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Storybook, Inc.
Parker Pace
After being expelled from her high school, 17-year-old senior Mica Psmith is directed to a specifically designed boarding school, Storybook, Inc., which offers a program to help students in extraordinary situations. In Mica’s case, she’s lived with worsening depression since her beloved inventor father’s suicide three years earlier. Mica’s journey from her home in Seattle to the school in San Diego is quickly disrupted by a strange phone call from her mother and then a violent train robbery. She and Roman, the older boy who’d been sitting next to her on the train, escape and try to find safety, complicated by mysterious occurrences and run-ins with sinister figures. Is Mica losing her grip on sanity, or are dangerous people after her?

Pace has penned a complex, fast-paced psychological thriller with romantic tension sprinkled throughout. Mica is a fully developed protagonist and Roman an intriguing romantic interest, with just enough of a dark past and secretive nature to keep readers guessing about his true motives. Some awkward language (“shocked… his mouth puckers like it’s full of marbles”; “my body collapses into butter over Julia’s chest”) may pull readers out of the story momentarily, but they’ll soon be drawn back in by the high stakes, multiplying mysteries, and striking images.

While true mystery aficionados may see the ending coming, there is still enough suspense and worldbuilding to hold their attention before all is revealed in the climatic ending. This intricate, action-packed story—which adroitly spans multiple genres, including YA, thriller, and romance—will keep readers turning the pages.

Takeaway: Fans of psychological and YA thrillers will enjoy the fast-paced action and suspense Pace serves up.

Great for fans of: Veronica Roth, Dean Koontz, Karen M. McManus.

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

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To Burn the Cloth
P. A. SANTOS
Santos’s political religious thriller paints a grim alternative future in which the separation of church and state has recently been undone in the United States. Reverend Franklin “Frank” Catoe (the founder of Tall Rock Baptist Church), with a dodgy past and unorthodox religious views, transforms into a formidable opponent of the government’s United Holy Christened Church (UHCC), which seeks to dissolve all sects of Christianity, tax small churches into extinction, and run religion like a business. Frank elicits the help of college thespian Daniel Montclair to infiltrate the UHCC, gain incriminating information, and bring the organization to its knees. Daniel travels to South Carolina to train for his covert mission. Here, the thriller deviates from its suspenseful plot: Daniel gets ensnared by some conniving, dangerous locals, and the part of the narrative following Frank delves into his relationship with his wife and the resurfacing of his violent past self when faced with a threat.

Santos portrays men as vigilantes and women as unchaste and often untrustworthy. Time-jumping chapters alternate between past and present, providing exhilarating background information; however, the lack of explanatory labels in some chapters leaves the reader working overtime to discern the timeline. But these stumbling blocks are quickly overcome as the story pushes forward.

Violent plot twists and explicit sex and rape scenes earn this book the “mature audience only” label. Meanwhile, devout Christians may be disturbed by Frank’s heretical beliefs and violent actions, and non-Christian readers may be put off by the book’s premise. But Santos’s story is an exciting one. Readers seeking thrillers that mix politics and religion with a dark worldview will appreciate this one.

Takeaway: This political thriller with its unconventional religious hero will win over readers looking for a gritty adventure.

Great for fans of: Dan Brown, Sam Christer.

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

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Career Crisis Plan: Learn new job hunting skills and how to effectively respond to redundancy during an economic downturn
Philip Kent-Hughes
In this timely and informative volume, Australian author Philip Kent-Hughes lays out a sensible roadmap for the newly unemployed reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic and its accompanying economic downturn. Kent-Hughes himself lost his job as a result of the pandemic—and given that it wasn’t his first time being made redundant, he decided to leverage his expertise in writing crisis management plans for large organizations to provide a blueprint for the newly unemployed. Aiming to give shell-shocked readers the ability to take a deep breath and plunge back into job hunting, Kent-Hughes methodically explains how to explore new career options if the reader’s current industry is devastated, ways to manage finances and inevitable stressors while job seeking, and methods for filling resumés with keywords that will entice prospective employers (and make it past automated screening systems).

Kent-Hughes organizes his book in an easy-to-understand format, assisting readers looking for a specific topic (such as emergency and crisis planning, interviews, creating resumes, and developing new career paths) to immediately find it. He also includes eminently practical tools, such as budgeting and application tracking templates, and lists career-minded websites (including Indeed and LinkedIn) designed to propel job leads.

Kent-Hughes’s empathetic tone will go a long way toward calming spooked readers who are worried about both their paychecks and the virus. Any reader trying to muscle through pandemic-related unemployment will find practical, plainspoken, and logical advice in Kent-Hughes’s well-written guide.

Takeaway: Kent-Hughes’s empowering counsel will give readers the confidence and the tools needed to seek new jobs and to overcome the anxiety of sudden unemployment.

Great for fans of: Richard Nelson Bolles’s What Color is Your Parachute?, Steve Dalton’s The Two-Hour Job Search, Jon Acuff’s Do Over.

