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Getaway Death: Lily Rock Mystery Book One
Bonnie Hardy
Hardy (author of A Doula to Die For) kicks off her Lily Rock series with this charming cozy mystery. Between jobs and fresh off of a painful breakup with her rock-star boyfriend, Olivia Greer accepts her high school friend Marla Osbourne’s invitation to stay with her in charming Lily Rock, California, a few hours from Los Angeles. From the start, the trip seems ill-fated: Olivia nearly loses her life on a hairpin mountain road (and is saved by local architect Michael Bellemare, who, it could be argued, almost pushed her car over the cliff). When she gets to Marla’s home, she finds her friend dead in her garden of anaphylactic shock—with an EpiPen that has been tossed into the bushes by the presumed murderer.

Hardy’s small mountain town seems uber charming on the surface, and the milieu and dialogue both are vividly realized, but a dark undercurrent courses beneath Olivia’s interactions with nearly all the townspeople—making it almost impossible for her to know who to trust, except for the darling Mayor Maguire, an intuitive Labradoodle, who steals every scene he’s in. Hardy deftly keeps readers guessing, with sparkling characterization and teasingly plausible possible motives: is the lecherous Dr. May the culprit? Michael, the architect who designed Marla’s house? Librarian Meadow, who Olivia overhears admitting she drugged Olivia? Or even Meadow’s daughter, with whom Olivia feels an immediate connection?

Hardy does a masterful job of drawing red herrings throughout, skillfully keeping readers uncertain until the final page is turned—with a particularly surprising twist that ties Olivia to the town and bodes well for the series to follow. A few editing mistakes distract, but readers will forgive Hardy based on the strengths of her plotting and excellent cast of characters. Fans of cozy mysteries will want to return to Lily Rock and its eccentric but mostly harmless group of residents often.

Takeaway: This cozy mystery will reel readers in for a rollicking ride.

Comparable Titles: Jana DeLeon, Mary Higgins Clark.

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

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Juno's Song
Michael Kelley
The third searching, spiritual adventure in a trilogy, Juno’s Song finds protagonist Sean Byron McQueen, professor and author, in a post-singularity near-future of robots, AIs, holo-chats, heart-sync tech, VR pod lives, and straight-up magic, now recognized as a science. Even more exciting: humanity stands on the precipice of ascension, as the date of September 9, 2036, approaches—the date that aliens (or “ALFs”) “back in 2026 had promised to make significant contact with earthlings.” After the deadly cosmic adventures of the previous book (The Devil’s Calling), Sean is in hiding on the Irish coast, attended to by a robo-manservant and contemplating the possibility of his companionable friendship with novelist Molly blooming into something more. In a vision a decade after her apparent death, Sean’s brilliant wife, M, encourages him to write a new novel, also titled Juno’s Song, in honor of their “trail-blazing spiritual master” daughter.

As the World Tribunal prepares for the arrival of the aliens, Sean awaits the all-clear from Interpol to resume a somewhat public life, who expect that his enemies will stop hunting him after a change of leadership transpires in Russia. Readers of the previous books will surmise that villains Dick and Samantha aren’t through with him yet, and they’ll be right at home with this entry’s ruminative approach and pacing. Much of the novel unfolds as a series of rich, wide-ranging colloquies between Sean and a host of fascinating figures—Molly, Juno, a mysterious billionaire in a Scottish castle—on topics both earthly and cosmic, especially how to greet the aliens, a subject of fierce controversy.

Tension picks up with an NDA and surprise confrontations and hints that the temptress assassin Samantha may still be on the hunt, but readers eager for the easy thrills of first-contact and dystopian future stories should know that Kelley's interest remains in the transcendent, the poetic, the connections between people and something beyond us, and—even more than before—the very act of breathing.

Takeaway: Richly thoughtful novel of first contact and transcendence in 2036.

Comparable Titles: David Michie, Sachin Kaushik.

