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This is what happens
Chris Wind
This novel from Wind (Satellites Out of Orbit) relates how women are hamstrung by patriarchy. Protagonist Kris, a 50-year-old Canadian writer and composer whose works share names with Wind’s, combs through 35 years’ worth of journals to take stock of her life. Kris’s reflections on her memories—sad, angry, frustrated, regretful, caustic—are interspersed with excerpts from her younger self’s journals and poems, as well as various counterfactual scenarios detailing the way things could have turned out if someone had encouraged her at crucial junctures.

The book insightfully dissects the near impossibility of finding success as an artist and philosopher without institutional sanction; the sexism both insidious and glaring that profoundly shaped Kris’s life from its beginnings; and the damage done by her parents’ rejection and failure to encourage her. The protagonist’s thoughts are sometimes harshly judgmental (“her parents were either hypocrites or imbeciles. Or both”).

The novel’s structure is nontraditional. Rather than dramatizing past events and allowing readers to reach conclusions about them, the novel is about present-day Kris’s assessments of those moments, and the action in the book’s present is mostly mental (“That memory triggered another”). Moreover, Kris’s real memories frequently lead seamlessly into the counterfactuals, which are described at length (in one case, for 15 pages) before the sudden revelation that they’re false. This can make it somewhat challenging for the reader to keep track of what’s real. But readers who put in the work will be rewarded with an incisive reflection on how social forces constrain women’s lives.

Takeaway: In this challenging novel, Wind adeptly recognizes and describes the obstacles smart women face in a patriarchal society.

Great for fans of: Sylvia Plath, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

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

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Optimal
John Berger
Berger (Extremism) depicts a dystopian world where online algorithms and recommendations have made life outwardly perfect and seamless. Since the end of the Algorithm Wars, the System runs everything flawlessly, creating a fully integrated global structure where everyone is connected via wearable devices and their jobs, diets, recreation, and romantic lives are guided by recommendations from the all-encompassing technology. When Stanton Lime (financial officer for the UVblZCofKX Corporation) disappears and becomes virtually untraceable, corporation lawyer Megumi tasks accountant Jack with tracking him down. Along with Mira, Stanton’s mysterious former associate, Jack navigates the intricacies of the System and learns about the dark side of a society with so much control over its members.

In Berger’s future, casual human touch is offensive, police surveillance reigns supreme, and serendipity has been replaced by a hyperefficient system based on likes and recommendations. Berger’s rebels and renegades, seeking to break away from this, fetishize retro technology (“Another item in the collection was a box with a round rotating platform and a swiveling mechanical arm.… Focus showed type:record-player”). This dark atmosphere will draw in even fans who are familiar with dystopian worlds.

The characters are charismatic and will keep readers invested. Jack’s journey of self-discovery and quest for individualism as he learns to let go of controlling technology is compelling. Stanton Lime, with his love for outdated technology and old-world wines, is a delightfully appealing revolutionary figure. Berger compellingly explores the predicaments of a globally networked civilization in this stimulating, immersive book.

Takeaway: Fans of dystopian stories will enjoy this speculative fiction thriller.

Great for fans of: Amor Towles’s You Have Arrived at Your Destination, David Eggers’s The Circle.

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

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Dream Phaze - Germination
Matt
Watters’s thrilling first installment of the Dream Phaze series combines imagination with technology to create a future where clients are immersed in customized engineered dreams. Dr. Saxon Zynn and his team of scientists are responsible for this revolutionary science, but they’re racing the clock to meet their launch date. Not everyone is eager to see this innovative technology hit the mainstream market, however, and Fundamental Purists stand in the way of the team’s success. When threats are issued against his family, Saxon is faced with a decision: Does he shut down his program, or does he push forward despite the severe consequences?

Readers will delight in the world Watters has created. They will long to be one of Saxon’s customers, who can experience soaring through an asteroid belt, drinking molten lava from a Mars volcano, or literally tasting a rainbow. The standoff with the Fundamental Purists’ is high tension; it threatens the life of Saxon’s son Hugo while illuminating secondary characters such as Saxon’s strong-willed wife Margo, her father Walter, and Hugo’s mysterious fiancée Christine. A glossary makes it easier to decode the technical jargon of the opening chapter, and soon the mechanics of immersive dreaming take a backseat to the nail-biting action of Saxon’s personal and professional dilemma.

