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Rise Above the Story
Karena Kilcoyne
This urgent, compassionate guide to reframing one’s own narrative and thinking blends practical self-help advice, complete with much hard-won practical knowledge, with a raw look at Kilcoyne’s own life story: how she endured a hard childhood, struggled to find happiness as an adult, and then, through therapy and a host of searching techniques, began the hard but edifying work of “unraveling decades’ worth of emotional malnourishment and releasing the shame that fueled my story.” Growing up with abusive parents, watching her father go to prison, and caring for her siblings and a mother who never left bed, Kilcoyne never had a childhood, mortified at being destitute and often facing life without water or power—in every sense of the word.

Kilcoyne developed a fear of abandonment and a deep need to hide her shame, and she made unhealthy relationships and personal choices well into adulthood. When she began the slow path towards healing, an empowering path she lays out here for others, Kilcoyne discovered she needed to face how the personal “story” that she told herself was holding her back. Her vivid, moving account of healing will pull readers in, and survivors of any type of trauma will relate and feel real hope as Kilcoyne demonstrates how a debilitating narrative can be changed with dedicated work, the courage to get to know one’s self in the deepest ways, and a willingness to try multiple approaches.

Kilcoyne leads the way by telling her story—both what she lived and what she felt—with rare candor and insight, while coaching readers through clear, resonant explanations of trauma, brain chemistry, and more. As she introduces a host of steps toward story changing (mindfulness practice, journaling, therapy, mediation, and many more) she notes that everyone’s healing journey will be different. Above all, she asks readers to trust the truths that emerge from this work, arguing “This is the doorway to your new life.” Journal prompts and incisive questions invite reader introspection.

Takeaway: Powerful, inviting guide to resetting one’s narrative of trauma.

Comparable Titles: Lisa Weinert’s Narrative Healing, David Denborough’s Retelling the Stories of Our Lives.

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

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Bull & Bear Learn Piggy Banks' Golden Rule
Craig A. Robinson
Every adult who shudders when tax season arrives would probably agree that kids should learn more practical financial skills in school. Robinson’s helpful picture book for young children aims to remedy this oversight by teaching kids the basics about how to save and be responsible with their money. Inspired by Wall Street terminology to describe rising or declining prices, here a literal bull and bear (named, simply, Bull and Bear) are friends with different approaches to handling their cash. Bull is a “savings and investment scholar” who knows how to grow his wealth, while Bear works hard but still struggles to save up the $100 he needs to buy a new bike.

Distraught, Bear goes with Bull to visit a pearl-wearing pig named Piggy Banks, who shares her golden rule: “When you make a dollar, break a dollar—into spending, saving, investing, and giving too.” Piggy Banks explains how savings accounts generate interest, why investing money is important, and even how donating money to charity can bring “peace and clarity.” Following these straightforward guidelines, Bear is finally able to save up the money he needs to make his big purchase. Framing complex ideas in a simple way using fun, rhyming prose will help kids (and adults) understand how to take care of their money in a way that is both pragmatic and ambitious.

Carolina Buzio’s colorful illustrations make the characters appear friendly and approachable, showing Bear wearing striped pants and a tiny bowler hat while Bull has slicked-down hair and green, square-rimmed glasses. The pictures also include helpful diagrams, with one showing interest growing like a tree and another at the end helpfully breaking down a real-world example of the golden rule. In a world where Wall Street can seem like an elite institution that aims to exclude, this user-friendly book offers young people a leg up on their financial future.

Takeaway: Helpful picture book making the basics of handling, saving, and investing money.

Comparable Titles: Jasmine Paul’s A Boy, a Budget, and a Dream, Harriet Ziefert’s You Can’t Buy a Dinosaur with a Dime.

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

If Cancer is a Gift, Can I Return It? : From Grief to Healing
Agalia Baker MSN, FNP-BC-Ret
In this informative, emotional memoir, author Baker shares her inspiring and traumatic story of being diagnosed with breast cancer and navigating the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—that can come with facing a life-changing diagnosis. Through personal anecdotes, medical insights drawn from her 40 years in nursing, and the compassion and wisdom she gained as a breast cancer survivor, Baker tells her story with power, exploring the in-depth and complex emotions one faces before, during, and after cancer—and reminding readers throughout that each of us matters.