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

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Alycat and the Sunday Scaries
Alysson Foti Bourque
Bourque continues her Alycat series (after Alycat and the Sleepover Saturday) with an upbeat tale that teaches younger readers how to conquer their worry. This time around it’s Sunday, and Alycat is fearful of the Monday looming just around the corner. At her mother's prompting, she decides some down time with her friends is just the ticket to take her mind off “the Mondayest Monday ever.” While playing with her pals, Alycat learns she’s not the only one who experiences fear, realizing, as she helps her friends overcome their anxiety with the right mindset, that the start of a new week may not be as terrible as she expects.

Bourque sets a light tone while emphasizing realistic concerns of younger readers, and her bright cast of relatable characters drives home a host of different ways to work through fear. Alycat’s friends each struggle with their own issues—Kit is scared to ride her new, bigger bike, and Spotty is afraid he’ll fall off the treehouse ladder—until the group bands together to problem solve. Before long, Kit’s mastered her pedaling skills and Spotty’s safely on the ground again. Alycat's big personality and problem-solving initiative will captivate readers as the furry feline helps her friends while learning a valuable life lesson herself, sparking opportunities for readers to reframe their own fears and use them as motivation instead.

Civati showcases Alycat and her pals playing, collaborating, and vanquishing their fears with bright, eye-catching illustrations that bring a lighthearted edge to the story’s more serious elements, and the group’s camaraderie—and positive message on just how far kindness can go to help others—forms the perfect canvas for elementary aged children. Bonus content on how to create a successful lemonade stand, including several pointers on building confidence to attract consumers, rounds out this inspirational story.

Takeaway: A lively group of feline friends overcome their fears by working together.

Comparable Titles: Ellie Hattie and Eric Barclay’s Monday is a FUN DAY!, Teresa Porcella's Wild Week.

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

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String Theories: Tips, Challenges, and Reflections for the Lifelong Guitarist
Adam Levy and Ethan Sherman
Guitarists Levy (author of Play the Right Stuff) and Sherman (whose upcoming 2024 instrumental bluegrass album Passages sounds as warm as it is dazzling) share a wealth of practical tips, musical challenges, and wise reflections for guitarists eager to grow in their art. Writing with the inviting tones of skilled coaches who happen to be fans themselves, the authors offer inspiring guidance about what makes a guitarist “good” in the first place (“a good guitarist makes real music, reliably”), practical first principles of technique (“Every aspect … should be in the service of your musical goals”), general tips for how to grow musically (one clarifying section: “Four Ways to Play Outside, Inside”), and technical pointers like why it’s helpful to “map the fretboard using the circle of 4ths.”

Key to the book’s utility: its continual freshness and its applicability to serious guitar players of varying skill levels over time. Levy and Sherman understand that even the most accomplished musicians must continually learn, grow, and experiment, so each of the tips and challenges collected here (from “Be Your Own Jam Buddy” to “Play Nicely in a Trio” and beyond) have been crafted to be revisited over days, weeks, and years. The lessons blend the technical, practical, and conceptual with bigger-picture advice (“Learn what you love, until you get sick of it. Then learn something else you love”), recommendations of well-selected recordings and books, and on-point insights picked up from the authors’ mentors.

While there’s much here to expand the horizons of beginners, the authors assume their readers are already dedicated to guitar—don’t expect introductory lessons. Instead, String Theories offers a wealth of hard-won knowledge about practicing, transcribing, memorizing tunes, playing professionally, and more. Anecdotes from recording sessions—including the time Levy had to record a trio album twice in one day—fascinate. With heart and originality, this compact volume shares two the fruits of lifetimes’ worth of artistry.

Takeaway: Fresh, wise, practical guidance for playing guitar over a lifetime.

Comparable Titles: Mick Goodrick’s The Advancing Guitarist, Ted Greene’s Chord Chemistry.

