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Cama: Your Special Friend: Change, Kindness, Love, Forgiveness
Cheryl Beck
In four charming stories about change, kindness, love, and forgiveness, Beck’s warm-hearted picture book spotlights kids getting through challenging situations with the help of a mystical toy elephant named Cama. In the first tale, a woman named Mrs. Gingerberry finds the striking pachyderm at a rummage sale, recognizing it as something special. She gives it to her daughter, Sapphire, who is struggling with the news that her best friend is moving away. Eventually, Cama helps a dejected Sapphire connect with new friends. In other stories, characters navigate finding a lost pet, coping with anxiety, and finding a way to share something they love, all with Cama at their side.

Beck shrewdly chooses not to let the elephant alone be what gets these kids over the hump. Despite Cama’s magic, the characters still must dig into their own innate strengths to solve their problems. In the final story about forgiveness, a shy little boy named Timmy brings Cama to school to make him feel more comfortable–and to help him face Kyle, the class bully. When Kyle accidentally falls during recess and breaks the elephant’s trunk, the rest of the class finally turns on him–and Timmy finds himself in the uncomfortable position of sticking up for Kyle, who later becomes Timmy’s friend.

The characters are also diverse–one story centers on a Spanish-speaking family, while another follows a boy named Dayne who is trying out for the wheelchair basketball team. This type of representation will help a wider variety of children to feel seen and understood. Melissa Charpentier’s brightly colored, dreamlike watercolor illustrations will also help children become engrossed in these relatable miniature dramas, while Beck’s clear, straightforward prose is easy for new readers to understand. Children will easily identify with these characters and their familiar emotions–and long for a friend as special as Cama.

Takeaway: Four endearing stories of overcoming problems with the power of love and the help of a toy elephant.

Great for fans of: Mo Willems’s Knuffle Bunny, Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing.

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

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The Conscious Virus: An Aedgar Wisdom Novel
Miki Mitayn
This ambitious spiritual adventure, the first novel in Mitayn’s Aedgar Wisdom Series, finds a doctor, Nerida, and her shaman life partner Mari, guided across Australia by spirits like Aedgar, who often appears as a blue wren, and M’Hoq Toq, a Native American Medicine Man. Mari’s entranced encounters with these channeled beings help the couple discover new ways of seeing, being, and healing, as they occasionally slip into the past and a ravaged future–until Covid-19 hits, and their lives and world gets upended. In an age of grief, outrage, and quarantine, the couple and the spirits face the possibility that the virus is “conscious” and intentionally created, and that for all its destructive power it offers humanity a chance to improve itself and its relationship to this planet.

Then the spirits start warning the women against Covid vaccines. Mitayn’s novel combines travelogue updates of the women’s journeys and quarantine updates of what life was like in Western Australia during the pandemic, both of which prove compelling, especially thanks to the warm central relationship between Nerida and Mari. Also compelling, at times, are the novel’s lengthy colloquies with spirits who inveigh against humanity’s urge to travel for no reason and to prioritize “paper with numbers on it” over all else, especially the Earth, the life on it, the poor, and anything “with consciousness.”

But the drama in the novel’s final third centers on Nerida’s uncertainty about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. The spirit Aedgar warns against them, arguing that the medical establishment will subject the populace to a battery of "so-called" vaccines that will change our DNA. It’s disappointing that transcendent communication with a spirit sounds so much like contemporary anti-vax campaigns. Ultimately, Nerida does not become an anti-vaccine crusader, but the book’s prolonged focus on vaccine hesitancy–and Aedgar’s insistence that Covid was “created” as a “weapon”–will limit its audience to readers already interested in this perspective.

Takeaway: A spiritual exploration of Australian life during Covid gives way to extended consideration of anti-vax views.

Great for fans of: Judy Nunn’s Spirits of the Ghan, Harvey Arden’s Dreamkeepers: A Spirit-Journey into Aboriginal Australia.

