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Murder In the Haunted Chamber
Bill LeFurgy
LeFurgy’s second historic mystery takes a turn for the supernatural. It's 1910, and Baltimore is at the height of the spiritualist movement. Ever logical, returning hero Sarah Kennecott, a doctor on the autism spectrum, is a skeptic even when faced with the ghost of her own sister asking her to investigate the murder of a young woman. But when a decidedly living client—claiming to be a spiritual medium—shows up seeking her help in finding the same woman who appeared in Sarah's vision, Sarah and her returning partner, the detective Jack Harden, must once again dive into the seedy underbelly of Baltimore in order to catch a killer.

Lefurgy's signal strength is his persuasive weaving in of historic details of technology, pop culture, and Baltimore lore without distracting from the story. The characters ride around in horse-drawn or motor cabs, checking out seedy bars that play ragtime while being heckled by prohibitionists. The story itself is a complex mystery with a wide cast of characters tied together through with an assassination plot and a blackmail attempt.That complexity is mitigated by the author pausing periodically to have the characters rehash the situation, which might prove repetitive for seasoned fans of the genre.

The protagonists form a classic duo of opposites—Jack is an emotional man of the streets, while Sarah is a logic-oriented member of high society—who complement each other well and have a spark of affection that leads to an unlikely but believable friendship. Sarah is particularly unique as a historical heroine on the autism spectrum. While her speech patterns are exaggeratedly stilted (“There is a high probability that all three deaths are attributable to a murderer, or perhaps a team of murderers”) in the manner of Vulcans or androids, overall she is a fully realized person with a passion for justice, one who also misses social cues. The book is a well-plotted mystery set against a vivid historical backdrop.

Takeaway: Great for readers of historical mysteries who love clever female detectives.

Great for fans of: Rhys Bowen, Victoria Thompson

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

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The Part That Burns: A memoir in fragments
Jeannine M Ouellette
Ouellette’s memoir is a mesmerizing narrative kaleidoscope centered on her struggle to come to terms with the abuse she endured as a child. When Ouellette was four years old, her mother’s second husband began to molest her, abuse that continued for years. Ouellette coped by searching for “doorways” that allowed her to escape into new worlds. Even after her mother’s relationship with the abuser ended, Ouellette’s rocky, unstable childhood eventually landed her in the foster care system. After she aged out, her own marriage and children inspired her to revisit her past, confront her trauma, and pen this remarkable book.

Ouellette eschews a traditional chronological approach, instead organizing the narrative into short vignettes, each related to a significant object or incident. This fragmented structure captures the complexity of Ouellette’s emotional journey by illuminating key events and themes from fresh angles and perspectives, the structure suggesting the actual workings of memory. Some readers may at first look for more sustained, synthesized reflection or more circumscribed resolutions, but Ouellette’s skillful arrangement of these vignettes allows the story to surge forward and backward in a way that both heightens anticipation and layers meaning onto her experiences, without disorienting attentive readers.

Within the vignettes, Ouellette tells her story with power, strength, and even surprises: She includes an autobiography she wrote in ninth grade, its youthful, polished sentences poignantly glossing over the darker truth of her life. A series of sections on “daughterhood,” co-written by her own daughter, puts both women’s perspectives in dialogue, intertwining their experiences while exploring their distinctions. These unique elements add further dimension to the rich themes of motherhood and memory, offering readers interpretive possibilities that are equally challenging and rewarding. Ouellette’s memoir inventively laces together her past, present, and future, resulting in an innovative yet deeply emotional reading experience.

Takeaway: This moving memoir will connect with thoughtful readers who are open to an unconventional exploration of living after abuse.

Great for fans of: Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Tara Westover’s Educated.

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

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To The Stars: A Novel
Shannon P Colleary
Two young women find friendship in each other just when they need it most in Bradley-Colleary’s heart-rending fiction debut, a novel that originated as a screenplay that became the 2019 Samuel Goldwyn film of the same title. Living in tiny WaKeeney, Kansas, where everyone knows everyone and everything, Iris has been an “Untouchable” her whole life. In high stress situations she wets herself, a byproduct of her mother’s verbal abuse and severe anxiety from a lifetime of bullying—the nickname “Stinky Drawers” follows her right into high school. So, she’s understandably leery when a stand-out city girl, Maggie, moves to town and wants to be her friend. Maggie has her own painful secrets, and she needs Iris just as much as Iris needs her.