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

Click here for more about String Theories
Succeeding as a Solopreneur: Six Keys to Taking the Leap, Winning Clients, and Building Wealth
Liz J. Steblay
“Dig deep into your personal strength. Be resilient—figure out a way through, then push until you get through” writes consultant Steblay as she guides readers on taking the plunge into self-employment. Drawing on her own experience as a single mother trying to balance work and a personal life, she shares six keys to building a successful business in this user friendly debut, ranging from broad-scale guidance on conquering “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” to tailored advice on finding new clients, effectively pricing services, and deciphering those often harder-to-grasp self-employment stumbling blocks like taxes and insurance. Steblay’s staunch belief in self-employment as “the best career because you have the flexibility to live your life however you want” forms the backbone throughout.

Steblay elevates her material with several informative illustrations, particularly those that spell out technical tips, including how to conquer LinkedIn layouts or understanding retirement contribution limits. Much of her advice is targeted toward career consultants more so than entry level professionals, though she does include some introductory material (choosing an appropriate business structure and a quick rundown of applicable permits and licenses stand out). Her myriad personal examples of working with clients and helping connect consultants with companies in need of their expertise ground the guide’s advice.

For readers partial to hands-on counsel, Steblay includes various pointers and exercises to spark inspiration, including a set of questions to help professionals avoid common self-employment mistakes and a breakdown of useful apps and programs designed to streamline business planning and execution. Steblay’s keys to success can be strategically applied at any level, whether focusing on her tried-and-true methods to grow business, steps to building productive websites, or suggestions on mastering the confidence needed to achieve professional dreams. Ultimately, her straightforward advice empowers readers to “keep going,” no matter what, as she promises, “You’ll eventually gain momentum, and things will get easier.”

Takeaway: Self-employment guide featuring hands-on tools and straightforward advice.

Comparable Titles: Michael Zipursky’s Consulting Success, Richard Newton’s The Freelance Consultant.

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

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Lack of Moral Fibre
Helena P. Schrader
In her Bridge to Tomorrow series, novelist and World War II historian Schrader (author of Where Eagles Never Flew) explores, celebrates, and dramatizes the complexities of one of the key global triumphs of the 20th century: the Berlin Airlift and the uniting of western powers to counter the Soviet Union in the divided German city in 1948 and 1949. With Lack of Moral Fibre, Schrader again brings life to the Royal Air Force, this time examining the effect of war on the men who must fight it, and digging into the history and implications of this brisk novel’s title. In November of 1943, at the height of the war, Pilot Officer Christopher “Kit” Moran finds himself at his breaking point the day after witnessing his best friend’s death. Moran refuses to fly another op and is sent to an NYDN Centre—that stands for “Not Yet Diagnosed Nervous”—where medical professionals strive to understand whether men like Moran need psychiatric treatment or whether they warrant the designation LMF for their “lack of moral fibre.”

Moran knows being branded an LMF “would be interpreted as proof of his fundamental inferiority.” LMFs were stripped of their medals, reassigned to infantry or menial work, and guaranteed to face problems finding employment later. To his surprise, talking to a therapist doesn’t “make things worse,” and Moran begins to discuss his feelings of inferiority. Schrader is sensitive to the trauma and pressures Moran faces, and insights and breakthroughs throughout prove moving, especially when Moran is asked “Isn’t it true that the only way in which you have failed is in not living up to your own expectations?”

The result is a humane and gripping tale of what war costs, a novel alive with telling detail and welcome nuance about its era and the history of PTSD treatment. It’s also a lesson in rest and gentleness. Hard to put down, Lack of Moral Fibre shines a welcome light on trauma, recovery, heroism, and “feeling inferior.”

Takeaway: Moving short novel of a shattered RAF pilot refusing to fly again.

Comparable Titles: Len Deighton’s Bomber, Leslie Mann’s And Some Fell on Stony Ground.