Baker notes that this is her effort at creating the book that she needed herself during one of the most difficult times in her life. Providing actionable advice on ways to cope, maintain, and endure through a life-threatening diagnosis, Baker manages to keep the text upbeat and positive while still shedding light on the hard realities of chemotherapy treatments, struggles with unbearable pain, and the emotional toll of it all, especially grief and loss. Even there, though, Baker finds some hope, pointing out “Changes bring loss, and some of my losses brought gains,” such as strengthened relationships with those who matter most. Baker also addresses the importance of individuals who care for cancer patients, from friends and family to medical professionals, and explores the tricky question of what not to say to cancer patients, from empty platitudes to unwanted advice to quips like “You can get a pink wig now.” (“There really isn’t any upside to losing all your hair,” Baker notes.)

Helpful advice abounds, including tools like the 4-7-8 breathing method, plus guidance on mindfulness tactics and refocusing techniques that readers will find helpful during every stage of grief. Written from hard-won experience and spiced with wit and warmth, If Cancer is a Gift, Can I Return It? is an empowering, illuminating memoir that will resonate with cancer patients, their caregivers, family and friends. This is a frank and honest narrative, blending personal experiences and professional expertise, from a writer who pulls no punches from diagnosis to remission.

Takeaway: Insightful, advice-packed account of a nurse’s cancer diagnosis.

Comparable Titles: Claudean Nia Robinson's I Forgot to Cry, Alison Porter's Stronger than Before.

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

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Spheres of Influence: How to Create and Nurture Authentic Business Relationships
Brad Englert
Englert makes a compelling case that one key to career success is the cultivation of meaningful personal relationships with supervisors, company leaders, staffers, clients, influencers, and more. These relationships, and how one is perceived, are the fuel that can move a middle-manager from the slow lane to the executive suite, but Englert makes clear there’s more to this than simple networking. He demonstrates throughout this incisive and clarifying book that true success demands more than golf and remembering the boss’s birthday. Helpfully, Englert divides business relationships into two distinct spheres: internal, which include one’s supervisor and company leadership personnel as well as direct reports, peers, and various staff members; and external, which cover dealings with customers, vendors, influencers, and other so-called indirect business relationships.

This approach, Englert argues, can “transcend traditional networking” and deliver greater, more durable career success. Englert offers clear rationale for why it’s imperative for those on the lower and middle rungs of a company to align their values with those of their supervisor and employer—a true team member, he demonstrates, is one who is willing to take initiative and communicate and even sacrifice for the good of the company. He’s persuasive when arguing that such efforts, when practiced regularly, will elevate one’s own career while helping the team itself. Practical guidance abounds, here, including thorough explication of the various supervisor types one may encounter and how best to work with them.

Spheres of Influence is written in a concise and direct style that will play well with many starting out in their careers. Englert highlights the importance of asking questions, saying ”no” when appropriate, delivering bad news as readily as one might provide favorable information, and the nearly infinite value of being honest and ethical. The clarification he provides when noting the difference between building valuable relationships versus relying on shallow connections is an especially important lesson, one often overlooked in business schools.

Takeaway: Incisive, practical guide to cultivating relationships for business success.

Comparable Titles: Rachel B. Simon’s Relationships at Work, Randy Ross’s Relationomics.

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

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Husbands: LOVE AND LIES IN LA LA LAND
Mo Fanning
Outraged, dishy, and surprisingly funny, this plunge into the worst of Los Angeles and its fame machine centers on aspiring actor Kyle Macdonald, whose life takes a dramatic turn after Carlton Dupree, assistant to world-famous director and pedophile Aaron Biedermeier, shares a jolting surprise. At a drunken escapade in Las Vegas six years ago, the mock “Elvis” wedding between Kyle and the director was actually the real thing, despite assurances that the arrangement would be annulled. What follows is a rollercoaster of fragile relationships, greed, power struggles, and Hollywood’s darkest secrets, focusing on a ripped-from-the-headlines scandal: the abuse of young men looking for a break.

Fanning (author of Ghosted) narrates Kyle’s naïve pursuit of fame and fortune with brisk prose, sharp dialogue, and a strong sense of dark ironies. Misguided Kyle strives to connect with the right people to land a coveted audition and earn an actor’s life of luxury. However his journey takes a sinister turn as he becomes entangled in Dupree and Biedermeier’s web of dominance, manipulation, and murder, with devastating consequences for all involved. The characters are deeply flawed and damaged, each grappling with their own demons and insecurities. Aaron Biedermeier emerges as a monster who wields power without regard for the consequences, while Kyle finds himself drawn to Aaron’s current fiancé, Noah Winters, and into the world of lies and deceit, unable to discern the truth. He struggles to break free of the toxic influence of those around him.

