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Speak This Not That: Positive Affirmations to Have a Better Day
Lynn Lok-Payne
“The greatest influence on our daily lives is our internal dialogue,” opens Lok-Payne (Wake up! Change Up! Rise Up!, Practical Tools for Personal Transformation) in this accessible guide to replacing self-defeating thought patterns. Reminding readers that negative thinking can become an automatic process, Lok-Payne teaches thought awareness and offers bite-sized affirmations to reframe that inner dialogue, spotlighting each individual’s power to create a different reality by changing up their thoughts and emotions: “focus on the life you want to create,” she writes. Above all, Lok-Payne underscores acceptance as the basic building block to a peaceful existence.

Readers seeking inviting, transformative guidance will appreciate the practical design and easy-to-grasp techniques here, as Lok-Payne divides the affirmations into convenient sections, including “self-love,” “gratitude,” and more. For each reframe she identifies a negative thought, followed by a handful of alternative phrases readers can use to transform their thinking from defeatist to empowered. Instead of “I can’t control my circumstances” she suggests “I can control my reaction and attitude toward the situation”; instead of “I can’t do it” she advocates the reminder “I just haven’t done it yet.” Throughout, Lok-Payne offers insights that both appeal and inspire, like “happiness is the road trip, not the destination” or “my past does not predict my future.”

It’s clear Lok-Payne crafted this work as a collection of moments to savor, and readers should plan time for deep reflection and study. She offers suggestions to boost that meditation, such as taking quiet walks and mastering deep breathing when responding to stress—or using the journal pages included at the end to contemplate the book’s lessons. Readers struggling with self-doubt will relish her emphasis on “lov[ing] myself just as I am in this very moment,” as well as her advice to view failure as a springboard instead of a wall—an uplifting and refreshing message.

Takeaway: This uplifting guide demonstrates overcoming negative thoughts through affirmations.

Great for fans of: Pauline Ronan’s The Pocketbook of Positivity and Reframing, Shad Helmstetter’s What to Say When You Talk to Your Self.

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

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The Tyranny of Desire
Morton L Shallman
Puchy Mushkin, the hero of this ribald and incisive provocation from author/musician Shallman, has a problem: his overwhelming desire can only be matched by his enormous penis. Being endowed with that “Rubirosan love muscle,” it turns out, is “a double-edge sword.” Believing that all his many travails—among them a failed marriage, an ex-lover who literally crucifies him, and his recent exile from polite society—stem from his unquenchable hedonism, Puchy vows to start living life devoid of want, believing, “...desire is a dangerous thing. The source of all suffering and pain.” This seemingly noble pursuit backfires for Puchy, though Shallman has a ball conjuring up the wildest situations and transgressions in a carnivalesque Los Angeles, including a mayoral campaign, an odd irredeemable love, and involvement with a woman who sells her feces to the highest bidder.

The story may sound at first blush like the world’s biggest penis joke, but readers who relish irreverent literary play will be rewarded with insight and challenges to convention, especially when Puchy falls into his more introspective moments. By trying to live for want of nothing, Puchy finds out that being the anti-yes-man also has its cons. From one extreme to another, the fine line between being in control and being controlled sends Puchy into a host of extreme—and often uproarious—setpieces in the spirit of the norm-shattering, can-you-top-this? sexually frank comic novels of a generation ago, with a welcome queer edge. One of Puchy’s breakthroughs finds him thinking, “...when you murder desire, desire doesn’t suffer, only you and everyone around you.”

Jolts of such wisdom offer relief from the darkness and depravity. Much of the humor stems from its cast of politically incorrect characters, most of whom reveal surprising depths in what at first might seem the shallow swamps of their personas. Still, the comedy is proudly over-the-top, edging into the realm of bawdy vaudeville, destructive not just of what used to be called "decency" but niceties like narrative momentum and clarity. Puchy's just too much for this world.

Takeaway: The riotously bawdy story of a man finding it harder than it looks to live without a care.

Great for fans of: Arthur Nersesian, Gary Reilly’s The Asphalt Warrior.