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

Click here for more about Lack of Moral Fibre
Refuge
Bill VanPatten
This beautifully told, of-the-moment novel from VanPatten (author of Sometimes You Just Know) finds hope in heartbreak when a pair of tragedies bring together an uncle and niece who unexpectedly find themselves able to help each other heal. Six months after losing his husband, David, to cancer, Jesse Pérez and his son, Matthew, are still learning to carry on. Their doorbell rings late one night, and Jesse’s 15-year-old niece, Gloria, stands on their doorstep, asking for help. She’s been raped, has become pregnant, and has left Texas and her judgemental parents to come to California, where abortion is legal—and, as Jesse tells them, a minor doesn’t need parental permission. “You probably think I’m just a teenager,” she says. “But I know how to research things. I know how to find out about my rights.”

VanPatten broaches difficult subjects with respect, empathy, and apparent ease. Jesse has already long been disowned by the same Texas family for being gay, called nothing less than “a disciple of the devil.” VanPatten, a humane and thoughtful writer, makes clear that Gloria and Jesse’s family (and their Everlasting Word Evangelical Church) and that most of the other Texans whom the protagonists must deal with do not at all agree with the extremes of that church or the political decisions that have resulted in Gloria being viewed as criminal.

From page one readers will be drawn into these lives and the warm community surrounding them. VanPatten makes it easy for readers to feel the often-conflicting emotions that come with complicated families. As the Texas family retaliates, Jesse, the only person that Gloria has left, must also consider how every choice will affect his son with autism, including the pressing question of how to move on after David’s death. Through VanPatten’s rich characterization and assured storytelling, readers will be moved by these convincing, relatable characters and how they handle everything thrown their way—and still live to love.

Takeaway: Moving story of facing religious extremism and Texas abortion laws.

Comparable Titles: S.E. Green’s The Family, Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is.

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

Click here for more about Refuge
On Madera Creek
Rachel Goss
Goss’s crime thriller, set just after the end of the Second World War, centers on the intersecting paths of Natasha Baranov, a Soviet spy who is ushering Russian operatives across the Texas border into the United States, and Imogene Park, a young woman inadvertently caught in Baranov’s web. After she’s befriended by Baranov, Imogene’s quickly taken in by the older woman, but their relationship goes south when Imogene discovers Natasha’s dark side—and ends up testifying against her in court. Though the two start off on opposing sides, circumstances reunite them throughout the novel, culminating in their united effort to thwart larger Russian espionage.

This second installment in Goss’s Science, History, and Espionage series (after Driven by Conscience) is fast paced and propelled by constant action. Whether it’s Natasha’s revenge-driven stalking of Imogene, Imogene’s efforts to escape her troubles by enlisting as a wrangler on a Texas ranch, or the uncovering of a dangerous Russian spy ring, there’s never a dull moment. Adding to the intrigue is the intricate web of lies and espionage spun by Goss’s characters, resulting in a breakneck race to determine who, if anyone, can be trusted. Goss punctuates the plot with romance, though the story’s setting—US borderlands fraught with danger—steals the spotlight with starkly beautiful descriptions of the Texas and New Mexico landscape: “Nestled against the canyon wall, the adobe lodge appeared to blend into the cliff, much as the ancient dwellings had done.”

Despite the novel’s gripping premise, Goss’s abundance of murder, espionage, and twisty dealings, all driven by a young, inexperienced woman at their forefront, swamp the story in places, leading Goss’s characters into staggering situations that will require a satisfying stretch of imagination for readers. The romance takes a backseat to the action, but readers who relish Cold War intrigue and dizzying action will find much to embrace here.

Takeaway: Cold War intrigue combines with unbridled action in this breakneck thriller.

Comparable Titles: Kerry Chaput’s Daughter of the Shadows, Stephanie Marie Thornton’s A Most Clever Girl.