Kyle and his counterparts navigate a landscape fraught with moral ambiguity and ethical compromise. The characters’ illogical choices and repeated gullibility can be painful to read, yet the ways these men are manipulated feels true, underscoring the harsh realities of an industry where appearances often negate integrity. Fanning accomplishes his goal to echo the justice that survivors deserve when abusers walk free and to give voice to the silent and hidden tears.

Takeaway: Brisk, surprising novel of the toll Hollywood demands of ambitious young men.

Comparable Titles: Beth O’Leary; Ella Berman’s The Comeback.

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

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The Last Magdalene
Donna D Conrad
Bold and sumptuously told, this re-imagining of the life of the woman known in the English-speaking world as Mary Magdalene plumbs the human desire for the divine as Conrad conjures a secret world of high priestesses, Goddess-worship, and sensual rituals. Miriam of Bethany is raised within Jerusalem’s temple of Asherah, where her mother serves in the role of Magdalene, a role that Miriam, too, is expected to hold. As she receives an education and, at puberty, gets initiated into sensual rites that do not deny a woman’s pleasure, Miriam is separated from her mother and told of her own expected fate: a daughter of Bethany is destined to marry the Mashiach of David, the king who will destroy the enemies of Israel. Miriam, enticed, believes she’s already met the Mashiach: her handsome lover, the “ruffian” Barabbas.

Readers will know, of course, that Barabbas is not the man (or god) to whom Miriam truly is destined. After a ravishing first third set in the temple and alive with tactile, persuasive detail, The Last Magdalene picks up speed, connecting Miriam, a woman of a sect often derided as “harlot”s, to Yeshua bar Yosef, a contender for the role of Mashiach purportedly capable of miracles—who welcomes her but declares “I shall leave no stain of my lust to condemn man to a life of suffering.”

What happens from there provokes and surprises, even as Conrad deftly blends her inventions (detailed in a helpful afterward) with both historical and Gospel records. This depiction of Yeshua is human, with an emphasis on the era’s politics; miracles involving healing and wine are presented with room for skepticism. What’s most arresting here is Conrad’s evocation of beliefs and ceremonies, her challenging of perceptions of women’s roles in ancient life, and the provocative connection Miriam eventually shares with Yeshua, a miracle of its own. The climax jolts due to Conrad’s surprising choice of where to end this first volume in a projected series.

Takeaway: Provocative, sensual vision of the life of Mary Magdalene.

Comparable Titles: Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers.

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

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Call Me Adam
Jo McCarty
Survivors of a post-Covid pandemic learn the value of life and love in this speculative thriller of what it means to survive. Small-town ne’er-do-well Louie has been given the “gift” of survival—he cannot die, but he desperately wants and tries to. Katherine, meanwhile, wants to survive but wonders if that’s even possible, as the world duo community faces a devastating new flu that quickly infects and kills its victims. They embark on initially separate journeys—Louie in a remote town in Michigan and Katherine in a shutting-down New York City—through this possible apocalypse, meeting survivors with their own agendas. But Louie’s phone call to the newspaper where Katherine works connects them—he thinks, rightly, somebody should write about his apparent immortality. As civilization crumbles around them, with full towns reportedly wiped out, the duo begins to have increasingly vivid, shared dreams of one another.

McCarty captures this chillingly familiar possible future in brisk prose, offering enough striking imagery to suggest a world gone wrong while never weighing the narrative down in minutiae. The story, disturbingly plausible after the events of 2020, intrigues from the first few pages but becomes increasingly urgent: a dying mother arrives on Katherine’s doorstep and thrusts her infant daughter, Ana, upon her, while Louie reluctantly finds himself with unwelcome houseguests, most notably a former police officer named Devlin. These new entrants into Louie’s and Katherine’s carefully controlled worlds lay bare everyone’s fears and flaws, all as the dreams drive Katherine to leave NYC and seek Louie out.

As their story unfolds, these surprising leads learn to hope and fight for the future they had dreamed. Framed among themes of survival, redemption, healing, new beginnings and love in a variety of forms, the characters are caught in loops of their making until they discover their purpose. McCarty’s sharp characterization and vividly imagined catastrophes will leave readers of humane, contemporary apocalypses rooting for life in a sea of relatable loss.