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

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The Universe Sends Help: Prayers to find hope, faith, and trust during the time of Coronavirus
Manpreet Komal
Minister, Psychic Horizons graduate, and Ford Institute certified shadow coach Komal (365 Life Shifts) shares optimism in this nondenominational compendium of cleansing prayers dedicated to self-healing and positivity during the time of collective powerlessness and adjustment due to Covid-19. Komal includes prayers to keep essential workers safe, to avoid taking the frustration of working from home out on family members, and to heal soon after testing positive for the illness (“Dear God… Guide me. Support me every step of the way so that I don’t feel alone, isolated, or helpless”). Through connection with a higher power, whether it be Jesus, Krishna, Allah, or another, Komal emphasizes the importance of building a relationship with God to ask for help and learn to love oneself. She challenges readers to use the guide as an example for writing their own prayers, encouraging an openness to the unexpected.

Komal’s commitment to healing, recuperation, and defiance in the face of illness comes from personal experience with surgery and sick relatives in her care. She infuses her collection of prayers and mantras with sincere intentions for wholeness, including a prayer that asks for safety when going to the doctor during coronavirus and another that requests strength to avoid addictive and destructive behaviors, such as drinking and overeating.

There is some repetition—themes like hopelessness, feeling safe, and being supported recur—but the inclusive, nondenominational approach will make it easy for readers to connect with Komal’s book. Readers dealing with coronavirus themselves or in a loved one, or feeling apprehensive around others, will feel empowered by this spiritual resource.

Takeaway: This uplifting collection of prayers and mantras encourages readers with reassuring messages of protection, safety, change, and hope.

Great for fans of: Abraham J. Twerski’s The Spiritual Self, Barbara Lee’s God Isn’t Finished with Me Yet.

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

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The Maverick: The Jane Valiante Series Book 1
Jennifer Valenti
Valenti’s debut novel (book one in the Jane Valiante series) is an equally lively and harrowing exploration of workplace sexual assault. Jane Valiante, a data scientist whose dreams were put on hold by family health issues, gets the opportunity of a lifetime after her mother’s death: a position with Imaigene, a startup poised to revolutionize early cancer diagnoses. But Jane’s dream turns into a nightmare after she is sexually assaulted by one of Imaigene’s founders, Peter Wright. Though she attempts to keep her knowledge of Peter’s sociopathy bottled up, after learning that she’s not the only survivor she vows to bring him down.

The novel is fast-paced and often funny, although Valenti is not afraid to cover heavy subject matter (PTSD, blackouts, recovery). Jane is fully fleshed out as a sympathetic, imperfect, and realistic protagonist with a grim sense of humor. Her friendship with college friend Carmen, now a lawyer, is a bright spot, a supportive relationship between two women who are each going through hard times. Jane’s concerns—about how to tell her friends, whether to tell her father, and what will become of Imaigene’s scientific breakthroughs—are well thought out and suspenseful.

Valenti, herself a sexual assault survivor with a background in tech, handles the darker elements of the story deftly. Sometimes the plot can feel more convenient than realistic, but the settings and relationships come off as authentic, with a recognizable, well-defined office culture and realistic interplay among characters. Although it deals with trauma and violence, Jane’s journey is ultimately one of resilience and triumph, and Valenti’s telling is a well-paced, enjoyable read.

Takeaway: This humane, honest, and timely workplace novel balances lightness and darkness in its narrative of resilience after sexual assault.

Great for fans of: Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, Idra Novey’s Those Who Knew.

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

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Seduction: CLAW & WARDER Episode 1
Erik Vick
Vick’s (Bloodletter Saga) Seduction, the first installment in a series, adeptly creates a loving homage to the long-running Law & Order television franchise while weaving in urban fantasy’s werewolves, vampires, demons, and ghosts. Leery Oriscoe, a werewolf and homicide detective for New York City’s Special Investigations Squad, has seen his fair share of supernatural murders. The discovery of a desiccated body is just another day on the job—and a great way to break in his new partner, the half-vampire, half-succubus Dru Nogan. Though they have little trouble tracking down the murderer, a succubus sex worker who took things too far, the case becomes far more complicated as they discover the true motive.

The worldbuilding in this introductory adventure is light, hinting at much more to come later, and assumes that readers come in with a passing knowledge of the supernatural and legal domains. This extends to the private lives and backgrounds of Vick’s protagonists, including a ghostly lieutenant from the storied Van Helsing lineage and the spirit of Aleister Crowley as a judge. Leery’s werewolf manifestation keeps the Orthodox Jewish faith his human self has left behind, which prompts many questions with few answers.

But this is part and parcel of a series pilot: introducing characters and premise with a promise to go deeper in subsequent installments (of which, in this series, there are nine and counting). This entertaining story’s inherent charm, fast pace, and willingness to embrace mild absurdity are a winning combination.