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

Click here for more about On Madera Creek
The Millionaire: A Maureen Gould Legal Thriller
Keenan Powell
Powell's second Maureen Gould thriller (after Implied Consent) packs a wallop. Trial lawyer Gould now represents Tony Paredes, a young man accused of murdering his abusive childhood chess coach, Oscar Wenderholm. Despite a successful prior trial against his coach, Tony and Maureen faced an overturned verdict due to a technicality; now under arrest on suspicion of Oscar’s murder, Tony is imprisoned and brutally beaten, giving Maureen added incentive to save him. Meanwhile, Maureen's own difficult childhood rears its ugly head, making the case exponentially more taxing.

A parallel plotline finds charming car salesman Rick Stevens being groomed for a California state senate position, while his handlers worry about his connection to Oscar. Through Stevens's story, Powell skillfully delivers a character both contemptible and pathetic, and the tale only becomes more intense, effectively—and grimly—evolving into true tragedy. Powell’s courtroom scenes and backdoor maneuverings are as realistic as they are gripping, guaranteeing a white-knuckle ride for readers. The plot moves quickly, but Powell devotes extra attention to character; Maureen especially comes across beautifully, as someone who has managed to create a happy life for herself despite her disturbing childhood.

Though there’s plenty of sweetness in Maureen’s story, this is not a cozy read. The crimes are appalling, and Powell spares no details, recounting Maureen’s troubled past in raw, heartbreaking tones alongside the gritty minutia of Stevens’s sordid existence. Maureen struggles with her estranged father and wages war with herself about which dark family secrets to share with her daughter—personal tensions that Powell cleverly reflects in Tony’s trial, granting this mystery a refreshingly holistic view rarely found in legal thrillers. Even relatively minor characters are nicely fleshed out, and all get their just deserts in a wind-up that is both surprising and satisfying, leaving readers to eagerly await Maureen's next case.

Takeaway: A lawyer defends a man wrongly accused of murder while facing her own childhood demons.

Comparable Titles: Scott Turow, Michael Connelly.

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

Click here for more about The Millionaire
Who She Left Behind
Victoria Atamian Waterman
This touching multigenerational story of women facing trauma over decades draws readers to the harrowing journey of Victoria Karadelian, a survivor of the Armenian genocide, as she navigates the challenges of displacement, loss, and the quest for a new life. Losing her father and brothers in the war, Vicky and her remaining family face exile to Aleppo, Syria, only to be further separated as she becomes a maid in the Yavuz household—a situation she needs to escape from. "That was how it was,” observes Waterman’s narrator. “People moved on, or they were moved along.” Spanning continents and generations, the story eventually turns on the discovery of a pair of Armenian dolls buried in a gravesite, holding the potential to reunite lost families and begging to heal an enduring intergenerational trauma.

Historical authenticity is a standout feature of Waterman’s debut, as Who She Left Behind expertly delves into Armenian heritage, while the striking descriptions imbue this Aleppo with cultural richness and a vivid sense of the textures of life, from Ascension Day feasts to the intoxicating feel of a waltz. These ties connect the characters to the lost threads of generations over decades. Waterman brings insight and empathy to this cast, who emerge as complex and convincing people. Like her mother, Vicky shares the burden of shame from her fate in the Yavuz household. Determined to keep her secrets to her grave, she inadvertently creates an invisible divide between herself and her family—one that, decades later, her niece Rose is determined to resolve.

Distinguished by brisk storytelling and a deftly handled interplay between past and present, Waterman’s novel portrays with power the dynamics of trauma and abuse faced by displaced women. Who She Left Behind is a moving story of a refugee's legacy and motherhood, extending beyond familial lineage to encompass the exploration of intergenerational trauma, displacement, and survival that readers of sweeping, thoughtful novels will find resonant.

Takeaway: A generational story of exile, displacement, and motherhood in a foreign land.

Comparable Titles: Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper.