Traveling back to 1961, a time when being different in any way was alienating and even dangerous in a small town, Bradley-Colleary expertly delves into the hearts and minds of young people of the era, inviting readers to experience their painful feelings and small victories. Making the story even more personal, the narrator is a woman who fought–and lost–her battle with depression and loved Iris as a daughter. Bradley-Colleary opens with that narrator’s captivating account of her own suicide (“This is not a ghost story. But it is a story told by a ghost”).

Bradley-Colleary brings the town and characters to full, engaging life in this moving narrative. The pond central to the story exudes sadness, as the location of the narrator’s suicide, but also the sanctity and solace Iris feels there. Minute character details—the flick of a cigarette, the way one’s “slick black hair” is “rolled into a stylish mound the Frogs call a ‘chingon’”—speak volumes both about individual personalities and mid-century Kansas. Sometimes uncomfortable in the best ways, To the Stars will draw readers in. Expect to fall in love with Iris and Maggie.

Takeaway: A beautiful story of an unlikely small-town teen friendship that empowers when it’s needed most.

Great for fans of: Fiona Valpy’s The Dressmaker’s Gift, Mary Ellen Taylor’s Honeysuckle Season.

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

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Creatrix Rising: Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women
Stephanie Raffelock
Inspired by the upheaval of American life during the Trump years, Raffelock (A Delightful Little Book on Aging) charts a course to embracing the title of Creatrix—her renaming of the archetypal feminine models of maiden, mother, and most especially crone—to empower other women. At the age of 68, Raffelock found herself among an oft-ignored group that has been slowly gaining a voice in society: midlife women. Through brief vignettes accompanied by prompts for journaling and reflection, Raffelock inspires midlife women to consider their own journeys in life and tap into their creative power.

Raffelock is a product of and poster child of her generation, and she devotes considerable energy to examining the development of her feminist identity and recounting her struggles with drug addiction. Rather than glamorize her past drug use, she illustrates her self-destructive tendencies and how easy it was to indulge them in Laurel Canyon in the 1970s. Her feminism, too, is very much situated in that era: Her heartfelt description of the 2017 Women’s March emphasizes a sense of hope, uplift, and cross-generational connection: “Older women like me had the experience of an earlier feminism,” she notes. “Younger women carried the torch of new inspiration and vision. We’d been walking side by side for longer than any of us realized.”

Raffelock’s voice is gentle but probing, of herself and her audience, which shines through in her journal prompts: Neither gimmick nor afterthought, they’re a continual highlight, functioning as an introspective, reflective tool for readers seeking a new perspective or an opportunity to work through the complexities of feminism. Full of heart and impassioned insight (“There is no diagnostic code for grief, and there are no medications for sorrow”), Creatrix Rising empowers and inspires midlife women with the author’s hard-earned wisdom, providing a framework for readers to come into their own revolutionary power as a Creatrix.

Takeaway: Midlife women who want to reclaim their power will find inspiration and tools for reflection in this moving memoir.

Great for fans of: Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s Women Who Run with the Wolves, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.

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

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Swimming with the Angels
Colin Kersey
Kersey follows his exciting debut (Soul Catcher) with this immersive thriller about how a man reinvents himself when members of a drug cartel kill his wife. Grayson Reynolds is the name that a man adopts to evade pursuit when the Sinaloa cartel takes revenge against his wife, Heide, after discovering that she had engineered the theft of some of its money through a hedge fund. Bereft and in danger, this “Grayson” leaves California to work in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains, north of Seattle. Though the pay is minimal, Grayson hopes that his job at a farm will at least keep him safe. But complications arise when the farmer’s younger daughter, Valerie, a kind, blind woman, becomes attracted to Grayson—and her married sister Vonda starts flirting with him, too. Once he realizes his presence puts the family in danger, he must decide on his next move.

Kersey’s expert pacing and attention to detail surrounding the life-changing events in Grayson’s life breathes life into the story, quickly immersing the reader. An early attack on a boat at Newport Harbor captures the combination of momentum and convincing color: “Bits of vinyl seats, fiberglass,and bloody body parts peppered me as we blasted past the paddleboarders, swamping them in our wake.” Elsewhere, that lyricism highlights Grayson’s introspective nature, offering greater insight into a man forced to leave his life behind and start over.