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

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Abroad: A Novel of Cross-Cultural Encounters
Greyson Bryan
In this literary novel centered on travel and the lessons we can learn from crossing borders with an open heart, Bryan, author of the Big thriller series, weaves an ambitious, globe-crossing narrative of interconnected lives and loves. At its heart is Skip Burton, prompted to reflect on his earlier life and the role that travel played in shaping him. At a young age, Skip proved an extremely reluctant traveler. As he grows and matures, spending time in Asia and Mexico, travel becomes a more permanent fixture in Skip’s life, helping him to build confidence as he opens up to new cultural experiences—and new people.

Bryan’s story springboards from a grabber of a question. Jenny, Skip’s late wife, had told Jen, their daughter, that, despite her years married to a traveler, she herself had never left the United States. A year after Jenny’s death, daughter Jen presents Skip with a photo of Jenny and Skip in Japan in 1974. Like Jen, readers will wonder why this was kept secret; the bulk of the novel, covering the journeys and connections made by Skip and his friend Maddie in the long-gone 1960s and 1970s, builds to the urgent, touching answer. Bryan charts his adventures abroad, eventually in the Volunteer Service in Asia, plus those of Skip’s Kansan-by-birth but Californian-by-choice VSA rival Rex, whose romantic travails eventually involve death threats in Indonesia. The final chapters, meanwhile, return to the bumptious circumstances of Skip’s early relationship to Jenny.

The result is a rich, often finely detailed mosaic of lives and longings, with multiple point-of-view characters and a recurring message of understanding. Some shifts in perspective and place can occasionally jar readers’ sense of where they are in the story, but throughout Bryan dramatizes the ways that cultural capital can help build lifelong connections that teach us how we deal with ourselves and those outside our experience.

Takeaway: This reflective, globe-crossing novel will please armchair travelers.

Great for fans of: Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers, Greg Baxter’s The Apartment.

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

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The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch: A Modern Ranch with an Ancient Secret
Julia Brewer Daily
Emma Rosales recognizes the significance of her heritage as the last in a long line of Rosales women to inherit her family’s sprawling Texas Thorn ranch. But, facing some daunting challenges, Emma starts wondering whether she’s cut out for the job, never expecting the change she’s dreaming about is just around the corner: on a routine ranch ride, a series of mishaps leads her to discover “The People,” a group in animal skins and leather boots secreted away from the world in caves and deeply committed to staying that way. When Emma stumbles into their lives, they interpret her arrival as a sign from the ancestors that she was meant to join them.

Daily portrays the stunning Texas landscape with a practiced eye in this compelling debut, evoking her love for her home state in striking language while illuminating a fierce and volatile land that confounds even those most familiar with it. Emma, awed by their caverns “as spectacular as the Grand Canyon,” is fascinated by The People’s natural way of living and fearful of their refusal to let her leave. Despite the strong bonds she forms, especially with Kai, the grandson of The People’s eldest leader, Emma won’t succumb to this fate, though another arrival from the modern world changes everything.

Daily’s narrative jumps between viewpoints and times, but the romantic underpinnings eventually lead Emma, Kai, and her family to the realization that the land they claim to own holds more mystery and power than they could have guessed. At the same time, the characters are forced to acknowledge the enormity of what they didn't know about themselves and their loved ones—and those revelations are not always pleasant. Blending the realistic and the lightly fantastic in a mature and original mix, The Fifth Daughter considers what’s most important and what it means, in the end, to weigh the price of that love.

Takeaway: An unexpected encounter on a Texas ranch forces a young woman and man to reevaluate all they hold dear.

Great for fans of: Charles Stross’s The Family Trade, Glendy Vanderah’s Where the Forest Meets the Stars.

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

Click here for more about The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch
How to Be Awkward
Amanda Turner
Playfully ruminating on the foibles of what it means to be human, Turner (This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store, as AK Turner) writes in chuckle-worthy essay form, exploring the perpetual struggle of functioning with anxiety, shame, and shortcomings—and how to cope with people who feel it necessary to point out those failings—in a society defined by rules and expectations. As Turner explains in “I’m What Smells Bad,” a story of her smelly egg salad sandwich in first grade that causes the whole school to stink, “Welcome to awkwardness, I want to say to the younger me. It’s with you for life.”