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

Click here for more about Who She Left Behind
Pet Poems Plus: How to write poems about pets (also not just pets)
Sean Petrie
“Poems are word music,” Petrie writes in this interactive follow up to Pet Poems, which has been crafted to shepherd younger readers towards writing fun, creative poetry. Rich with hands-on material and brilliantly hued watercolor illustrations by Amanda Hoxworth, the guide teaches the art of poetry on a beginner’s level, explaining different types of poems—question, imagine, and describe—while delving into tips and tricks of the trade. Included in those pointers are ways to incorporate similes, metaphors, and personification into poems that are centered mainly on animal subjects but can be generalized to any theme.

Petrie delivers a striking balance between educating readers on the technicalities of poetry and allowing them creative space to construct their own poems. Opportunities for inspiration abound, as readers are coached on ways to make their poetry “sparkle,” whether that’s cleverly breaking up text lines, drawing on the five senses to elevate writing, or nailing down a rhyming pattern that sounds natural. “Everyone has a unique view of the world,” Petrie declares, and that individuality is what makes poetry so fascinating: when penning descriptions, readers should be “as weird or strange as [they] want,” while spicing up a poem can be as simple as dropping an unexpected object into a verse (random animals and places are just some of Petrie’s suggestions).

From hints on how to master structure to understanding poetical rhythm, Petrie leaves no stone unturned, offering endless prompts that will transform poetry writing into an entertaining and worthwhile pastime for younger readers. Creative expression is key throughout, and Petrie includes opportunities to cut out Hoxworth’s jewel toned pictures for inspiration, as well as spare pages at the end for continued compositions. Particularly helpful are Petrie’s eight possible ways to end poems—including a cliffhanger ending to “[leave] everyone wondering”—and sections of review sprinkled throughout the guide. This artistic, fresh approach to poetry will delight young writers.

Takeaway: Creative, inviting approach to poetry for younger readers.

Comparable Titles: Michael Rosen’s What Is Poetry?, Marilyn Singer’s Follow the Recipe.

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

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A Fitting Epitaph
Michael Decker
Decker’s briny, memorable debut, the story of three down-on-their-luck fishermen, revolves around a plan to sail to Mexico to fish for albacore. Things don’t go exactly as planned, of course, but that’s the way of the sea, and this beautifully told novel, like all journeys, is fundamentally about the experience—and, as the narrator notes, it’s also about a “communion,” of a sort, “the joining between the sea and the old sailor who knew her so well.” That sailor is Ike, a blistering old salt who’s been at sea all his life. He’s joined in this undertaking by Tom, a neophyte with a penchant for adventure, and Bill, unemployed and broke after pouring all his money into the Skate, an old and worn-out boat whose apparent seaworthiness stirs a teenager to say “Either you're brave as hell or you're crazy.”

The narrative is a little slow to pick up, and it may take landlubbers some time to get used to the slang and terminology—Decker knows and loves sailor speak. But once you settle into it, the story breezes along, flowing on its natural currents, distinguished by Decker’s surehanded understanding of the work, rewards, and dangers of such an odyssey. Prose and dialogue are sparse and gruff (“Ain't nothin' on the land or in the sea stronger'n a shark,” Ike notes). The elemental realism will hook lovers of adventure stories drawn from life, and Decker reels readers in deeper as his men reveal themselves, their vulnerabilities as engaging as their actions. And just when the seas seem comfortable, everything gets shaken up, with two strong climaxes back to back.

Lovers of the sea and sailing will really enjoy this book, which is attuned to beauty but also to danger. The meditative passages are rich in mood, character, and a stirring sense of the power of nature, as Decker’s pacing reminds readers to live in the moment, aware that everything can change in an instant.

Takeaway: Marvelous sailing adventure, action-packed and meditative.

Comparable Titles: Peter Nichols’s A Voyage for Madmen, Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World.