While highlighting the beauty near the North Cascade Mountains, Kersey deftly depicts the family dynamic between Vonda and Valerie. He reveals the complexity behind Vonda’s jealousy of Valerie; though she’s initially portrayed as somewhat naïve, her depth gets revealed as Grayson comes to know her, discovering her conviction that he is the man her deceased mother believed would one day come to see her. This thriller offers the on-the-run action that fans of the genre crave but also character and heart.

Takeaway: One man must take on a new identity if he wants a chance at survival in this fleet on-the-run thriller.

Great for fans of: Nora Roberts’s The Witness, Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead.

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

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Jacob's Ladder: Book 3 of The Croy Cycle
Louis Flint Ceci
The third novel in Ceci’s Croy Cycle sees outsider teen Mally Jacobs return to his small hometown after experiencing life and love in the turbulent Big Apple of the late 1960s. After finding his first boyfriend and witnessing the Stonewall riots firsthand, Mally has changed—he’s even adopted a new moniker, calling himself “Jake.” But how can readjust to small-town life when Croy, Oklahoma, is just as conservative as it always has been? As he holds onto the secret of his sexuality, Jake will find what it means to be himself, even in less-than-forgiving Croy.

At its core, Jacob’s Ladder is an elegant meditation on the power of friendship, even in the most uncertain times. The story is strong enough to be presented as a standalone novel; even new readers will be drawn in this late in the series, and they’ll find ample reasons to seek out Ceci’s earlier books. Jake, his boyfriend Vince, and the various inhabitants of Croy are colorful, engaging, and complex. Jake’s struggle to come to terms with the close-mindedness of his schoolmates and his desire to help another long-suffering classmate, Beau, are touching. Charming line illustrations by Jennifer Rain Crosby give extra life to the story and a face to the characters.

Ceci’s atmospheric prose captures the ethos of the era as church and school clash, the war rages on, and the Beatles give way toThe Brady Bunch. Ceci’s skillful, empathetic examination of sexuality, youth culture, and religion is not just welcome but necessary, in any time of upheaval. Young readers who may be coming to grips with their own sexuality will be drawn to the openness and honesty of this depiction and the likeability of the cast. Ceci’s honest, realistic depiction of teenage life in the 1960s and 1970s will resonate with young and older audiences alike.

Takeaway: A moving novel of going home and coming of age while gay as the 1960s end.

Great for fans of: Jim Grimsley’s Dream Boy, Fenton Johnson’s Scissors, Paper, Rock.

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

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Hall Of Skulls
Jamie Eubanks
Eubanks (Hidden Doors, Secret Rooms) weaves an impressive sci-fi love story that crosses time and space. Kai, a member of the Mokuteki civilization, sits at the precipice of earning the prestigious rank and title of Captain Da’o Churi Koa Kai. First, he must complete a grueling, four-stage testing phase, but when it’s discovered that his soul mate Asher has been captured by the Mokuteki’s sworn alien enemies, the Thrakens, he realizes the most important test has begun—and it’s deeply personal. He must risk everything to travel through a portal to Bastian Thraken to rescue his beloved before she’s lost forever.

The heart of this epic is one man’s quest to rescue his soulmate, but Eubanks threads the tale with intricate worldbuilding and fascinating themes, such as concerns about humanity’s dependence on technology, how personal perception can alter history, and the conflict between the desire to remain civilized and the necessity to defend oneself against enemies. Kai’s physical and mental prowess are equally matched by Asher’s strength and pose; when his loyalty toward her gets tested, Kai’s rational personality is pitted against the hopeless romantic he is at his core, creating significant tension.

Eubanks presents the spacefaring technology and tricky time-travel adventures of her complex universe with inviting clarity while showcasing her ability to craft visceral images: “The intense swirl of cloud started to drain of its many colors, becoming pure white as it began to dissipate, eventually leaving just a wispy veil of fog behind.” She sprinkles inventive elements throughout, such as a Tutor—a device that syncs with the wearer’s genetic material and plays educational material—or kips, the whiskers on Kai's ears that help detect movement. While some points of plot or tech get repeated in dialogue, the narrative moves at a pleasant pace, waxing and waning between action and reflection. Readers looking for a sci-fi romance filled with adventure and a likeable protagonist will enjoy Halls of Skulls.