Turner’s genius lies in her anecdotal storytelling cloaked in universally relatable fears and public displays of embarrassment. In “True Love Story,” Turner declares that the ultimate in awkwardness is shopping for a mattress with your boyfriend and your mother at the same time, while she dedicates nearly the entirety of one chapter to bullet points detailing “How to Be Chubby,” with winning tips like be sure to eat your children’s leftovers, fantasize about exercise without actually doing it, and learn to be content with your size as long as you’re happy and healthy. She turns to the serious, too, in “Sorry About the Plague,” as she muses on the human need for connection amid isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Readers can expect plenty of laughs, at others and themselves, as Turner reflects on familiar themes like acceptance—“Cool people simply fail to admit things about which the rest of us are more forthcoming”—and parenting: when waiting in the school pick-up line, Turner routinely embarrasses her daughter by rebuking other children’s bad habits, justifying her actions with “I promise they had it coming.” Throughout, her unconditional self-acceptance is refreshing, and readers with a soft spot for humor mixed with candor will be thoroughly entertained.

Takeaway: An entertaining read that makes being awkward cool.

Great for fans of: Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me?; Laurie Notaro’s The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club.

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

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The Lake Effect: A Lake Michigan Mosaic
Fred Carlisle
“I remain transfixed by Lake Michigan, and like one of Melville’s people, I seek water and the lake,” Carlisle writes in this slim compact, compelling book of essays, a love letter to one of the greatest of the Great Lakes. The author spotlights his memories of and love for Lake Michigan—it’s “captivating presence and emotional force”—while exploring wider perspectives and themes that include the aesthetic, psychic, historic, economic, social, and cultural effects of the lake, plus some theoretical concerns like water in general or the challenges of representing, in words or visual art, ”the many faces of the lake and water.” Fond recollections of twentieth-century Lake Michigan dominate, viewed at times through a nostalgic lens, touched with Carlisle’s family history, though Carlisle also offers a clear-eyed look at shipping, tourism, agriculture, conservation efforts, and more.

Carlisle’s affinity for this iconic body of water shines through on every page. However, The Lake Effect plunges darker depths, too. Carlisle addresses the unpredictability and capricious whims of Mother Nature, even in a lake “compromised and ‘controlled’” by humanity, particularly the fatal sinking of the SS Carl D. Bradley in 1958. Aquatic Armageddon is also explored thoroughly, with Carlisle examining in fascinating depth invasive species like lampreys, zebra mussels, Quagga mussels, Asian carp, and goby fish and their catastrophic effects on the Great Lakes. Lately, changes in climate have eroded dunes, intensified weather, and ushered in a “new normal” in changes of water level, with some disastrous results, like houses crashing into the lake.

Meticulous research, source notations, and first-hand accounts of travels around the massive lake back up his opinions and musings, and black-and-white illustrations and photos provide welcome visuals ranging from a lamprey’s maw to “the most beautiful day” Carlisle and family ever spent at the lake. Evocative prose and a willingness to face the complex and ambiguous will engage readers fascinated by America’s waterways while enriching their understanding, appreciation, and concern for the future.

Takeaway: This in-depth love letter to Lake Michigan will captivate readers with a passion for the Great Lakes.

Great for fans of: Jerry Dennis’s The Living Great Lakes, Dana Thomas Bowen’s Memories of the Lakes.

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

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After Claire: In Search of a Habitable Life
John R. Wallis
Wallis draws on his professional experience to imbue the protagonist of this thoughtful literary thriller, Florida psychotherapist Paul Mason, with authenticity as Mason copes with the untimely death of his wife—and a threat to his daughter. Mason is riddled with guilt after his inattentive driving and running a red light results in the death of his wife, Claire. Not only is his relationship with his nine-year-old daughter Allie fractured when he reveals his role in the accident that led to Claire’s death, but he and Allie also become the target of Ricardo Raphael, a powerful attorney who defends drug dealers. Pressuring Mason to stop his therapy sessions with Angela Morales, Raphael’s lover, Raphael indicates that he knows where Allie goes to school, an “expertly ambiguous” threat.

While Wallis’ ability to grab the reader’s attention from the very first page deftly propels the story forward, it is the simmering question that Mason wrestles with that keeps the reader guessing. What did his wife mean when she said, just before the accident, “I can’t do this anymore…I’m seeing someone”? Mason’s quest for answers becomes complicated by his everyday struggles connecting with Allie and trying to make the best professional decisions that will keep his daughter safe while meeting his ethical standards.