Takeaway: Humane thriller of a pandemic, survival, and unexpected connection.

Comparable Titles: Ling Ma’s Severance, Karen Thompson Walker’s The Dreamers.

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

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The Cardinal and the Crook
Sal Tocco
Debut author Tocco delivers religious mystery, FBI informant drama, and uplifting spirituality in a story in Boston over a span of five decades. After a woman leaves her two-month-old identical twins on Reverend Patrick Donnelly’s doorstep, the priest raises them with the help of loving nuns. John and James Donnelly grow into adulthood on divergent career paths; John follows his father’s footsteps into seminary school, and James, an accountant, accepts a job offered by a friend linked to the mafia. After James discovers money laundering, his decision to report to the FBI brings dangerous consequences, threatening his life and his connection to his loved ones.

John, an archbishop at the novel’s start, visits his brother’s and father’s graves and reminisces on their surprising pasts. Dominant points of view are the brothers’, but several chapters focus on their father’s and birth mother’s stories, enhancing the theme of a strong family whose love endures many trials. Tocco draws a delightful contrast between the angelic John and James, a hot-headed girl magnet who’s always lovable. Authentic details of Boston and family life infuse the tale with a biographical feel. Humor lies in people’s surprise at learning that a celibate priest is a father. Although interesting, their birth mother’s story interrupts the flow of the protagonists’ journeys, but an excellent plot twist rooted in these tangled backstories rewards readers.

The tension that drives much of the narrative’s first half is a classic case of informant suspense: how John obtains incriminating documents from corrupt associates and his witness-protection experience. Other compelling elements include the mystery of anonymous, annual financial donations that ensure the boys’ education and John’s struggle between love and the priesthood. Tocco effectively delves into the Boston child sexual abuse scandal without explicitness. In The Cardinal and the Crook, Tocco explores family, the Catholic community, and the role of faith in the lives of very different brothers.

Takeaway: Inspirational novel of suspense, family secrets, and Boston over decades.

Comparable Titles: Shawna Coleing’s Hidden Trial, Jeremy Scott’s When the Corn Is Waist High.

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

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Dream On!: Supporting and Graduating African American Girls and Women in STEM
Ezella McPherson
In this inspiring exploration of African American women in the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), McPherson provides comprehensive research and first hand accounts through a case study of 16 African American college students and their lived experience pursuing degrees within the field. Organized, clear, and concise, McPherson’s study provides insights through anecdotes drawing on her own experience and through the accomplishments and setbacks faced by her subjects, some of whom eventually leave the STEM track. Sharing their stories from early education up to their college majors, the young women provide detailed insight into a field that is mostly male dominated and has made little space for women, especially minorities.

McPherson’s impassioned yet professional look at STEM and the challenges facing these young women proves illuminating, occasionally heartbreaking, and ultimately heartening. Explaining the “hidden” curriculum and the “cooling out process” that typically pushes students out of the STEM programs, McPherson illuminates causes and consequences of the field’s lack of diversity, noting that women earned “just under 50% of the 666,157 science and engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2016.” Delving into early exposure to STEM programs in early education, the effects of having diverse teachers and culturally responsive teaching, and specific accommodations to draw in African American students, Dream On provides detailed ways to support and motivate women like McPherson’s subjects.

Through inspiring narratives, McPherson's case studies show the perseverance that success in the field demands. Dream On is not only a well-researched account of these women’s experience but also a rousing call to action, for both African American women and the educational system, offering guidance and encouragement to students and urging greater support from schools, teachers, and more. This is a valuable resource for students entering the STEM field but also for the educators and administrators who they will encounter.

Takeaway: Case studies and rousing guidance for African American women entering the STEM field.

Comparable Titles: T.M. Moody's African American Women Pioneers in STEM, Ebony Omotola McGee's Black, Brown, Bruised.

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

For Love of Country: Common Sense 2.0
Norman W. Holden
For Love of Country offers a spirited cry for a new American Revolution, a moral revolution in which we return to the spirit of our founders and turn aside from modern corruption and “reverse” what Holden calls “Marxist cultural trends.” Modeling his message on Thomas Paine and the text itself as a Common Sense 2.0, Holden warns that the U.S. could be “one generation away from totalitarianism” due to “a progressive agenda and hyper-politics” that “have sidelined our individual sovereignty and one’s ability to self-govern.” He finds inspiration in the nation’s founding documents, calling for an embracing of principles laid out in the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence that he sees as antithetical to what he views as “the worst form of government: a bureaucratic state of aristocracy sold to us as a benevolent democracy.”