Takeaway: An SF epic packed with action, romance, and a quest across space-time to rescue a soulmate.

Great for fans of: Lois McMaster Bujold, Carol Van Natta.

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

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FUNCTIONAL DYSFUNCTION: From Sour Grapes to Fine Wine
Dr Curtis E Ball
Physician and minister Ball debuts with an intense analysis of his childhood trauma and the myriad ways it impacted him as an adult. The youngest of four siblings, Ball recounts his strict upbringing by cold and distant parents — including painful details of sexual abuse by a sibling — and delves into his dysfunctional adult relationships springing from unresolved trauma, all in the name of demonstrating that “the power of love” is what’s needed to repair “many of the things that ail humanity,” as “many homes and families are generationally inept at loving.” More memoir than self-help guide, this grueling account examines years of abuse and tumultuous family dynamics, mining Ball’s experiences for lessons in how to break trauma cycles.

Ball’s writing style evokes fireside diary entries with a dark edge. He initially focuses on the distant, demanding parenting of his upbringing, including never hearing “I love you” and exposure to regular verbal tirades with “backhanded” compliments. Later chapters touch on wrongs he suffered as an adult as well, including his first wife’s affair, his erasure from his ministry position, and his mother’s refusal to help him access scholarships for medical school. Ball reveals that these wounds culminated in a desire to end his life–but instead led to his discovery of the “diamonds of wisdom under the rubbish of my childhood trauma.”

Readers seeking their own trauma healing will appreciate Ball’s willingness to open old scars, though some of the abuse details can be triggering. He postpones discussion of recovery strategies until the book’s end—where he endorses nuggets like giving yourself permission to feel negative or positive emotions and refusing to fall into shame after failures—but readers seeking more concrete advice will have to look elsewhere. By often focusing on the faults of others, Ball will alienate some audiences, but for those who value raw memoirs that boldly dissect the lasting impacts of trauma, this account will make a lasting impression.

Takeaway: A piercing memoir of childhood trauma, supplemented with strategies to overcome and break the cycle.

Great for fans of: Janyne McConnaughey’s Brave,Chanel Miller’s Know My Name.

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

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All the Tommys in the World: a zombie thriller
Javier Gombinsky
Gombinsky’s debut follows Lilith and Nate, middle-aged YouTubers who love horror movies and scaring each other––even during a zombie apocalypse. This zombie thriller begins at the end of that apocalypse––at least, that’s what the media is saying. That claim inspires Lilith and Nate decide to go for a “zombie run” outside, their last chance to experience the adrenaline of being chased by walking dead. They get separated while escaping from the still quite prevalent undead––leaving Frankie, a kid in a hospital gown, behind. Separately, they start to realize that the “slayers” who reportedly had been eliminating the threat are actually nowhere to be found, and now the fight for humanity is up to them.

From zombies to ghosts to ancient orders to psychic visions and prophecies, this genre-bending mystery keeps its audience and characters guessing, keeping the suspense alive throughout, though at times the storytelling falters. The narrative begins strong and clear, gets muddled and repetitive in the middle, and regains its strength by the end. There are so many twists that the story becomes disorienting––and important plot points are easy to miss, as key moments pass too quickly and the passage of time in the story is not always clear.

Gombinsky’s use of dramatic irony creates a lot of tension: Lilith and Nate’s separation adds to the suspense because they each learn different clues to solve the mystery of the zombies, but they aren’t able to communicate. In a meta-fictional twist, the characters note “It’s trope after trope out there” of their zombie encounters; once Lilith and Nate start to do “the unexpected,” outsmarting the zombies, the story flowers into a potent exploration of rebellion and genre. A final twist that turns all those zombie apocalypse tropes on their heads makes up for the slow-moving middle. Fans of meta-horror and gory body horror will be satisfied: between green blood, severed body parts, and creepy old cemeteries, this thriller never forgets its bloody roots, even as it upends them.

Takeaway: This bloody, clever zombie thriller takes off when its heroes start challenging the rules of the genre.

Great for fans of: David Wellington’s Monster Island, Mira Grant’s Feed.