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

Click here for more about A Fitting Epitaph
Where's B?
Robert Herrick
The big concert is approaching, and all the letters of the alphabet desperately need to practice their rendition of the alphabet song—but when they kickstart the last practice session, “B” has gone missing, sending the letters into a tizzy and threatening their performance. At first, they attempt the song backwards, in hopes that B will show up unannounced when his turn rolls around, but when the song flops and B’s still nowhere to be found, they vow to hunt him down. Herrick (Ten Is Too Many!) takes readers on a wild ride with the book’s alphabet cast as they take over B’s home and the local zoo in search of the elusive escapee.

Aside from giving young readers an entertaining opportunity to practice their alphabet, Herrick offers plenty of fun as well—particularly as the alphabet searches high and low in B’s house. “P” of course makes a beeline for the playroom, joined by a few friends, to take up a game of pool, while “H” heads to the hallway, only to miss B waking up late in his room. As B realizes, much to his embarrassment, that he’s missed concert practice, he quickly gets ready, taking care of a morning routine that even includes some time on the toilet. The other letters continue their clumsy search in every nook and cranny, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, “Z” has zoomed off to the local zoo, convinced that B can be found in his favorite exhibits, but his mission’s a failure too—and even puts him in danger of missing the concert performance. Herrick’s computer-generated illustrations are a collage of brightly hued letters in very relatable situations for young readers, including “L” making a mess of B’s laundry room and “K” raiding the fridge. Ultimately, they all manage to reunite just in the nick of time, giving this amusing story a well-earned happy ending.

Takeaway: Entertaining alphabet cast searches for a letter who’s gone missing.

Comparable Titles: Nancy Lessard Downing’s My Alphabet Soup, Audrey Wood and Bruce Wood’s Alphabet Mystery.

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

Click here for more about Where's B?
Privilege Lost: How a nice Jewish boy survived five years in America's darkest prisons.
Joshua Elyashiv
In this heated and pulsating memoir, Elyashiv recounts his five-year imprisonment for conspiracy to commit fraud—a RICO conviction, he reports, that came without evidence that he had actually committed a crime. "The reason the feds prevail [in RICO cases] is because they have created a law that eliminates the burden of proof," he writes, while painting a picture of being targeted by the vengeful husband of a woman with whom he had “a fleeting affair.” Describing being “beaten to a pulp, even tortured” and wondering “why … won’t they just kill me?” while enduring solitary confinement, Elyashiv laments how someone like him, an educated and upright man from a law-abiding Jewish family, could wind up in the filth and stench of prison life, where one either dies prey or lives a predator. He recounts the move from jail to Century Correctional Facility, where he befriends and defies the worst of inmates, and gradually drifting away from his principles.

Elyashiv’s account alarms as he describes being grouped with serial killers, rapists, and others despite being charged with a “conspiracy to commit” a fraud that hardly threatens humanity. Witnessing firsthand the maltreatment from both inmates and authorities, the abuse of power of officers, and the normalcy of violence breeding further violence, Elyashiv asks an urgent question: "Wasn’t prison supposed to be a place where criminals were reformed?"

The narrative seamlessly transitions between the intense, adrenaline-fueled conflicts—combat with the head of a criminal organization and a suicidal plea for mercy killing to a psychopath, among many others—and soul-searching reflections of survival within the harsh confines of the penal system. Life seemingly stopped for five years for Elyashiv, but there are certainly hard-earned lessons from the unexpected camaraderie formed and unresolved childhood and familial issues finally confronted, making up half the bulk of this book. The narrative occasionally lingers in explicit depiction of brutal prison life that readers may find mentally disturbing, but it serves as a raw and dogged testament to human resilience.

Takeaway: Unfiltered, outraged account of survival in a harsh American prison.

Comparable Titles: Anthony Ray Hinton's The Sun Does Shine, Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy.