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

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The Path To True Leadership: A Strategy for Leadership Growth
Charles Leonard Gill
Gill debuts with a succinct guide for Christians seeking to become capable, powerful leaders, built on Christian teachings and brimming with uplifting encouragement. Stressing the need to be intentional, specifically through a laser focus on developing a well-defined future plan and following through with action steps, he presents an approach to life and leadership based on three foundational principles: To achieve or to lead, you must exercise faith and apply God’s teaching; maintain physical health; and pursue lifelong education. Gill develops these principles--and lays out advice specific to leadership—all with a strong emphasis on faith, arguing “[i]t costs you nothing to believe, and may cost you everything not to.”

Gill organizes this slim guide around his three central truths, expanding on each with anecdotes from his past as well as drawing from well-established leadership sources, such as Bruce Tuckman’s stages of group development. To encourage readers to accept the impossibility of perfection, he writes frankly about his own personal challenges stemming from his active military service, and he uses his own failures as illustrations for regrowth and transformation. Christian readers will appreciate the shared private spiritual experience–including Gill’s somewhat surprising account of “speak[ing] my son into existence”–and his continuous use of Bible verses to clarify concepts.

Despite a heartening core message, some elements of Gill’s treatise would prove more persuasive with further development. His emphasis on physical fitness is refreshing, but the brief chapter on health is also somewhat pitiless, as when he insists that putting on some “pandemic weight” can “take a leader off the path to true leadership.” More clear and helpful are passages encouraging readers to develop leadership characteristics by giving back to underserved populations and concrete steps on how to build meaningful relationships with employees–and Gill’s observation that “faith is like insurance” is intriguing. Readers seeking basic ideas on leadership skills supported with Christian beliefs will find a start to build on here.

Takeaway: A examination of what it takes to be an effective leader, paired with Christian faith principles and supporting Bible verses.

Great for fans of: James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner’s Learning Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders’s Spiritual Leadership.

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

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A Place LIke This: Finding Myself in a Cape Cod Cottage
Sally W Buffington
Musician, writer, and photographer Buffington’s enchanting debut contemplates how her in-laws’ summer cottage on Cape Cod, lovingly called “Craigville,” fostered her creative interest in writing and photography, and how houses come to figure into “the landscape of our hearts and minds.” In January 1968, her fiancé, Andy, introduces her to Craigville, the winter air “as cold as the water of baptism.” Later she forges her own space in a cottage crowded with three generations of Buffingtons: parents, Jim Jr. “Dad” and Lois “Mom” Buffington; sons, Jim, Pete, and Andy; and Jim’s wife, Judy, and their children.

This warm celebration is not without some minor conflict. Mom runs Craigville as “CDO: Chief Domestic Officer” with an attitude of “Stick to what you were trained for” and “the way we’ve always done it,” dismissing Buffington’s burgeoning creative passions and desire to “learn this place for itself, and for myself.” The three Buffington brothers are “The Broze: a group of quirky, talkative guys,” able to cover nine different topics in one conversation; while Buffington is charmed, some readers may be disenchanted by the thought Broze dominating conversation and Craigville. However, humor and Mom’s classic blueberry pies temper the sometimes-oppressive atmosphere. Midlife readers will identify with Buffington’s pursuit of “cottage independence,” freedom from Mom’s established routine and control, and a desk in a quiet spot at which to write; readers may even be able to taste the “pungent wild fruit whose spicy fragrance perfumed the kitchen during baking.”

Simple yet captivating photos of the family, cottage, and memories, such as a toy monkey hanging from a light, appear throughout the narrative, demonstrating how Buffington can “see things other people don’t see” in everyday scenes and find them beautiful. But her prose is where that ability most shines through. This memoir paints a vivid and lasting memory of a home with as much personality as the family who lived there.

Takeaway: Midlife readers and those interested in homes passed down through generations will enjoy this memoir of a classic Cape Cod cottage.