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

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The Balance of Fear
Diana C. Hall
In Hall’s suspenseful thriller, a university professor racing to forget the traumatic events of her past must dive headlong into a quest to solve a student’s murder. suspenseful tale of death on a college campus. Beth Stanton, a theater professor at Seattle University of the Arts, moved from New York to Seattle to escape the painful memories of her stalker. One morning, Beth discovers the body of a student hanging in the rafters: Alyson Samuel, a cast member of the university’s production of Madame Butterfly. Though police initially consider Alyson’s death a suicide, suspicious circumstances point to murder–and Beth, along with her attorney husband John, jumps into the race to find the killer.

As she tries to uncover the motive for Alyson’s murder, Beth finds herself caught up in the bizarre dynamics of Margaret Palmer, the director of the play, and her husband Ray, a fellow professor whose fixation with the play’s young lead, Ami Akido, lands him on the suspect list: Ami was one of the last people to see Alyson alive. Hall’s understanding of academia, the theater, and the legal world add welcome authenticity to the narrative, as she convincingly captures a criminal investigation and provides accurate insight into John’s legal practice. The spot-on depiction of university tenure systems, and the tension-filled relationships between faculty and administration, ground the novel’s different components in a believable world.

Also strongly developed: The backstage politics and emotional upheaval of casting and staging a play. Hall gradually offers details into the circumstances of why Beth, once a dancer on Broadway, left New York, adding another layer of mystery. Hall’s knotty plotting and fast-paced storytelling will keep readers guessing. Despite some wooden dialogue between the characters at times, this is a compelling thriller builds to a stunning conclusion.

Takeaway: This smart, swift race-against-time thriller boasts a convincing academic milieu and a knockout conclusion.

Great for fans of: Christopher Greyson’s The Girl Who Lived, Margaret Coel’s The Dream Stalker.

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

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From Pain to Love Our Journey Outside the Rainbow
Naomi W Scales and Marilyn J Jordan
“Our childhood is probably a shock to some of you and yet to others a milder version of your own life,” Scales notes in this engaging joint memoir that traces the lives of two dear friends (and eventual lovers and life partners) who have fought for love on their own terms in adult life after scarifying childhoods. “We had to fight for our innocence and our physical safety. In doing so we learned to hide our pain.” The women’s wrenching, ultimately uplifting story involves hiding pain right up into their adult years, when a love like theirs still sometimes is “demonized.” Their story, told in the authors’ intertwined voices and frankly facing trauma and loss, centers on resilience and learning to trust one’s own truth.

Scales’s childhood in Chicago’s Harold Ickes Projects takes up the bulk of the book’s first quarter, the narrative contrasting with shorter reminiscences from Jordan about her picket-fence, financially stable upbringing in Arkansas. Despite differences in their circumstances–while Scales faced city violence, including a stabbing, Jordan was a cheerleader with a boyfriend’s promise ring–both women endured attacks from bullies and sexual abuse, often from predators with power over them. “I did not tell my mom because I wanted to see her happy,” Jordan notes, heartrendingly, when discussing the demands she endured from her mother’s boyfriend. Befriending each other in college changed everything; though both understood that their bond was powered by something more than friendship, a conventional marriage, cross-country moves, and the expectations of society slowed the inevitable.

The authors’ journey toward love and acceptance is movingly told, with an emphasis on accepting and confronting challenges, such as entering counseling when things get tough. The prose is conversational, with epigrammatic wit, bursts of straight-talk wisdom, and surges of emotion, though readers of contemporary memoir might miss conventional scenecraft and pacing. This compelling dual love story is a vital contribution to the literature of what American life is actually like.

Takeaway: An arresting dual memoir and women’s love story about resilience and honoring one’s truth.

Great for fans of: E. Patrick Johnson’s Black. Queer. Southern. Women., Saeed Jones’s How We Fight for Ourselves.

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

The View from my Window
Patricia J. Gallegos
Willow is a 22-year-old shaman-in-training of the Tsigani tribe, a nomadic group that exists on the margins of their world. Hunted by villagers and treated as vermin by most, everything changes for the Tsigani when Willow is called upon by the queen of a neighboring realm who has long suffered from a mysterious illness. Having heard of Willow’s great skill in healing, the Queen’s daughter, Princess Madeline, summons Willow from her people and way of life for an adventure in a kingdom she barely knows. There, palace politics are cutthroat, especially for someone from the plains; just as pressingly, the princess herself intrigues Willow more than either of them could have imagined. To find love, save her tribe, and secure the kingdom, Willow must challenge everything she thought she understood about her world—and discover herself in the process.