Some of the most compelling material in Wallis’ debut digs, with illuminating insight, into Mason’s skills and conflicts as a therapist, plus Mason’s need to seek therapy himself, which of course causes more compelling complications: Mason understands his own potential therapist’s reluctance to treat him because of Raphael’s threats, but he also realizes the impact on his life without being able to address his difficulties with another mental health professional. The result is an ambitious novel that’s perceptive and persuasive in its depiction of Mason’s profession, all while finding suspense in thuggish lawyers and ethical quandaries but never losing sight of the Mason’s most crucial relationship.

Takeaway: The thoughtful story of a psychotherapist coping with guilt, grief, and the threats of a dangerous attorney.

Great for fans of: B.A. Paris’s The Therapist, and Suzanne Steele’s The Club: Colombian Cartel.

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

Running Toward Life: Finding Community and Wisdom in the Distances We Run
Broad Book Group
“Who we are and what we determine to be important is always magnified by the great distances we run,” ultramarathoner Trent writes in this energizing debut. Dedicated to endurance runs, he recounts a lifetime dream of completing a 100-mile distance run, sharing the ups and downs that led to his accomplishment of that dream as well as his injuries and setbacks along the way. Trent’s appraisal of the immense physical challenges of ultrarunning is just the start: he also shares the spotlight with his mentors and running companions who motivated him to go the distance during the journey.

Trent’s love affair with ultrarunning blossomed during adolescence, when he chose to run cross country during school, and continued into adulthood, exploding after his discovery of the 1995 Western States Endurance Run, one of the world’s first 100-mile runs across rugged mountain territory. Just two years after being inspired to run his own Western States, Trent achieved that goal, barely missing his 24-hour completion benchmark (and the coveted “100 miles in one day” silver buckle award). Despite many such setbacks over the years, Trent’s perseverance is inspiring, as is his continued passion for running that he now shares with his family.

Readers will find Trent’s profiles of mentors and fellow runners heartening. He recalls past Western States’ president Tony Rossmann’s well-timed advice to “remember there are no enemies, only adversaries,” and shares how the trail provided familiarity and comfort during a friend’s cancer battle. Trent’s fondness for anecdotal reminiscing, and his almost-lyrical descriptions of the wildlife and natural environments of his marathons, is alluring, although he sacrifices narrative structure for aesthetics at times. Ultimately, Trent aims to help readers understand “who they are and what is important to them,” and even the most unathletic will want to double-knot their shoelaces and hit the trails.

Takeaway: A passionate celebration of ultrarunning.

Great for fans of: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami; Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather “Anish” Anderson.

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

Click here for more about Running Toward Life
I'll Be Seeing You
Joanne Kukanza Easley
Lauren Eaton doesn’t quite fit in on her family’s Texas ranch—she yearns for a different future than a ranch wife, dreams of stylish dresses and posh makeup, and, to top it all off, her mother insists on using her birth name, Ruby, despite Lauren’s preference for her more mature middle name. When her glamorous aunt Imogene drops in for a surprise visit, Lauren’s swept away by her panache and eagerly agrees to join her on a trip to New York City, where she’s certain her dreams will come true. Her big break eventually comes, after a win in a local beauty contest catches the eye of a talent scout at a high-fashion magazine.

Readers will quickly fall in love with the charismatic Lauren, a compelling mix of innocence and pizzazz, who parties too much and falls too hard for the wrong men in the big city. As she’s caught up in the world of male callers, nightclubs, and fashion, Lauren’s unpolished exterior melts away, and a grown-up version, embodied with style and finesse, materializes. Her lifestyle eventually rivals that of her extravagant aunt, but the glamour comes with a cost, and soon Lauren spirals into alcoholism and self-destructive encounters with men, culminating in an unwed pregnancy and more than one marriage—scandals in the 1940s. Lauren eventually emerges resilient, but her evolution is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.

Throughout Lauren’s high-flying moments, Black housekeeper Vandine and gay friend Harold are loyal constants, offsetting her painful experiences with loving kindness and adding refreshing diversity to Easley’s storyline, while tackling crucial issues of equality in the mid-20th century. Easley manages to evoke both the glitzy nightlife of the ‘40s and the passion of an ever-evolving blues scene, and fans of her earlier novel, Sweet Jane, will be pleased to recognize some continued characters.

Takeaway: Historical fiction fans craving glamour and depth will relish this mid-20th century read.

Great for fans of: Camille Di Maio’s Until We Meet; Fiona Davis’s The Dollhouse.