Great for fans of: Joan Anderson’s A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, Erika Montgomery’s A Summer to Remember.

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

Bittersharp
K.D. Burrows
Burrows debuts with a creepy and effective haunted house story, dual-tracked to interlace contemporary terror with sordid romantic drama. In 2018, Rachel Shepherd arrives at the old Virginia mansion her father and stepmother are converting to a B&B—to discover her father has hanged himself and left a fearful suicide note, her stepmother Lily is behaving bizarrely, and that Rachel herself keeps seeing an apparition of a woman in a red dress. Flashbacks to 1927 find Eve Boland visiting her cousin Luke, while her friendship with his actress wife Corrine takes dark turns. In the present, when Rachel enlists newly renewed flame Isaiah for help, their discovery of Eve’s diary and a stash of photos launches them into a battle with a ghost fighting to protect her secrets.

Burrows’ choice to give the historical side as much attention as the modern aftermath pays off in a richly integrated story that forces the reader to simultaneously—and uncomfortably—engage in both romance and horror aesthetics. Opening with Eve as a feisty old lady uncowed by the murderous presence in her home, only later to disclose her relationship to Corrine’s ghost, Burrows ties Corrine’s presence to Isaiah and Rachel’s first breakup, and the timeline pulls together emotionally as Eve’s diary in 1927 starts to reveal the facts. Deep characterization makes Eve, Corrine, and Rachel all feel like protagonists in a women’s story that leaves the men in their lives more tangential.

Pacing is thoughtful and solid, so that Rachel’s discoveries, Eve’s disclosures, and Corrine’s increased paranormal activity keep pace with one another. The revelations regularly surprise, while never feeling like they come out of nowhere, and Burrows uses the shared physical space of the two stories effectively. Charging Rachel and Lily’s already strong antagonism with the power of Corrine’s takeover of Lily’s body gives a delightfully terrifying sense of the past literally grabbing into the present.

Takeaway: Readers who love relationship drama—whether historical, romantic, or spooky—will find this ghost story grabs hard and refuses to let go.

Great for fans of: Anne Rivers Siddons’s The House Next Door , Tananarive Due’s The Good House.

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

Click here for more about Bittersharp
The Inclusive Leader: Taking Intentional Action for Justice and Equity
Artika Tyner
Tyner’s forward-thinking management guide encourages readers toward becoming well-rounded, inclusive leaders in the community and the workplace, with an emphasis on practical steps toward creating diversity within organizations and identifying and correcting for one’s own implicit biases. The Inclusive Leader calls for creating change by navigating biases head on, encouraging straight-forward discussions within organizations, and taking the initiative to address organizational behavior for the better. By tying this mission to a framework that studies four key linked areas of how we live our lives—the intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, and societal aspects of living—Tyner demonstrates how leadership and organizational success are rooted in the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Simply put, healthy DEI makes for healthier workplace interactions, better job performance, and ultimately the betterment of society itself.

The founding director of The Center on Race, Leadership, and Social Justice at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Tyner lays out that framework with eloquent clarity, urging leaders to increase their cultural intelligence and set DEI goals—and commit to them. Inclusive leadership is a practice, not a talking point, one that demands leaders “actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making” and “see diverse talent as a source of competitive advantage and inspire diverse people to drive organizational and individual performance towards a shared vision.'" Case studies, charts, infographics, copious original and practical advice, and thoughtful tools for reflection make the case and encourage readers to pause, reflect, and grow.

Tyner is precise and to-the-point, offering an informative and often entertaining roadmap whose principles apply to all manner of workplaces or organizations, perfect for readers entering management, entrepreneurs looking to create a comfortable environment for their employees, or anyone already in a position of leadership. The Inclusive Leader is a comprehensive, up-to-date toolbox designed to help readers build new ways of seeing, thinking, and leading—and to lead by example in fostering diverse, positive, welcoming environments in the workplace or the community.