Watters masterfully pits Saxon’s most closely held values against one another for a page-turning thriller. The novel also considers the broader social implications of the technology, such as individuals manipulating the program to fulfill their own perverse desires, but the heart of the story is Saxon and his desire to create a beautiful dream experience. Science fiction fans will revel in this high-stakes, character-driven thriller that careens through an imaginative future of manufactured dreams.

Takeaway: This high-stakes science fiction thriller will win over readers with its dynamic characters and unforeseen plot twists.

Great for fans of: Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, Christopher Priest’s A Dream of Wessex.

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

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Restore Our Democracy: The Case for Equality and Justice
Werner Neff
In this stirring call to action, Neff (Restore Trust), who has a doctorate in political science, explores the historical and legal attributes of American democracy and the current crisis of democratic spirit in the United States. Neff defines the heart of democracy as a system of compromise that allows diverse people to live together and determine effective solutions for their lives. Neff offers a series of practical solutions, most importantly for voters to consider themselves Americans first and members of political parties second. He recommends a recommitment to nonpartisan electoral reforms and extensive compromise, with passionate and repetitive reminders to vote.

As an expatriate originally from Switzerland, Neff has the benefit of an outsider’s perspective, and his story highlights the drift that has occurred from the early ideals of the nation to widespread voter suppression and gerrymandering. Though Neff is overly sanguine about the founding of the United States on democratic principles, neglecting the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans, his retelling of democratic ideals is stirring. He convincingly argues that a failure of commitment to democratic ideals, like compromise, will inevitably lead to a failure of democratic structures like voting.

Though mostly uplifting, Neff’s examination of massive and intractable problems in the U.S. democratic system may cause readers to doubt the impact of their individual participation. This timely and inspiring study is an exhortation for readers to return to democratic ideals.

Takeaway: American citizens concerned about the direction of their democracy will find this thorough explanation of democratic principles to be a rallying cry.

Great for fans of: Democracy in One Book or Less by David Litt, How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

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

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Shadow Status
River K. Scott
Scott’s (Rangers of the Rift series) energetic cyberpunk adventure is a story of xenophobia in a dystopian future ravaged by a genetic disease. Society is separated into the marginalized infected, called Prosets (or grubs), living 500 feet underground, and the disease-latent Resets, who rule. Sixteen-year-old Jaffrey Pewitt hides his status as a grub and dreams of becoming a Watcher to protect the World Net from malware. Before his training begins, he befriends Hannah, a malware artificial intelligence entity (AIE) who trusts him enough to reveal a city of AIEs hiding in the World Net. Jaffrey must decide whether his loyalty lies with the Watchers or with Hannah.

Scott’s richly developed world pops off the page, giving a convincing sense of its dysfunctional society run on fear and intimidation. The stakes are high, and the characters are willing to challenge social constraints for the greater good. When a power surge threatens to destroy everything, Jaffrey weighs whether to improve his status by becoming a Watcher and preparing for an assault against the city or to the lives of people very different from himself. While Jaffrey’s older brother Ben joins the Watchers in the attack, his nine-year-old sister Astrid is more open-minded and has actually made contact with the leader of the AIEs, the master Builder Tandren.

Scott presents a sympathetic and imaginative variation on the familiar plot of sentient computer programs and artificial intelligence with a world of unique clothes, jobs, and vocabulary. She folds themes of environmental degradation and genetic manipulation into a fast-paced caper and delivers a satisfying ending to this cautionary but entertaining story. The message of diverse characters working together to solve a common problem will resonate with readers of all ages.

Takeaway: Cyberpunk fans will thrill to video-game action and sympathetic characters fighting high-stakes battles.

Great for fans of: Stephanie Flint’s Huntress, Julian North’s Age of Order.

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

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It's the Right Thing to Do: An Amazonian Tale from the Brazilian Caboclos Tribe
Lindalouise
Lindalouise’s debut picture book is a simple, kind fable about helping others, framed as a traditional story told by indigenous Brazilian elders. Lana the ocelot is eager to help all kinds of creatures in her Amazon rainforest home, including helping a toucan build a nest and howler monkeys find bananas; she holds fast to the conviction that “it’s the right thing to do” to “offer help whenever possible.” She gains friends among the animals who build homes close to her. Leo the jaguar, on the other hand, is selfish and exiles himself far from the others, who give him a wide berth. Leo sneers at Lana’s openheartedness and, when one of her kittens wanders off, he refuses to help her search. But soon Leo has a dangerous run-in with loggers, forcing him to question his rejection of past offers for help.