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

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Could It Be You?: Love in Dunes Bay Book 3
Lynn Crandall
Crandall continues her Love in Dunes Bay series with disgraced Chicago police detective, Dobson Ramirez, on a brand-new transfer to the Dunes Bay Police Department in hopes of a fresh start. While working on an FBI task force investigating the infamous Esposito crime organization, Dobson has a tense run-in with Jasper Steele, a swoon-worthy Dunes Bay EMT, when a potential witness for her case is shot and left for dead. Despite being annoyed by Dobson’s short temper and unpredictable reactions, Jasper finds himself compelled to help with the investigation, but Dobson vows to keep her distance—until a spontaneous fling between the two changes everything.

Dobson and Jasper’s chemistry is awkward at first, but ultimately a deep emotional connection forms as the story advances. Although the plot centers on their budding relationship, Crandall skillfully blends their personal lives into the high-stakes investigation, resulting in a natural progression of romance, sleuthing, and, ultimately, a dangerous but satisfying conclusion to the Esposito family wrongdoings. Crandall keeps a firm grasp on her characters, mirroring their internal conflicts—Dobson struggles to find the balance between taking care of her ailing mother and not failing at her demanding job, and Jasper’s professional success and good looks are countered by his self-doubt, especially when it comes to his ability to protect Dobson from the growing mob threats she’s facing.

Romance readers will find plenty to enjoy here, but Crandall elegantly balances the passion with enough crime novel drama to give the story an edge, and Dobson’s intense guilt at the very hint of any potential misstep in her career lends her a relatability that fans will appreciate. Jasper’s tender treatment of Dobson is endearing, even as her past life in Chicago circles back to haunt her throughout, and the will-they-won’t-they suspense keeps readers guessing until the final pages.

Takeaway: Contemporary romance fans will enjoy this pairing of crime drama and passion.

Great for fans of: Nora Roberts’s Night Tales Series; Sandra Brown’s Sting.

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

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Choosing Life, a memoir: One man's journey through alcoholism and depression to wellness and self-discovery
Blue Andrews
Andrews’s riveting debut lays bare his painful journey through depression, alcoholism, and attempted suicide, culminating in his inspiring path to recovery. He relates his early encounters with alcohol and the profound loss of a cherished friend in high school, alongside his mother’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death that leaves the family reeling—and forces Andrews to move in with a father he barely knows. Despite successfully finishing school and entering college, his experience with loss is just beginning: before long, he loses a close friend to cancer, followed by that friend’s mother a few years later.

More than just a life story, this powerful memoir—divided into two sections, first detailing Andrews’s decline, followed by his recovery—reveals the factors that often contribute to depression and alcoholism, highlighting the complexities involved and emphasizing there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery. Andrews reiterates that there were few “ah-ha” moments during his journey, characterizing it instead as a road full of minor setbacks and bad days, while he was “trying to function with the weight of a knight’s armor draped on me at all times.” He encourages readers to view recovery as a marathon, not a sprint, debunking the myths of quick fixes and easy answers in favor of commitment, hard work, and uncompromising honesty.

Readers will find plenty of inspiration here, as Andrews unflinchingly shares his darkest moments—including a suicide attempt that should come with a trigger warning. He interjects teaching points as well, such as offering the reframe “having alcoholism” versus being labeled an alcoholic, stating “It is something I have, not who or what I am.” Perhaps most uplifting is his rediscovery of the beauty in life’s simple moments, whether that’s celebrating unburnt toast or enjoying an easy meal with his kids, as he wisely advises “Gratitude is an excellent barometer for wellness.”

Takeaway: A riveting account of triumph over depression and alcoholism.

Great for fans of: Sarah Hepola's Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, Shaheen Bhatt's I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier.

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

Click here for more about Choosing Life, a memoir
The Struggle of Women: Major Female Figures Throughout World History
PAUL BAWEJA
Baweja (A Philosophical Treatise of Reality) spotlights notable women throughout history in this absorbing read, exploring the “indispensable role of women in society, culture, and politics" through bite-sized vignettes that feature famous women in the fields of science, medicine, sports, and more. Delivering a general synopsis of women’s historical roles before delving into their individual contributions, Baweja emphasizes their need for recognition alongside their ability to inspire achievement in others—and candidly points out cultural double standards that often prevent women from attaining the same success as their male colleagues.