Holden notes that his opinions may “trigger” some readers, yet the civic engagement and concrete steps he calls for (term limits, reduce the size of government, a return to the gold standard) are much less divisive than much contemporary rhetoric, and he fully supports the separation of church and state and vigorously denounces any impulse toward violence. Holden aims to inspire citizens to serve the country, their communities, and to again feel, in the face of the flag and the national anthem, “a heartfelt swell of pride to one’s chest and mist to the eyes.” He sees this mission in contrast to the “Marxist” impulses behind environmentalism, campaigns to “censor” history, and the efforts of “self-appointed global elites [who] seek to cripple our national and individual sovereignty.”

Citations support some claims, but readers may appreciate a deeper exploration of some of his boldest assertions—is crippling sovereignty really the goal of those “elites”? Instead, this brisk,compact, occasionally repetitive text establishes a moral vision for where he believes the country should go. What shines through every page is this patriot’s commitment to American virtues.

Takeaway: A patriot’s call for a commitment to American virtues and smaller government.

Comparable Titles: Mike Lee’s Our Lost Constitution, Joshua Charles’s Liberty’s Secrets.

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

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Speaking for the Earth
John Meier
A testament to how far we have and haven’t come, Meier's Speaking for the Earth first was written as the official book for the first Earth Day, in 1970, as a call for action decrying the ways that humanity had “disfigured” the land and “scorched” the Earth, and declaring the years to follow as the “environmental decade.” Now, over a half century later, Meier has re-printed the original text as a reminder of how much work remains to be done—and how prescient he was. Speaking for the Earth speaks from the dawn of the movement, with no commentary on later events outside of a brief introduction, but it's clear throughout that Meier’s arguments, predictions, and exhortations were correct—and still urgent. Adept at navigating government circles, Meier crafted the book to break through the language of bureaucracy while still acknowledging the practical realities of industry and regulation.

With direct, inviting prose and much persuasive power, Meier breaks down key issues regarding conservation as he saw them in 1970. He begins with the dangers of chemical weapons and insecticides, despite the claims of military and industrial spokesmen who insisted that neither posed a threat to the public. Smog is another focus, and while that has improved in the U.S. since original publication, air pollution remains a global health risk. (From his 50-years-back vantage point, he predicts electric cars as a potential solution.) Industrial waste, building on lands that should be protected, and the dangers of coal and radiation are also highlighted in potent, clarifying language.

Especially resonant is his argument that, without a public groundswell, the mechanics of American federalism ensure that these life-or-death matters will be in the hands of the states, which—then and now—are especially vulnerable to influential lobbyists who argue that conservation will come at a price that's too high for local industry. Meier's book remains a powerful (and tragically timeless) call to action for citizen conservations to make their voices heard. Meier emphasizes that this is more important now than ever.

Takeaway: Urgent call for conservation and a citizen’s movement, from the first Earth Day.

Comparable Titles: Francois Jarrige and Thomas Le Roux’s The Contamination of the Earth, Benjamin Kline’s First Along the River.

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

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The Gray Anarchist
Jeffrey Marcus Oshins
Behind-the-scenes betrayal, intrigue, and dirty politics are just another day at the office in this thriller centered on the highest of stakes in politics, national security, and ecological fragility. Allen Hansen is a sitting senator running for reelection and the leading opponent of the Sentinel Act, a bill crafted to give the FBI unchecked power to collect U.S. citizens’ data, and a corrupt president has ordered an operation to uncover Hansen's past as a college activist and possible eco-terrorist. But it’s two women who are at the heart of this story: Deirdre Owens, the campaign manager for Senator Hansen, desperate to protect him from the press and the plots of the President. Then there’s Lauren Bastini, the radical one-time leader of the Oakland Four, now 73, disfigured from an attempted firebombing of a biotech company, and still committed to the violent destruction of the US Government and of corporate America.