Takeaway: A clear, precise how-to guide for leaders ready to walk the walk when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Great for fans of: Rita Server’s Leading for Justice, Jennifer Brown’s Inclusion.

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

Fooled by the Winners: How Survivor Bias Deceives Us
David Lockwood
Lockwood explores one of the most common cognitive biases, survivor bias, which he describes as the tendency to “Concentrat[e] on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not.” He posits that we need to understand both the survivors and the casualties in situations to develop a “clear view of the future” and to ensure our survival as a species. “[T]o be a survivor, we must not be fooled by the winners,” he argues. To illustrate this, he delves into varied teaching examples, including the hedge funds that succeed instead of failing–to assess potential risk, you should consider all an investment firm’s hedges, not just the profitable ones–as well as military bombers that don’t get shot down versus those that crash, and the evolutionary history of modern humanity itself, in contrast to earlier species who didn’t survive.

Lockwood analyzes survivor bias from two key perspectives, that of observers outside of the set of survivors and that of observers who are part of the survivor group, concluding that both perspectives are misleading in different ways. External observers can fall prey to mistakes such as overestimating the chances of a mutual fund’s success or believing in outside causes like ESP, while members of a survivor group are likely to underestimate the potential for future catastrophes, like nuclear war or climate change, simply because they have not happened yet. Lockwood cautions that observing these global risks clearly is necessary in order to effectively counter them.

Lockwood’s clear and brisk style breaks down complex ideas, and his past experience as a lecturer at Stanford, as well as on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, serves him well in making his case.Curious readers eager for a better grasp on complex mathematical principles or who enjoy big ideas will find this an accessible explanation of survivor bias and how it can cloud our thinking.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a big idea or to reduce their own cognitive bias will find this exploration of survivor bias illuminating.

Great for fans of: Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan, Leonard Mlodinow’s The Drunkard’s Walk.

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

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Eudora Space Kid: The Great Engine Room Takeover
David Horn
Eudora Jenkins is just a standard third grader– who has been adopted by alien parents and happens to live on The Athena, a defensive spaceship belonging to the Planetary Republic. In this hysterical debut by Horn, the first in the series, Eudora earns the spotlight with her courageously reckless space antics, such as when she distracts Lootenant Londo, Athena’s burliest officer, so she can fire the ship’s plasma cannons and ends up in the brig for the umpteenth time. At constant odds with Captain Jax, this fearless, science-loving youngster plans to be captain herself one day, a mission that spurs her decision to sneak into the engine room to “break all known space speed records,” in hopes of being promoted to a first-level officer.

Eudora’s propensity for comic situations and entertaining side comments will have readers of all ages in stitches: she sets a goal to enact “Flip-Flop Fridays” when she is in charge, pals around with a pet "drago" she has christened Bologna, and encourages loud booing whenever anyone mentions the alien Qlaxons, insisting “[t]hey are the meanest aliens out there, and you want to annoy them by saying boo.” Not to be taken lightly, however, Eudora is a stereotype-breaking, clever kid who craves adventure and shatters through barriers—even as she informs readers that “[s]paceships are cold, so you need warm socks.” Eudora wants nothing more than to rocket to first-in-command, and her intuition—“Grown-ups don’t like it when us kids know how to do adult things”—is spot-on.

Horn hits the jackpot for younger audiences with his feisty, high-spirited heroine, and Talitha Shipman’s black and white graphics carry the comic torch–from side-splitting diagrams of Qlaxon armor, complete with “pointy boots” and a “floofy” tail, to the Star Trek-inspired spaceship bridge where officers are shown sipping soda during maneuvers. Eudora inspires while she delights, and early readers will be lining up for her next galactic crusade.

Takeaway: An entertaining space fling with a spunky but determined heroine.

Great for fans of: Louis Sachar’s Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Dan Gutman’s My Weird School series.