Baweja’s featured women are riveting, both personally and professionally, and readers will be caught up in their dynamic stories. He covers leaders such as Wilma Rudolph, the youngest competing team member of the 1956 United States Olympic Women’s Track and Field Team, who overcame debilitating childhood medical crises and racism in the segregated South to become a highly awarded international sports icon; Hannah Arendt—a German of Jewish descent classified by Baweja as “one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century”—who survived Nazi imprisonment and immigrated to the United States, writing on ethics and the nature of evil in established academic circles; and women’s suffragette Lucy Burns, whose public activism heavily influenced ratification of the 19th amendment.

Readers will spot many widely recognized names in Baweja’s writing, like Margaret Thatcher and Marie Curie, but he offers portraits of lesser-known standouts as well, including scientific genius Janet Taylor—widely accomplished in maritime navigation and inventor of the Mariner’s compass—and Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, whose research in the medical field led to breakthroughs in diagnosing medical conditions and unprecedented advancements in the treatment of Type II diabetes. Though heavily academic in places, Baweja’s work is a valuable resource on women’s history, and readers will be equally inspired and educated by each of his renderings.

Takeaway: A riveting account of notable women throughout history.

Great for fans of: Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe; Olivia Campbell’s Women in White Coats.

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

Temple of Valor: Astar's Blade Book 3
Joe Lyon
A vivid and deadly attack on a village, weird beasts and visions and portents, a mysterious pit in the woods, and a powerful healer disturbed to hear a name from the past—just 50 pages in, the fast-paced third entry in Lyon’s adult epic fantasy series should grab fans of the genre, hard, as it both celebrates and upends genre expectations, introduces compelling characters and mysteries, and quite simply just moves. Like its predecessor, Kilmer's Ghost, this volume is unusually inviting for an ongoing epic, as hero Astar and his demonic challenges, while connected to what’s come before, can be read as a standalone adventure in a rich world filled with backstory.

Lyon is keyed into the mythic, and for all the complex worldbuilding, a simple, powerful current of adventure surges the narrative along. Astar’s friend has been hauled into the depths by colossal Devourers, harbingers of the greater conflict to come: an assault on the Temple of Valor, a vital house of healing, led by the villain Zorn. With the aid of young historian Aberfell, Astar must take action. He arms himself with the golden blade Soothsayer, “the most dangerous weapon in the known world,” the soul-feeding last remnants of the goddess Ehlona. Wielding the blade means resisting its urge to slay, and Astar’s first words once he feels its power suggest this will be a battle: “I am the one true God in this world. The one all will fear!”

The tale might sound familiar in outline, but Lyon, a devotee of the genre, continually offers fresh takes, surprise twists, and innovations. Astar’s power to duplicate himself is put to clever use, the demon Grim reveals unexpected depth, and figures returning from earlier books, like Kilmer, have weight and majesty. The climax and denouement are suitably grand, but what lingers is the book’s crisp prose and playful spirit.

Takeaway: This fantasy epic blends inviting prose, rich worldbuilding, and inventive magic and action.

Great for fans of: Raymond E. Feist, Brent Weeks.

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

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Frisky Intentions: A grumpy-sunshine, steamy romcom. (The Frisky Bean Book 1)
Michelle Mars
Summer, co-owner of The Frisky Bean, a bakery with suggestively named selections, is living out her professional dream when her morning Goddess card warns her of a new beginning—and that beginning comes in the form of straight-laced Jason, agent to high strung Hollywood actors, who breezes into her café one day, sparking an instant attraction between the two. Though Jason is all business, assertive, and withholding at times, Summer’s adventurous spirit soon prompts him to open up, and before long the two are headed down a path of happy endings in this cute romantic comedy.

Mars’s cast is brimming with witty banter and personality, and she crafts well-rounded characters with rich development, tackling deeper issues like childhood traumas without overwhelming the plot. Readers don’t have to wait long before the heat blossoms between Summer and Jason, as the pair try to focus on their budding careers while balancing a new relationship at the same time. Though sparks fly in the beginning, reality eventually sets in, causing them to question whether they’re both ready for the inevitable work that goes into a long-term relationship, as Jason struggles to let Summer in to every area of his life and she feels disappointed that he’s holding back.