This fast-paced story from Oshins (author of Lake Barcroft) entertains urgent questions— should a politician striving to do right get a pass for the decisions made in youth? Are civilians fair collateral damage in the name of saving the planet?—and all the interested parties will face hard decisions, right or wrong. The action is swift, perhaps too much so at times, as the momentum and mysteries ensure readers won’t get much background on most characters, especially Lauren, now a Muslim and still plotting destruction, and Deirdre, a devotee of BDSM whose lovers are terrified that the world might find out that they like to be dominated.

These potentially fascinating characters still surprise and engage as Deirdre, learning more about the Oakland Four and efforts to ruin the Senator's campaign, faces opposition at every corner, including adversaries eager to spill her own secrets. Lauren, meanwhile, has plans that are literally explosive, adding sharp suspense. Oshins spins an exciting story alive with tension, jolts, and contemporary political resonance.

Takeaway: Quick-moving thriller of old radicals and contemporary politics.

Comparable Titles: Chris Hauty’s Savage Road, John Gilstrap’s Crimson Phoenix.

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

Click here for more about The Gray Anarchist
Girl Braiding Her Hair
Marta Molnar
This audacious and impassioned novel celebrates overlooked women of art in history, entwining the lives of Ellie Waldon, a grief-stricken widow of our era who decides to sell her home after the death of her husband, and Suzanne Valadon, striving for recognition as a painter in 19th-century France. Threatened by unemployment following a careless snide remark about her exploitative boss, Ellie—“a resourceful, self-sufficient woman who knows how to get her job done”—turns to Kickstarter with a bold endeavor: establishing a museum of Unseen Art, even though she acknowledges “The only thing I know about art museums is that I like art.” A century earlier, Suzanne endures a harsh life of toil as a milliner, funeral wreath maker, acrobat, and model, before at last daring to become a painter herself.

Molnar (author of The Secret Life of Sunflowers) deftly blends fiction with history, conjuring the world and spirit of the real Suzanne Valadon, capturing the age, its ethos, and all that women faced when striving to create—and also, with pointed power, the drive to create work that endures. Observing the likes of Claude Monet, Pierre Renoir, and Berthe Morisot, Suzanne self-learns composition, color-mixing techniques, and perspectives. "I will be in a gallery, perhaps even exhibited at the Salon,” Suzanne says. “Maybe someday, I’ll be in a museum." Alternating settings and perspectives, Molnar illustrates a legacy of perseverance, as Ellie discovers that, in the past, Suzanne was as famous as Van Gogh—but history’s “tendency to forget women” has left her work in basements.

While the pacing occasionally is slow, Molnar has crafted an outraged yet rousing examination of women’s perennial struggle for recognition in a male-dominated society—Degas himself, Suzanne notes, “is convinced women can’t be artists.” This insightful, rich-in-detail novel pays welcome homage to women artists of all eras and the time-crossing power of art as Suzanne, in one urgent, illuminating moment, declares, "I want people to hear a whisper when they look at my art. We were here".

Takeaway: Rousing novel of visionary women a century apart entwined by the love of art

Comparable Titles: Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus, Paula McLain's The Paris Wife.

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

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At the Mercy of the Sea: A Country for Castoffs
Amanda M. Cetas
The standout third novel in Cetas’s Country for Castoffs series deftly blends historical fiction and a compelling coming-of-age story centered on the whaling industry in 17th century New England and the lives of three determined, relatable young people, Etienne, Alsoomse, and Abraham, finding their place in a changing world. The humane Etienne, introduced in Thrown to the Wind, is now bound on a ship working as a seaman, while his friend Alsoomse, of the Lenape tribe, is carving a path for herself as a medicine woman in her community. And Abraham, who can’t believe Etienne is friends with a girl, aspires to prove himself a worthy man, hoping to help his father in his whaling business. They are on separate journeys, but their lives intertwine with each other’s and that of the New World itself, as Cetas frankly depicts the religious, cultural, economic, and political realities of the colonies with an emphasis on family and friendship.

Cetas draws deeply on the historical record to create her cast and the enthralling challenges they face. At sea, Etienne is kidnapped by a pirate named Jacob Janssen van den Burgh, a figure based on a real pirate, while Abraham’s story is inspired from the story of the Dayton family of Long Island, whose whaling company and relationships with Native Americans prove fascinating. The diverse perspectives of a European family, a native American family, and a mixed-heritage lineage illuminate the complexities of the era without diminishing narrative momentum. While Abraham is learning to accept both his white ancestry and his mother’s Montauk heritage, Alsoomse is growing to understand her place in her tribe.