In her YA fantasy debut, Gallegos draws upon real-life tensions and oppression faced by Roma people to shape her depiction of Willow’s “Romany” tribe. While the novel features a stirring depiction of queer love and cultural conflict through a fantastic lens, some readers may be discomfited by some of its treatment of people of color (one character is described by another woman of color as “…exotic to look at, as her skin was a delicious warm brown color.” In some moments, Gallegos’ writing seems to emulate the imagined conventions of ancient texts, replete with formal declarations between friends, dramatic repetition for effect, and speech devoid of contractions.

With plenty of twists and turns, The View from my Window is anything but predictable, though its graphic depictions of sex make it most suitable for adult audiences. Its many plot threads will keep readers guessing, while lovers of political intrigue may be surprised by the novel’s ultimate enemy. Gallegos leaves plenty of breadcrumbs for a potential sequel, which will surely delight fans of this epic fantasy.

Takeaway: An ambitious epic fantasy boasting romance and political intrigue, all rooted in Roma culture.

Great for fans of: Christi J. Whitney’s Grey, Charles de Lint’s Mulengro.

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

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Alignment : Overcoming internal sabotage and digital product failure
Jonathon Hensley
Consulting firm CEO and Silicon Valley native Hensley gives practical, real-world advice geared toward management teams and organizational leaders looking to successfully launch digital products and services in this comprehensive business guide. Hensley’s stated goal is to demonstrate “that true alignment requires clarity, focus, and a powerful strategic product foundation.” Drawing upon his own career experience and extensive interviews with top industry leaders, engineers, and product managers, Hensley pins down the sometimes elusive concept of “alignment” and examines how it can be used to drive successful digital product transformations, build value, and create measurable impacts.

This guide is broken into five parts and carefully examines the various levels of alignment, causes of product failure, models of digital leadership, and the connection between a product’s strategy and a team’s overall performance. Hensley warns: “a plan without a clear strategy is worthless, and perhaps even dangerous” and goes on to explain the internal (controllable) and external (uncontrollable) factors that often lead to misalignment and product failure.The included case studies focus mainly on web, mobile, Internet and tech based products, but the concepts Henley discusses will be helpful to the launch of any new product or service.

While the audience for some of this information is highly specialized, many of the professional terms presented in the first few sections are not. Hensley briefly touches upon common business topics such as technical debt, strategic planning, and target audiences before exploring the “deeper, biological” behavioral and “innate psychological” aspects of alignment. Making graceful use of bulleted lists, illustrations, tables and charts, Hensley breaks down concepts into easily digestible snippets of information for readers to internalize. Professional and straight to the point, this guide delivers invaluable knowledge for those launching products and services in the ever-evolving digital environment.

Takeaway: Invaluable insight for product managers and organizational leaders hoping to launch successful digital products

Great for fans of: Jim Collins, Robert Cialdini.

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

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Jonathan: Prince of Dreams
A. Corrin
Corrin’s debut is an action-packed coming-of-age story. Reeling from his mother’s tragic death and his alcoholic father’s abuse, teenager Jonathan He’klarr tries to escape his demons on his high school’s football field, but his dizzying dreams are his only true escape. When an accident knocks him out, he is catapulted into the world of those dreams, where he discovers not only that he can transform into a griffin, but that he’s destined to become the next griffin king. Jonathan has a lot to learn and must do so quickly: Even as he’s plunged into the “Land of Dreams,” our real world is set upon by dark entities known as Rankers, creatures “born of nightmares and sinister thoughts” who manipulate humans to enact their darkest desires.

This rollicking fantasy moves at a swift pace, and readers will appreciate Jonathan’s believable bewilderment at his predicament and his sarcastic sense of humor (“‘Listen, Socrates,’ I snapped, ‘I would love to have some long, philosophical discussion with you about life and death and humanity and crap, but I’m kind of losing my mind right now, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and find a phone.’”) Likewise, his traumatic past gives the tale depth, especially when the Rankers try to use it against him; readers will cheer Jonathan on in hopes that he will overcome it.