Mars dedicates plenty of space to secondary characters too, including Summer’s roommate, Jessica, and her lively business partner, Kevin—cast members who will be eagerly anticipated by readers in future installments of The Frisky Bean series. Mars’s attention to entertaining dialogue never disappoints—in describing Jason to her family, Summer references Thor, sketching him as “no tights and cape, just tall, blonde, and lots of muscles”—and there’s just the right amount of steam for readers who want spice with their romance. Between the likable characters and realistic ending, this fun study on meeting the right person at the right time is sure to please.

Takeaway: A witty romantic comedy with plenty of heat.

Great for fans of: Mimi Grace's Make A Scene , Tessa Bailey's It Happened One Summer.

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

Click here for more about Frisky Intentions
Many Are Invited
Dennis Cuesta
Steve Galanos, a service delivery manager at his phone company in the mid-1990s, is floored by the news that their IT systems may not transition all that smoothly into the year 2000. When he’s assigned as a liaison for the Year 2000 Conversion Team, he finds himself shoulder to shoulder with John Goertz, the only actual team member, and isn’t sure he can stomach working in such close quarters with him. The nature of their work means John holds more power than Steve would like, and Steve’s fairly certain John is only promotion hunting. Despite the odds, the two develop a close, albeit tumultuous, friendship, but when John’s fiancée Mary—and her roommate Lauren—arrive on the scene, everything changes.

From the start, Cuesta (Stuck in Manistique) is a suspenseful storyteller. Though the novel seemingly revolves around the Y2K problem, and John and Steve’s efforts to fix it before it’s too late, the characters’ interactions center on a fateful housewarming party, hosted by Mary, that’s scheduled to take place at the turn of the century—a party to which John, Steve, and Lauren, among others, are invited. But the tension between Steve and John escalates, with Lauren’s destructive impulses accelerating the pressure, and transforms the party into a devastating event.

Cuesta’s characters are richly drawn, with subtle edginess and uncertainty that colors their interactions and builds to an explosive night. Steve alternates between jealousy and admiration of John, and his barely hidden attraction to Mary, coupled with Mary’s suspicions of Lauren, thickens the plot. The Y2K technical lingo is complex, and the constantly evolving—and somewhat contradictory—interplay between the characters will require a suspension of belief at times, but overall, Cuesta deftly captures reader interest, and fans will be hooked on the highly troubled but deeply riveting lives of the main players.

Takeaway: A suspenseful story of tension, betrayal, and destruction.

Great for fans of: The Goodbye House by Lawrence Coates; The Exit Strategy by Lainey Cameron.

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

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Dentistry Xposed: : Protecting You, Your Smile, and Wallet
Dr. Peter Hofmann
“A dentist should be a perfectionist who is willing to focus on a patient’s unique needs” Hofmann writes in this passionate debut. Noting his over 40 years of professional experience, he outlines cost effective methods to protect teeth, emphasizing the direct link between our mouth and general wellness, and asserts that many common dental practices may do more harm than good. Hofmann’s claims are bold—often contending that money drives the dentistry field—but he balances those claims with heartfelt advice and an obvious respect for his profession.

Readers will find much to digest here, and Hofmann’s quirky style is a perfect fit for creative thinkers. He offers several tips (or “Truth-Bites”) for reader consumption, such as the benefits of drinking with a straw, why soft toothbrushes are the ultimate at-home dental accessory, and more—including what he considers to be the groundbreaking treatments of xylitol and silver diamine fluoride. In fact, Hofmann’s admiration for xylitol factors prominently throughout, as he proclaims its numerous benefits: it neutralizes cavity-forming bacteria, stimulates saliva production, and may help prevent colon cancer. In Hofmann’s own words, “Xylitol is the best answer to counter worsening health conditions of people around the world.”

Hofmann’s scope is expansive—he dives into the cost of startup dental offices, touches on how dentistry has evolved over the years, and even debunks common dental myths (despite what you’ve heard, losing adult teeth is not normal and root canals will not poison you). Some digressions may overwhelm, but they illustrate his passion for the field, and readers interested in alternative treatments will appreciate his unconventional advice, like avoiding those deep cleaning recommendations from your dentist and opting to keep metal fillings that are still in good condition. Supplemental information includes a glossary of medical terms and detailed illustrations of dental hygiene practices.

Takeaway: An unconventional dentistry guide with thought-provoking advice.

Great for fans of: Angie Stone’s Dying From Dirty Teeth; Mary Otto’s Teeth.

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

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