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

Love's Legacy: Viscount Chateaubriand and the Irish Girl
Daniel Fallon
Historic nonfiction with a romantic twist, Fallon’s (The German University) graceful account of his foray into family history asks, “Were my father and I, as well as our forebears, biological descendants of the charismatic Frenchman?” The Frenchman in question is none other than the storied writer, lover, politician, and historian François-René Chateaubriand, who died in 1848. In answer, Fallon beautifully recounts his meticulous, decades-long research into a family story about the relationship between Chateaubriand and Mary Neale—affectionately dubbed “the Irish girl.” The quest begins in his late father’s study, where four letters his father left Fallon nearly crumble in his hands and lead him on a bewitching journey of love, pain, and discovery.

Fallon aptly recruits myriad external resources (genealogists, biographers, police departments, trips abroad) to investigate Chateaubriand, Mary, and then Thomas Fallon (Mary’s son). Each is placed in thorough historical context (French Revolution, New World, 19th century sexual norms) so seamlessly that this book’s human interest is impossible to divorce from either its literary analysis (Fallon includes excerpts of Chateaubriand’s posthumous autobiography, whose title translates to Memoirs from Beyond the Grave) or the “known fact”s of the history. The prose, while lightly erudite, is unfailingly clear and engaging.

Fallon builds toward a compelling hypothesis, sometimes with excitement and at other times cautiously: “Of course, other imagined explanations, ordinary and bland, might be applied to the same known facts.” As tends to be the case with family legends, though, the author here finds the research eventually contesting those “known facts.” Still, the remarkable relationship between these figures and his family nevertheless remains enticing, and Fallon’s not insignificant discoveries—as well as his found historic documents—are presented with academic rigor and a storyteller’s élan. Whether fascinated by genealogical research or simply interested in the story of an empathic young girl and the man who loves her, inquisitive readers will enjoy this quick, compelling account of a rich slice of French history.

Takeaway: A lively dive into French history, family legend, and a storied lover and writer’s possible secret.

Great for fans of: François-René de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs From beyond the Grave, Malcolm Scott’s Chateaubriand: The Paradox of Change.

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

Click here for more about Love's Legacy
SPECIES of ONE: A Novel
Matt McMahon
McMahon’s (The Blue Folio) sensitive portrait of a man at a crossroads captures the difficulties and rewards of pursuing self-fulfillment in today’s world. Phil Kyle is a moderately successful but socially isolated and unsatisfied 43-year-old real estate agent who makes a big change in order to have a new start—he trades in his Lexus for an Outback and retires to a small cabin in upstate New York, where he can pursue his hobbies free of stress and anxiety. Soon he realizes that his new life offers unanticipated challenges as well as opportunities to confront his past and create a future he never could have envisioned.

The meticulous descriptions of Kyle’s breadmaking, calligraphy, and flight simulation are extensive, but McMahon dedicates this same level of detail to his protagonist’s thoughts, offering readers an intimate look at Kyle’s complex inner landscape: his social anxiety, difficulty dealing with conflict, and shame at his professional failings. The plot’s gentle pace allows Kyle’s personal revelations to develop in a realistic way, with false starts and hard-won incremental progress, and much of this progress comes from connections he makes with the locals. Though the dialogue is occasionally somewhat stiff, these characters are well-rounded and create complex, meaningful relationships with Kyle.

McMahon’s intricate relationships give additional dimension to the story’s thought-provoking themes. Several of the people he meets are military veterans, allowing for a full exploration of the devastating effects of PTSD. This and other forms of trauma are prevalent in the novel, and though their depictions may disturb sensitive readers, McMahon treats this difficult material with care. Though McMahon frequently links Kyle’s spiritual and psychological stumbling blocks to his particular personality type, Kyle’s struggle to better understand himself and the kind of life he wants to live will resonate with many. This empathetic window into a midlife crisis will inspire both deeper reflection and greater self-acceptance.