Much of the book deals with the emotional turmoil of adolescents trying to make sense of life as they experience their own transformation of mind and body. Other themes explored include whaling and the transatlantic slave trade, which is depicted with searing disgust. This briskly paced and engaging novel’s climax will leave history-minded readers yearning for more.

Takeaway: Illuminating, richly researched novel of coming-of-age in the American colonies.

Comparable Titles: Caroline Starr Rose’s Bluebirds, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Seeds of America series.

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

Click here for more about At the Mercy of the Sea
IT WAS HER NEW YORK: true stories and snapshots
C.O. MOED
Through lyric, pointedly iconoclastic prose and a soulful mosaic of photographs, Moed offers a riveting exploration of a mother-daughter relationship so colored by love and care that it transcends familial dysfunction, past hurts, and imperfections. With welcome candor, insight, and sensitivity, Moed bears witness to the decline of the cognitive abilities of her mother, Florence, due to dementia, a phenomenon that she initially misconstrues for more of her mother's established behavior: "None of us really understood that things were changing for Florence. She seemed as she always had been." Yet, over time, Moed finds herself clutching onto those rare moments where her mother truly is the mother she always knew. "I lean in, hoping my body acts like a magnet for her words but she is fading."

Moed places Florence at the heart of New York City—their home—and deftly mirrors the gradual erosion of her mother's memory with the incremental disintegration of the fabric of the city she has long known. "I wanted to take a picture,” she writes, “to capture one last portrait of my childhood before it disappeared into thin air." Striking, moving photographs capture fleeting moments in Moed's life in the never-sleeping: vanishing storefronts, the phone lady, passersby, Coney Island, emergency rooms, the ebb and flow of neighborhoods, even the view from under the family’s Steinway baby grand. These captured moments and Moed’s vivid vignettes (that piano’s “place in [Florence’s] world was as permanent as sky or sun or her fingers, which were ferocious and strong until her last breath”) demonstrate the powerful connection between Moed, Florence, the city, and her music.

While deeply personal, It Was Her New York is universally relatable, an elegy that beckons readers to contemplate their own relationships and the ever-changing world. It’s a kaleidoscope of childhood, family, music, and the passage of time. Moed honors Florence’s legacy as a passionate pianist, frugal teacher, fearless lesbian, lover, and mother, fixed in time.

Takeaway: Beautiful, moving memories of a mother, in words and snapshots.

Comparable Titles: Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye, Nina Riggs's The Bright Hour.

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

Maverick Learns to Tie His Skates
Gina Usufzy & Abdul Usufzy
In this adorable children's story of never giving up, independence, and practice, Maverick, a young hockey player, struggles with tying his hockey skates—about as relatable a problem as can be imagined. Frustrated about his dilemma, he receives encouragement from his parents and help from his brother's hockey coach, whose efforts help Maverick succeed in learning how to tie up his skates. Engaging and relatable, Maverick's story of practice and perseverance highlights the joys of facing a challenge, accomplishing a task, and helping others.

Maverick's is a heartwarming story full of family, community and friendships as everyone rallies around Maverick—even Maverick himself, who through determination to succeed through practice, keeps trying until he achieves success. Throughout this interactive story, the Usufzys (authors of Alex the Goalie and other entries in the Adventures of Alex the Maverick Hockey Player series) encourage reflection and include teachable moments by pausing to ask young readers how they would respond if they were in Maverick's situation or how they would feel if they were in Maverick's shoes. Drawing parallels to practicing something that is a passion or dream, such as hockey, to something that may cause frustration, such as learning to tie your shoes, the authors juxtapose the lessons of allowing others to help with building confidence through effort.

Jason Velazquez’s simple but vivid illustrations emphasize faces and feelings, drawing a compelling contrast between Maverick’s expression of frustration and his subsequent delight at his achievement, an emotion communicated by a wide edge of smile and a jauntily stuck-out tongue. This is an empowering and endearing story of a young boy determined to master a tricky task, imparting its positive message to young readers in a straightforward and constructive manner, touching on matters deeper than skates: it is okay to receive help, to never stop trying, and to pass on the lesson to others in need.

Takeaway: Relatable children's story of a boy determined to learn a new life skill

Comparable Titles: Mac Barnett’s Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, Tom Percival's Ruby's Worry.

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

Click here for more about Maverick Learns to Tie His Skates
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