The human elements, indigenous storytellers and the loggers working in the forest, are only touched upon, with little commentary on the ecological effect of logging; the story focuses on the differences between selfish Leo and cooperative Lana. The friendliness towards all creatures from a carnivorous ocelot matches the softened reality of most traditional fables (though teaching her kittens to hunt is mentioned). Although the text pages, which superimpose small text over a pale illustration, can seem a little busy, the length seems ideal for reading aloud.

The plot is clear and easy to understand, and the illustrations are vibrant and playful, with a pen-and-watercolor effect, lightly anthropomorphizing the creatures while still maintaining a sense of realism. Young readers will enjoy this gentle call for selflessness.

Takeaway: This animal friendship tale and its simple lesson will be enjoyed by late preschool through early grade audiences.

Great for fans of: Aesop's fables, Laurie Keller's Do Unto Otters.

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

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A Disappearance: A Robert Chase Novel
G.E. Forth
This heart-stopping thriller, third in the Robert Chase series, is set in a darkly fascinating post-Soviet world. Covert CIA agents Robert Chase and his wife and partner, Samantha D’Aubrisson, search for the kidnapped goddaughter of a senior Russian security officer. To find and dismantle an international sex trafficking ring involving both ex-KGB and Chinese criminals, Chase and his associates must travel the world, taking on spy agencies and police in multiple countries.

Forth keeps the action at a boil. Action scenes are choreographed with meticulous detail and are populated with hard-edged killers who bring down their opponents without hesitation. Indeed, some scenes—the graphic rape of a child and torture with a blowtorch—might be too grim for some readers. But overall, action aficionados will delight in well-staged shootouts and imaginatively described violence: a quickly dispatched guard "now sported a red badge on his forehead and another on his face."

The author doesn't neglect characterization: Chase is capable of terrifying violence but prefers to avoid firearms, and D’Aubrisson smoothly moves between gunplay and love for Chase, perhaps her only loyalty. Their associate Wolf stands out as a seriously disturbed soldier—he is disappointed when he loses a chance to kill. Especially well-drawn is Russian security chief Popov, an unmoored ex-KGB agent who has a complex frenemy relationship with his opposite number in the CIA—a metaphor for the dynamic between the U.S. and Russia. The beautifully paced scenes, full of red-meat action, and the well-developed characters will keep readers turning pages to the satisfying denouement.

Takeaway: Vividly described fight scenes and an engaging cast of well-detailed and coldly effective black ops agents make this book especially rewarding for fans of spy thrillers.

Great for fans of: Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum.

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

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The Finn Chronicles: Year One: A dog's reports from the front lines of hooman rescue
Gwen Romack
First-time author Romack writes from the perspective of her beloved dog, a Vizsla mix named Finn, as he narrates a year’s worth of comedic weekly updates. The book began when Romack was fostering Finn, as a series of popular Facebook posts she hoped would “help prospective adopters fall in love with Finn.” However, Romack and her partner could not part ways with the pup, and, as Finn himself confesses, “I find myself growing attached to these freaks.” We see through Finn’s eyes as he muses about Romack, “The Squishy One”; and her partner, “The Hairy One”; and Finn’s tribulations and joys in dealing with the silly habits of “hoomans.” ‌ ‌ ‌

This is more an episodic scrapbook than a novelesque narrative arc. Entries’ structures vary occasionally with a comedic haiku, frequent Special Reports, and weekly stats like, “Ribs I almost snatched off the counter: 3.” Finn is, undoubtedly, the book’s selling point. Photos for each post show him with a cone around his head, or looking yearningly at a tennis ball stuck under the bed, or wearing new outfits his people have made for him.

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The humor and personality Romack gives Finn will appeal to readers of all ages. Humor ranges from highbrow to low: Finn describes certain training as “my 6th ring of Hell (Yes, dogs read Dante too),” but also boasts, “5 deuces in one walk!!” As Finn says, “Sometimes I like to throw the hoomans a bone to keep them feeling positive.” And this charming diary is a lighthearted escape that will put a smile on dog lovers’ faces.

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Takeaway:‌ ‌This light and joyous collection of a dog’s weekly updates will amuse and comfort readers looking for relatable humor about the abrupt and daily starts and changes of training a new dog.

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Great‌ ‌for‌ ‌fans‌ ‌of:‌ ‌Matthew Inman’s My Dog: The Paradox, E.B. White’s E.B. White on Dogs, Maira Kalman’s Beloved Dog.