Takeaway: Patient readers will develop a genuine bond with the protagonist of this thoughtful journey towards mental health and self-actualization.

Great for fans of: Lauren Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, Nikki Grimes’s Ordinary Hazards.

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

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The Fabian Waltz: A Novel Based on the Life of George Bernard Shaw
Kris Hall
With a healthy dose of wit, a sprinkle of charm, and a strong foundation in the historical, Hall deftly brings luminaries of literature and economics to life in this stylized romance set against the backdrop of England at the end of the Victorian era. Told from the viewpoints of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Beatrice Potter, and others, the author employs several narrative modes to spin his yarn, with excerpts from private diaries and key passages written in an epistolary format. Each voice is quite distinct, some bombastic and pompous and others refined and searching.

While the novel’s themes are plentiful and well-thought out, particularly its viewing of the lives of these characters through the sociopolitical lens of success and socialism, Hall’s wide-ranging interests preclude the page-turning plotting common in many popular historical novels. On the surface, the work appears to be an almost Shakespearean romance– ostensibly about the life of George Bernard Shaw, complete with theatrical dialog and over-the-top protestations worthy of the author of Man and Superman/s “Don Juan in Hell.” Hall relishes veering into vividly descriptive character studies that, while bright and sharp and rich with historic detail, nevertheless diminish the novel’s narrative urgency. The characters’ pontifical and pretentious turns of phrase are divisive by design: they’ll delight some readers and disenchant others.

The true strength of the piece lies in the flowing dialog and the unvarnished look at the these larger-than-life figures.Wilde’s guilt over the effects of his infamy on his beloved sons adds depth to a man too often depicted as merely profligate. Potter’s absolute devotion to her role as a woman and writer of intellectual substance is balanced by a quiet examination of her hopes and fears as a woman–not simply a social investigator or socialist. Coupled with quaint, evocative illustrations, the novel’s vibrancy and eloquent style offer an entertaining, illuminating study.

Takeaway: A charming, eloquent character study of Shaw and some of English lit’s luminaries.

Great for fans of: Peter Ackroyd’s The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, Alan Ayckbourn.

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

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Apricot Marmalade and the Edmondson Transmittal
Lon Orey
Set just after the Tet Offensive, Orey’s satiric romp through Thailand in 1968 follows the missions of the 187th Military Intelligence Detachment at a time when American support for the war in Vietnam was ebbing. Despite that malaise, Ed Reynolds and his unruly counterespionage team still pack a punch as they complete, or attempt to complete, special assignments involving espionage, bombings, and snake-infested jungles, landing themselves in trouble time and again. Multiple team members’ operations get detailed from chapter to chapter, with Reynolds serving as this ensemble adventure’s protagonist. Prone to pointing out flaws in the orders he’s given, or that the orders themselves are an “asinine” waste of taxpayer money, Reynolds (named by his parents for J. Edgar Hoover) is often accused by his commanding officers of undermining the mission, making for tense relationships.

Orey builds the world of late 1960s Thailand in rich detail, demonstrating a persuasive command of the geography, language, and culture. Though the towns and characters are invented, the country itself is vividly rendered, offering readers an enjoyable and immersive travelogue. Orey includes so many characters, descriptions, and individual missions that the threads can be a challenge to track, especially for lay readers not steeped in military jargon or the era-specific references. As you might expect in a satiric novel, some characters, the villains and foils particularly, are so bizarre or convoluted they strain credulity, such as the hypersexual missionary or the seductive Russian intelligence agent.

What sets the book apart is Orey’s sharp pen, comic timing, and crack dialogue, as his scruffy band tracks its marks, deals with GRU agents and arms smugglers, faces imprisonment and torture, and tries, in its way, to maybe even see some justice get done. That dialogue and crisp descriptive action are well balanced throughout this ragged comedy that will appeal to fans of military fiction whether serious, pulpy, or satiric.