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

Click here for more about Privilege Lost
It's Not EWWWW...It's YOU!: Un-Yucking The Grossest Wonders of the Human Body
Sharon Leya
Leya’s charming, hilarious picture book approaches the bodily functions that so often ick kids out from a clear-eyed, scientific perspective, using the titular maxim to encourage children to see our inner workings as natural processes required for optimal health. The distinguished narrator, Professor Ewe—who dons a shirt reading “everything is relative”—guides readers through eight of “the grossest things our body parts DRIP and SPEW,” including mucus, poop, gas, saliva, urine, ear wax, sweat, and blood. The good professor sets out to un-yuck the processes that result in these discharges by explaining the science behind each bodily wonder. “Mucus,” for example, “helps your nose stay clean and stops dust and germs from getting through.”

However, Professor Ewe is not the only instructor. Leya’s illustrator, Janna Maru, depicts a whole menagerie of characters, featuring hippos, turtles, sloths, raccoons, dogs, birds, and more, that visually instruct readers on these physiological functions, but the illustrations are far more than instructive; they are also entertaining. In the sweat section, a host of animals, including a perspiring panda, enjoy an afternoon at the beach amid a pickleball tournament played with actual pickles instead of balls. In another clever instance, Professor Ewe takes a canoe ride into an ear canal, armed with a lantern and Q-tips.

These details, along with Professor Ewe’s rhymed narration, encourage engagement and repeat readings, but another stand-out component of Leya’s book is the concluding “Prof. Ewe Explains” discussion guide that offers a more detailed overview of each of the bodily processes and helpful similes. For example, “sweat... acts like your body’s own air conditioner,” and “poop... is like your body’s own garbage disposal!” Young children (and those who read to them) will delight in Leya and Maru’s combined brilliance and remember that “the next time mucus drips from your nose or you have a stinky fart” it’s just the body helping you be you.

Takeaway: Amusing, educational picture book that un-yucks the bodies’ vital processes.

Comparable Titles: Kim Norman’s Give Me Back My Bones!, Justine Avery’s Everybody Poops!.

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

Click here for more about It's Not EWWWW...It's YOU!
Pet Poems (also not just pets)
Sean Petrie
Poet Petrie (Cracked & Broken) and artist Amanda Hoxworth delight with simple, accessible poetry for all age readers that delves into the minds of dogs and a variety of other animals. The poet and artist came together during the pandemic to work off each other’s talents in “a journey of accidents and experiments. Of delightful discoveries and inspiration.” Hoxworth has their subjects in iconic poses in a splash of vibrant watercolors, lively, alive in their element, and some, especially the dogs, with expressive smiles. Petrie paired his poetry to the enigmatic creatures in a gamut of pet thoughts and activities.

Dogs dominate the pages. Some are playful, like the laser focused dog ready to play in “Ball Is ALL,” and the one who accepts all the blame in “The Truth.” Other poems reveal the emotional adjustments in a dog’s life, from a pup determined to make a new location a home in “Foster,” to an ode to the “Family Dog” whether they have a whole family to love or just a single owner, and a pit bull convincing you his breed doesn’t deserved a “Bad Reputation.” Other highlights include the snuggly kitten in “Warmth,” the mesmerizing cat’s eyes in “Medusa,” and a helpful rabbit in “Bunny Aid.” Non-pets explore their environments. A wolf challenges his opinion of people in “Fear,” a skittish fawn hopes you’ll stand “right there” very still in “Clarification,” a hippo swims cautiously in the river in “Beneath the Surface,” “Sloth Secrets” reveals what these slow cuties really like to do, and don’t ever call a mountain goat a sheep in “Perched.”

These elegant, modest poems infiltrate the minds of anthropomorphized animals as we imagine them to be and hope they see us too. Readers will feel closer to their beloved dog or to animals in the wild with these brief, heartening, thought-provoking poems and dazzling artwork. This is a good, edifying book to keep handy to read over again.

Takeaway: A heartening celebration of animals in verse and illustration.

Comparable Titles: Julie Paschkis’s Flutter & Hum, L.E. Bowman’s What I Learned from the Trees.

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

Click here for more about Pet Poems (also not just pets)
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