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

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Santa Abella and Other Stories
Ken Wetherington
Wetherington’s first short story collection sees ordinary people grapple with big questions, from death and dying to love and sexuality. Some of Wetherington’s stories are more nuanced than others, but the author has a clear capacity for revealing something profound about the human condition. The characters’ foibles and faux pas drive the action, for example in “Sweet Jenny,” whose narrator’s obsession with a youthful crush persists across decades, and “The Postwar Years,” whose narrator pushes away the woman who loves him out of fear she’ll find out his secret.

Other stories in this collection are less nuanced. “Black Bear Lake” chronicles the mysterious death of one member of a camping party in the North Carolinian mountains, hinting at local legend and lore without a satisfying payoff. Similarly, the story “The Revivalists” seems hastily sketched out—Wetherington’s central idea of a woman paying a celebrated doctor to revive her dead husband deserves more narrative weight.

The collection’s standout pieces convey a heartfelt intensity of feeling. “Inheriting Dad” depicts a father and son’s strained relationship in a careful meditation on the complexity of grief. Charlie Harris, whose father supposedly died in the ICU, learns that the hospital made a mistake and his father is in need of home care. With no other family members available, it is up to Charlie to shelter his father, who never had a kind word for him. In “Starstruck,” teenager Angie’s nagging infatuation with a beautiful actress is poignantly described. Though some endings leave many questions unanswered, fans of searching, inquisitive short fiction will be gratified by Wetherington’s tales.

Takeaway: This probing collection of short stories is perfect for readers seeking to delve into the complexities of human nature.

Great for fans of: Alice Munro, Lucia Berlin.

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

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Moving Jack
Michelle Mars
Mars (“Frisky Connections” in Eight Kisses) kicks off her Love Wars series with aplomb in this funny, ultrasteamy paranormal science fiction romance. In 2025, Tarc (a member of the Staraban species and commander of the Alien Relocation Cooperative) is trying to save humanity by relocating them from a dying Earth when he discovers geek-girl vampire (and anonymous dating blogger) Jack Daniels hacking into alien computers. Raven-haired, golden-skinned Tarc is unaware of Jack’s leadership in HARM (Humans Against Relocation Movement), and the two are launched into an all-out battle, caught between their explosive chemistry and individual allegiances. Mars sets up her protagonists to be enemies on the surface, but when HARM becomes convinced the Vrolan (the alien race that hired the Staraban to relocate Earth) are operating under false pretenses, their causes unite.

The novel’s twist on vampire lore—vampires don’t instantly turn to dust in the sun, but will fatally overdose on it if they stay outside too long—is fun, allowing Jack to move around undetected and making for some high-stakes scenarios. Jack’s self-esteem issues make her character more believable, and Tarc’s experience with an ill-fated romance adds depth to his personality. And their couplings are frequent, energetic, and highly orgasmic.

The sassy characters’ camaraderie is a treat (Jack’s snarky personal assistant link, Hal, routinely fires off sarcastic, witty observations), and Mars throws in original and genuinely clever byplay between Earth women, the groundwork for future couples in the series, and the Starabans’ love of “peet-zza.” This paranormal is light, sexy interspecies fun.

Takeaway: Fans of funny, strongly erotic paranormal science fiction romances will eat this one up.

Great for fans of: Christopher Moore’s vampire trilogy, MaryJanice Davidson, Shelly Laurenston.

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

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The Hugonauts - Animals of Africa: Amazing Animal Adventures
mark morris
This picture book, one in a series of four from Morris and Swingler, delivers a menagerie of information combined with complementary visual elements. To focus on teaching children about the natural world and its inhabitants, each animal is given an African first name (such as Osumare) that suits their habitat and a rhyme describing their unique traits (such as Jahi the Giraffe, “who is very, very tall..., she is the tallest of them all”). The book’s protagonist, Hugo the explorer, peers out from a "hidden" place on each page. Extra material at the end supplies intriguing and funny animal details relevant to the geographical area covered in the story.

Though Hugo and his sidekicks have cute character design, they play a fairly minor role; the text focuses on bringing to life the animals’ quirks, and even adult animal lovers will discover new facts ("unlike his cat mates, [the cheetah] cannot roar, but he has a loud purr when he is happy, lying on the savannah floor"). The search-and-find aspect is best suited to the youngest readers; Hugo is not concealed in very challenging places (on the page of Hakima the Hippopotamus, Hugo is hiding in the only thick clump of reeds in the illustration), so even very small children should not feel frustrated in this pursuit.

