “a washed up management consultant,” to commit himself to ConsenSys and the possibility “redeem”ing his career. His idealism—and its inevitable conflict with personal financial interests and the greed that consumes a company as it experiences spectacular growth, as ConsenSys did—emerge as the primary theme that Khan engages throughout the book.

Though Khan does a great job at explaining the corporate and fintech jargon, the narrative still at times gets bogged down in details that might challenge the lay reader. Still, Khan provides many moments of levity and details from his personal life that punctuate the narrative while capturing the rush of “hypergrowth” and cutting-edge tech and finance, plus the toll that the stress and terror exacts. Overall, this well-observed, often tense account reveals the frenzied world of crypto and blockchain technology.

Takeaway: The rise and fall of a blockchain company, written from the inside.

Great for fans of: Vitalik Buterin’s Proof of Stake, Alex Tapscott’s Digital Asset Revolution.

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

Click here for more about The Billionaire's Folly
Bad Cop
Peter Sarda
Sarda’s standout Hamburg-set police procedural, the twisty and hard-edged followup to One-Way Ticket, throws readers right into the middle of a brutal gang war between an Albanian Mafia gang and Hells Angel bikers, with returning detectives Motz and Ritter caught between the cartels as they search for the killer who has been slaughtering cops throughout Europe. That’s Laura Wesselman, returning from the previous book, who here escapes from police custody in a scene that exemplifies Sarda’s brand of bold action, and leaves a trail of bodies in her wake as she attempts to take the Hells Angel gang down herself.

The bloody intensity keeps up as Motz and Ritter dig into the case, with Sarda bringing welcome life to his cast, creating heroes readers will root for, while still feeling drawn in by villains like Wesselman, whose painstakingly restored 1970 Dodge Charger, now driven by Motz, connects her to the leads. Sarda’s perspective shifts add to the tension. Wesselman’s point-of-view chapters, charged with potential violence, will have thriller fans anticipating whatever horrors she’ll dare next, while the investigation itself, written with an eye for tradecraft and telling detail, finds the intrepid Motz and Ritter facing crime leaders for intel, breaking down torture and murder methods, and striving to get ahead of the next murder, even as they suspect one of their own is connected to the gangs.

Sarda’s choice not to put his leads front and center extends to opening the novel with a high-ranking cop gunning down a drug dealer in a strip club, the scene bleak and vivid. Readers new to the series are encouraged to start with the first book, though Sarda takes pains to bring new readers up to speed—and to keep returning readers from getting too comfortable. A strong sequel and a pitch-dark noir pulsing with action in its own right, Bad Cop will keep thriller readers engaged and eager for more.

Takeaway: This hard-edged Hamburg noir procedural continues Sarda’s striking series.

Great for fans of: Philip Kerr, Simone Buchholz.

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

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Every Road Goes Somewhere: A Memoir about Calling
Wendy Widder
From her earliest days of youth to navigating adulthood, author Widder (To Teach in Ancient Israel) brings readers through her life story in this accessible memoir of faith, wandering, and trying to find one’s path. Even when facing struggle and heartache, Widder's impressive trust in her faith kept her life tied fiercely to her religion. As a young girl, she spent many hours at her place of worship: “The church building was our playground,” she writes, as she details her family’s dedication to the congregation. In college, Widder excelled in her coursework but struggled to fit in and connect with classmates. Through many meaningful experiences with professors and colleagues alike, she found her path veering towards professional academia, eventually leading to a PhD program studying Hebrew with a focus on the Old Testament text.

Readers navigating their own decisions with career and purpose will relate with comfort in the author’s strength, as Widder brings a comforting vulnerability to this memoir with disarmingly frank accounts of bouts with anxiety and extreme sadness. Career changes, and not always for the better, take Widder to the Pacific Northwest, then quickly back to the plains of Minnesota when company culture and management strategies prove to be unbearable. Widder’s purposeful prose draws readers in, especially with comparisons of the earthly world with God’s work in her life: during her time in the Twin Cities, local landmarks around the Great Lakes become, for Widder, signs of God’s compass, guiding her decisions.

At different points Widder shares comforting stories and small discoveries likely to be relatable even to non-believers, though her own path always turns to the Bible. Immersing herself in the text and beyond, Widder shares verses and parables to illuminate her reasoning and responses in situations in this hopeful memoir, reminding readers of the circuitous route it can take to find one’s way.

Takeaway: A believer’s memoir of finding her path, guided by faith even when life was circuitous.

Great for fans of: Rodger L. Huffman’s Following God’s Path, Angie Smith’s Mended.

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

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