Some odd extraneous elements (such as griffins riding surfboards) and a familiar quest plot may give pause to seasoned fans of the genre. However, Corrin more than makes up for some standard issue plotting with her varied cast of characters, some of which will leave a lasting mark. The Rankers in particular boast both portentous origins and otherworldly, evil powers. This intense and vivid fantasy will win the hearts of readers who crave mystical worlds, danger, and adventure.

Takeaway: This intense, character-rich fantasy finds a teen taking on a dream world to save our real one.

Great for fans of: Parris Sheets’s Warden’s Reign, Barbara Kloss’s Gaia’s Secret.

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

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Sleeping Presidents
John Phillips
Phillips’s (Ransoming Mathew Brady) slim prose fiction collection takes us into the dreams and daydreams of 45 American presidents, up through Donald Trump. Inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “The Sleepers,” Sleeping Presidents unfolds with a dreamy, poetic quality of its own, these first-person accounts of dreams often emphasizing beds and sleep, keeping readers off balance and guessing at what is real, what is being dreamed up, and what is the author’s invention. Phillips’s own impressionistic watercolor and oil paintings mirror the chimerical prose and central theme that we can never really know anyone, perhaps especially our public figures.

As with all collections, some pieces stand out. Phillips is most successful when he inserts specific details into the worlds these men inhabit. Reagan remembers how “Mother” (whose lap is “a bony refuge”) “changes her apron daily, so I can tell the day of the week from the colors and smells,” and Arthur describes a medicinal concoction for baldness consisting of “pulverized snails, horse leeches, and salt.” Phillips’s presidents tend to ruminate about similar matters—their childhood, their parents, the functioning of their bodies and, occasionally, the presidency. While certain chapters boast stylistic differences, such as Obama’s use of poetry, this makes the less inspired stories feel repetitive. The pieces are cohesive, of course, as each one deals with a president and demonstrates a shared and even mundane humanity (“I like being president,” Trump muses. “It’s not a job so much as a feeling”) though the stream-of-consciousness approach makes some entries feel less memorably focused than others.

This style does have the advantage of creating intimacy between the reader and each president–where else are we going to read about President Cleveland’s scrotum or Garfield’s shaved legs? The paintings, meanwhile, offer a stunning complement to the prose, inviting readers to make the kind of intuitive connections and leaps they might while dreaming. Overall, this is an unorthodox but captivating approach to historical fiction, and the embedded art elevates this to something quite special.

Takeaway: A winning, experimental plunge into the dreaming minds of American presidents.

Great for fans of: Thomas Mallon, George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo.

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

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Drained
Marc Daniel Acriche
Acriche’s debut ushers readers to a future New York City, circa 2048, where corruption spills into the streets and a border of light and dark divides Manhattan at 14th Street. High schoolers Casey and her best friend Jennifer live a relatively comfortable life until they discover that Jennifer’s crush Martin has been recruited by the ICP, the Independent Coalition Party, a formidable organization recruiting for the military’s endless wars at the southern border and overseas—and though it’s dangerous to question the ICP’s actions, Casey and Jennifer are certain Martin would never voluntarily sign up. When Casey risks her life to go behind enemy lines as a recruit she quickly discovers that she’s in over her head.

Acriche proves masterful at getting clear, inventive action onto the page and keeping it moving. When Casey reluctantly dashes down a “woodsy incline” outside a parking garage, Acriche writes “So, down she went, slipping and sliding—first on her feet, then on her ass, then back on her feet.” Readers will zip with the hero through the twists and dramatic fights. Casey’s courage extends beyond her years, as she slowly comes to realize that life will never be the same after her covert mission. Although the story centers on Casey, Jennifer plays a strong supporting role, sacrificing her entire way of life in the name of truth, and a sweet romantic subplot balances the tense themes and gives the reader a chance to breathe between the action.

The book opens with a map of this future New York, to orient readers to the setting and major scenes, but Acriche foregoes info-dump exposition about this dystopian future, instead plunging readers right into it. Stimulating discussion questions at the end will spark debate about privilege, family, friendship, and sacrifice. Readers of all ages will warm to Casey, as she finds more confidence and strength with each chapter.

Takeaway: A great escape for anyone who loves a dynamic young hero fighting a corrupt government.

Great for fans of: Tehlor Kay Mejia’s We Set the Dark on Fire, Axie Oh’s Rebel Soul.

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

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