Swing’s lively illustrations are the highlight, giving readers an up close and personal encounter with the story’s animal stars . And the creators’ love of the natural world is apparent. The combined effect is informative and appealing, without overwhelming the reader.

Takeaway: Young animal lovers will enjoy the polished, professional illustrations on this whirlwind tour of popular African fauna.

Great for fans of: Laura Watkins’s T is for Tiger: A Toddler’s First Book of Animals, Alek Malkovich’s I Spy Books Series.

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

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Complex
A.D. Enderly
Enderly’s first installment in his Complex series is a carefully crafted adventure in a dystopian hellscape. The future world has two types of governments: Legacies (shells of former democracies) and Complexes (police-nation-states run by corporations, whose contracts bind users in lifelong agreements in return for basic human necessities). After their father’s untimely death, teenage Legacy citizen Val and her younger sister Kat are ekeing out a meager living in a poverty-stricken area. When Kat is abducted, Val joins forces with a group of scrappy renegades desperate to improve their situation through rebellion, and they claw their way through a Complex megacity to rescue Kat. And, in trying to unravel that mystery, they stumble on a much larger-scale threat.

Enderly’s dystopian world is gritty and cruel. Although life would be easier joining a Complex, Val refuses to, following the advice of her deceased father; the theme of fighting for survival is illuminated through Val’s encounters with the brutality of both the Legacy and Complex systems. In a 700-page book, the expository focus on the corporate evils of the Complexes can be somewhat overlong, and a multiplicity of viewpoint characters may make some readers feel disconnected from the action.

But Enderly’s faceless corporations and social scoring system are dystopian sci-fi classics that will resonate with fans of the genre, and Val’s steely determination in the face of overwhelming odds makes her a likeable heroine. Enderly does a remarkable job of weaving together his many threads and characters, and there is broad appeal in this detailed futuristic world. Readers will want to see where this story is going.

Takeaway: Readers who enjoy gritty science fiction will find much to love about Enderly’s grim, multilayered portrait of the future.

Great for fans of: Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy

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

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Called to Dragons Nest
Madison Hinko
This YA fantastical allegory debut from high school student Hinko, the second in a series, follows a young woman, Rose Mensch, on a fateful journey. Rose learns that she’s a Red Lip: a member of a race of sinless people created by dragons, gifted with the power to create fire, and tasked with being a constructive example to humanity—but who, because of their aversion to harming others, are “entirely unable or unwilling to protect themselves.” Jealous of their power, the king of Rose’s homeland, Nava, has oppressed the Red Lips and hopes to eradicate them, a catastrophe that Rose is prophesied to defeat. After learning about the prophecy, Rose leaves her aunt’s idyllic home and she sets out to kill the king, while wrestling with whether doing so is worth betraying her inherent pacifist nature.

The novel’s vision is ambitious, but the plot can lack momentum at times, encompassing a number of detours unrelated to the stated goal. The stakes are sometimes lowered because the social persecution of Red Lips, which is the reason for killing the king, is rarely shown. And some characters can lack complexity, having only one note or characteristic; for example, the main villain is one-dimensional evil.

But Erik, the morally compromised chief of the Blue Lips, is a fun, complicated, and necessary foil for simpler characters. Rose’s parents’ backstory is told in affecting fashion. And the worldbuilding will draw readers in. This imaginative young author has built a compelling world, populated by thoughtful, philosophical characters considering big questions. Readers will be curious to see how her work evolves.

Takeaway: Readers searching for classic YA fantasy with girls on the front lines and a focus on virtue will enjoy this traditional tale.

Great for fans of: Sherry Thomas’s The Burning Sky, Christopher Paolini’s Eragon.

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

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Running from Moloka'i
Jill P. Anderson
This emotionally affecting debut novel follows Mele, a young woman with a white father and native Hawai’ian mother in 19th-century Hawai’i, as she struggles to understand her identity and leprosy is brought to the islands by foreign travelers. The disease primarily affects native Hawai’ians, who are taken from their homes by the health authorities’ bounty hunters and exiled to Moloka’i. Mele’s father, a compassionate yet pragmatic physician who works for the Board of Health, argues that this forced banishment is necessary for the survival of the population, while her mother helps harbor fugitives in the caves near their house. As the disease begins to affect those closest to her, Mele reckons with the morality of her and her family’s decisions.