Takeaway: This satiric war novel sends a rowdy band of U.S. counter-espionage specialists into a well-realized 1968 Thailand.

Great for fans of: David Abrams’s Fobbit, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

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

An Audience for Einstein
Mark Wakely
Through the framework of a contemporary sci-fi drama, Wakely offers a clear, enjoyable meditation on the value of a life. Professor Marlowe, an aging yet brilliant astrophysicist, is given the chance to be young again and continue his groundbreaking work by transferring his memories, and thereby his consciousness, into the mind of another. All that the creator and practitioner of this surgery, Doctor Dorning, has to do is find someone young who is willing to give up their life for Marlowe’s. He soon encounters what seems to him a fitting subject: an 11-year-old named Miguel, a boy who's living on the street and whose parents are in no situation to find him should he disappear. Of course, not everyone finds this ethical, including Professor Marlowe. But when it feels so good to be young, can principles endure? In the end, the boy’s life hangs on whether Marlowe will give himself up for Miguel–and whether Dorning, or anyone, will let him.

Wakely deftly articulates character and feeling through action, and uses tension to keep readers engaged, all while even incorporating some actual hard science, as per the author’s background in astronomy. Some nuance is lacking: Marlowe is written as a moral center and contrasts Dorning’s purely utilitarian worldview, but, while Marlowe is conflicted, he is complicit in the continued hijacking of a child’s body, and this complicity doesn’t get explored in depth. Such potentially rich character material might have given this thoughtful thriller more bite.

Still, this meditation about the value of a life is clear as are the characters that embody it. Dorning believes that achievement makes for a worthy life, while Marlowe recognizes that there’s more to life than just work–and that Miguel is an innocent caught up in all this. Couple this with an easy and readable writing style, and this is a succinct narrative that hits most of the elements of a compelling morality play.

Takeaway: This short, accessible science-fiction morality play compellingly considers the value of a life.

Great for fans of: Charles Soule’s Anyone: A Novel, Robert J. Sawyer’s Mindscan.

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

Click here for more about An Audience for Einstein
WHY ARE THERE MONKEYS? (and other questions for God): --
Brooke Jones
With whip-smart wit and a breezy frankness, Jones (Breast Cancer Warrior) opens this appealing account of briefly dying in 1975 and engaging in (what she perceived to be) a colloquy with God with a succession of quotable laugh lines. “I had never heard of ‘Near Death Experiences,” she writes, after brisking readers through the basics of her childhood, college experience, and religious beliefs. “For me, born and raised in and around New York City, bright lights and tunnels were nothing more than the basic ingredients of traffic jams.” Jones, in her 20s, overdosed and was briefly, clinically dead; after a comic introduction, the book recounts her memories of what she felt, saw, and discussed before she came back. “It’s amazing what a dead girl can do in eight minutes,” she notes, before offering a series of comic conversations with a booming, disembodied Voice—a God who, she’s relieved to learn, has a sense of humor.

That Voice asks Jones the most imponderable of questions: “What would you like to know?” The book’s title offers a hint about the nature of the ensuing discussion, and as Jones and this God engage in patter-comedy routines, readers open to playful considerations of spirituality will find both pleasure and insight in the back and forth. This God offhandedly reconciles Darwin and the Biblical story of Creation, tosses out provocative possibilities (“Who said the Garden of Eden was on Earth?”), confirms the existence of a devil (“one of My very best creations”), and toasts the 1969 Mets as an exemplar of miracles.

“Making God laugh is a trip,” Jones notes, and that casually irreverent tone characterizes a work that’s both funny yet serious. Readers may wonder at first whether this is a fictional prank, but it’s soon clear that a spirit of conviction powers her story, even as that story’s told by a gifted entertainer who can’t resist punching it up. She’ll make you laugh, too.

Takeaway: An irreverent yet wise account of a near-death experience and a talk with a chatty, amused God.