Mele’s attempts to do the right thing, in such a complex situation with her parents at odds, make for an intriguing premise. Anderson, who lived in Hawai’i, is clearly knowledgeable about its culture and its people—there are references to real historical figures and places sprinkled throughout—and her descriptions of the physical landscape are detailed and poetic, making readers feel they’re right alongside Mele.

The many side stories (including those of Daniel Livingstone, a disrespectful boy from San Francisco; Keanu, a criminal on trial for murder; and Kalua, a young boy who keeps sneaking onto cargo ships) can lessen the impact of Mele’s journey by giving the reader a great deal of information to digest at once. The story is at its best when it focuses on Mele, her family, and her place in society. Ultimately, this is a riveting and educational coming-of-age tale, and readers will relish learning about this period in Hawa’ii through Mele’s experience.

Takeaway: This thought-provoking coming-of-age novel is perfect for history buffs.

Great for fans of: Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i, Kiana Davenport’s Shark Dialogues.

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

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Donnybrook Good-Bye: The Longest Game, Book 1
Martin A. Cullen
Cullen's action-packed debut is an exciting magical romp through the streets of modern-day Boston. Inara Caan is a member of a holy order dedicated to slaying monsters. She and her creepy soul-eating demon partner, Biff, are used to taking down underworld targets harboring monsters. But when their latest assignment turns out to be the McMinnens, a well-to-do suburban couple with an adorable young daughter, Inara makes a fateful choice to spare them and take them on the run. Right on their tails are order assassin Lee, a lonely mortal-griffin hybrid; Cyrus, a dark sorcerer in an expensive suit; and Jacob, a smarmy order priest. Meanwhile, a maniacal, centuries-old Korean shapeshifter is sowing chaos for everyone. To save the McMinnens and herself, Inara must rely on unlikely allies like Fion, a diminutive Irish nature spirit, and Yukie, a Japanese aikido master.

Explosions, car chases, and sword fights abound in this fun paranormal mystery. Inara is a classic urban fantasy badass: a disillusioned operator with serious magic chops, excellent combat skills, and a dark backstory. Other portrayals may put off some readers: one point-of-view character repeatedly uses offensive terms for Japanese people, and the characters of Asian descent are more one-note than, for example, the Irish puca, a nuanced twist on European mythology.

The magic is flashy and fun, and the book doesn't waste time on technical explanations. The story moves at a rapid clip, balancing action with humor. Between car chases in a bright orange Mini Cooper and demon battles in Fenway Park, there is never a dull moment. Readers will find it a diverting escape and a promising start to a new series.

Takeaway: The nonstop supernatural action and snarky quips make this a great autumnal version of a beach read.

Great for fans of: Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher.

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

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The Glass Boxes In Which We Live: She was not expecting him. She was not expecting her here.
Beatrice M. Sylvie
A 40-something woman surrenders to a relationship with a younger man in this dynamic, albeit at times didactic, debut contemporary romance. While in New York City with her design team for a work project, 43-year-old French single mother Alienor Lacroix engages in a flirtation with 38-year-old mixed-race American barman and aspiring actor, Wesley Johnson, leading to romance and a relationship. Despite her angst about their differences in age, backgrounds, and lifestyles, the unlikely pair forge a long-distance relationship that spans more than two decades until tragedy strikes.

Alienor’s nationality leaves openings for the author to comment on sociopolitical issues, such as medical care in the U.S. and the politicization of daily life. The scenes addressing racism and violence can feel overstated and preachy, but the story’s poignant, emotional aspects shine through. Alienor is appealing and sympathetic, a devoted mother credibly trying to reconcile her confident work persona with her self-doubts about romantic partnership with a younger man who appears to have nothing in common with her. (And when readers first meet her, she’s throwing down an impromptu rap at a karaoke night out with her team.)

Alienor and Wesley’s life together is not fully developed, but rather revealed through snapshots; toward the end, these become somewhat rushed and cliché. Alienor’s hesitance and uncertainty about embarking on a relationship with confident and handsome Wesley, and his certainty about being with her, are well developed, sweet, and romantic, and their continued attraction to one another is well sustained. Flirty banter, hot sex, and sincere affection make this a book romance fans will enjoy.

Takeaway: This socially conscious romance weaves together cross-cultural relationships, race, parenthood, work, and other issues.

Great for fans of: Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date, Tamara Gregory’s Passport Diaries.

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

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