Great for fans of: Kelly Barth’s My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus, Avery Corman’s Oh, God!.

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

I Never Knew You
Elliot Brent
This stinging treatise from Brent (About My Father’s Business) exhorts Christians to heat up or cool down what he sees as the “lukewarm” water of belief common in the contemporary church, arguing “the water that is lukewarm serves no purpose.” That idea of purposeless water, derived from Revelation 3:15-16, suggests for Brent many of today’s Christian’s relationship with God. He contends that believers have settled for a sort of “mind salvation,” where the intellectual understanding that it’s necessary to be saved does not inspire a commitment to truly knowing and obeying God.

At the core of Brent’s argument is the conviction that the church of this material era has sunk into its “Laodicean” age, named for the “lukewarm” church referenced in the Revelation of John. “This Laodicean church does not know Love,” Brent thunders. “Love gets up close and personal and tends to one another’s infirmities.” In an introduction, he notes that believers in his own church failed to aid him in a time of hardship, but that “up close and personal” love is not just between believers. With persuasive power and impressive command of scripture, he insists the Laodicean church is “too concerned with programs, traditions, routines, and thought-processes of our own or of the world to allow the Lord Jesus to have his way in his church” and notes that believers rarely enter the “realm” of worship outside of church.

Believers will find little to gainsay in the broad sweep of Brent’s powerful screed, though the few concrete examples of ways that believers fail to know God are less persuasive. He singles out membership in Black Greek Letter Organizations or participating in Easter egg hunts as violations of the covenant between God and believers, but doesn’t dig deeply into the gravity of these infractions. Are they more disappointing to God than other secular activities? But on the general gulf between belief and commitment Brent’s voice is potent.

Takeaway: An impassioned cry for Christians to commit to knowing God at all times, not just on Sunday mornings.

Great for fans of:Mark Dever's What Is a Healthy Church?, Eric Mason’s Beat God to the Punch: How to Seize a Grace-Filled Life.

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

Click here for more about I Never Knew You
Money, going out of style: The story of money and mystery of its demise
Zvi Schreiber
Schreiber’s debut economic guide uses the story of a fictitious island and its inhabitants to introduce readers to the basic concepts of money, banking, and macroeconomics. Using the U.S. economy for historical context, the book follows the development of the island’s economy from the establishment of private ownership up through contemporary issues such as wealth inequality, cryptocurrency, and the effects of COVID-19 on inflation and the global economy. Critical of economists who, “often pretend that they understand money and the economy a lot better than they do,” Schreiber writes with the expressed goal of helping readers understand these concepts “at least as well as the politicians interviewed on the news.”

Focusing on positive growth scenarios, each short chapter explores a key concept through accounts of everyday situations and interactions between the fictional island’s inhabitants, following their development over two centuries from a shared agricultural society to a post-industrial, service-based economy. Schreiber reiterates established economic principles, but offers detailed first-person observations and opinions at the end of each section that at times challenge the popular consensus. His explanations are concise and inviting: “Note that nominal in economics always means measured in terms of money, while real always means measured in terms of stuff.” Scattered throughout are easy-to-follow charts and graphs that Schreiber uses to smoothly illustrate economic concepts and trends.

Schreiber argues that macroeconomics “is in a bit of a crisis after the first two decades of the twenty-first century.” Although not an economic professional, Schreiber uses an outside perspective, historical data, and monetary theory to back up his assertions. In the final two sections he dives deep into current economic issues using hypothetical situations that mirror modern tax policy, interest rates, and economic stimulus packages. This guide delivers valuable economic information while delivering Schreiber’s message that money as we know it today is going out of style.

Takeaway: Using fiction for clarity, this guide to real-world economics will appeal to readers interested in alternative approaches to modern economic policy.

Great for fans of: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s Freakonomics, Charles Wheelan’s Naked Economics.

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

Click here for more about Money, going out of style

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