Takeaway: This supernatural police procedural will appeal to readers looking for werewolf cops, succubae on the streets, and ghosts in the courtroom.

Great for fans of: Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series; Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Dragon Precinct; Justin Gustainis’s Occult Crimes Unit series.

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

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The Fall of Dreams
Ryan LaSalle
Peter Engel is a very tired fifth-grader. Avoiding sleep because he’s haunted by hyperrealistic dreams, all he can do is doze through class. After another disappointing appointment with the school district psychologist, Peter runs away into the woods with his new friend Sarah, and they discuss dreams and other scary things. Later that night, flying monkeys steal Peter away. After escaping, he stumbles upon a woodcarver and his assistant, who live in a treehouse, and they offer him a place there too. He begins to make a new life, chopping wood and hunting witches as memories of his past quickly fade away. But in the back of his mind, something feels off—and Peter is drawn to a vague dream of another home.

This novel is an autumnal treasure. Peter spends most of the story in the world of the woods, where his motley crew eats vegetable stew, carves giant jack-o’-lanterns, and waits for the day when they’ll travel to Amberville to sell the woodcarver’s wares. There’s a Wonderland feel to it all, enhanced by the woodcarver’s three-foot-tall assistant Master Keys and a chatty squirrel. A horror component heightens tension as well: oily, rancid, child-eating witches threaten Peter and his friends, leading one to a bloody end at Peter’s hand.

Scenes of mild violence are interspersed with tender moments of friendship and hope, leading readers to cheer for Peter. Peter doesn’t come to understand the world he’s in or why he’s there until almost the end of the story; although this will keep readers guessing, they may also wonder why characters introduced earlier are important or what’s actually real. But that element of suspense adds flavor to Peter’s spooky trek. LaSalle has written a dreamy harvest story that will haunt and delight.

Takeaway: Imaginative middle grade readers and fall fanatics will be charmed and spooked by LaSalle’s modern fairy-tale adventure.

Great for fans of: Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

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

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Melody's Magical Flying Machine
Elaine Ambrose
Award-winning humorist, memoirist, and children’s author Ambrose adds another hit to her roster with a third children’s book. After being bullied at school for telling one of her renowned inventive stories, Melody, a popular and confident 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome, regroups under her favorite catalpa tree, where an enchanted talking bird named Juju offers her the chance to make her very own flying machine with the help of a 3-D printer and her vivid and unique imagination.

Melody’s ensuing adventure, while seemingly simple, is delightfully whimsical, yet still provides space for surprisingly accurate, age-appropriate scientific explanations of both Down syndrome and 3-D printers. Also included are frank depictions of Melody’s health and early challenges, including being born with a bad heart. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Melody displays an abundance of self-confidence and character. Not only is she sure of her abilities, she’s popular, has an exhaustive list of talents such as hugging and humming, and has a wide range of interests including swordplay and cute clothes. (She takes pride in demonstrating that fun and adventure have no gender.)

The illustrations, although expressive, competently composed, and detailed, are missing some of the color bursting from the vivid prose. There’s not much explanation for the bully’s actions or his change of heart and apology, and the lack of faculty intervention or supervision might leave adults a little puzzled. However, these are minor loose threads in the imaginative tapestry that is Melody’s magical adventure.

Takeaway: This charming flight of fancy with an equally charming protagonist will delight readers who want to be both educated and entertained.

Great for fans of Liam O’Donnell’s West Meadows Detectives series, Ellen Potter’s Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series.

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

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Snowflake
Arthur Jeon
In this chilling work about brilliant madness, Hollywood writer Jeon (City Dharma: Keeping Your Cool in the Chaos) easily nails the free-floating anger and helplessness fueled by current events, including climate change and the divisive political atmosphere in the U.S. After watching his younger sister June almost die during an asthma attack exacerbated by Los Angeles’s poor air quality and experiencing a mind-altering reaction to a party drug, 18-year-old prep school intellectual Ben “Benji” Wallace is galvanized into action. He blames the unnamed (but implicitly identifiable) U.S. president, whom he dubs Cretin, for climate change and the other ills of current life. And he makes a life-changing decision: the president must die, or Planet Earth will.

Benji stealthily builds a plastic gun using a 3-D printer and instructions downloaded from the internet while ruminating on the most effective way to carry out a presidential assassination. Jeon deftly chronicles how despair, deeply held principles, and depression can combine to influence horrifying outcomes. As Benji’s mind goes to darker and darker places, the author keeps the plot razor-wire taut and readers turning the pages as quickly as they can.

Jeon’s background in Hollywood gives this narrative the feeling of a box-office blockbuster. Disturbing yet compelling, the dark storyline feels eminently plausible, bolstered by actual tweets from the current U.S. president and real headlines, including accurate environmental statistics. Memorable supporting characters—especially Benji’s sister June and his teacher, John Hale—ably underpin the tale. Any reader with an awareness of current events will devour this in one sitting.

Takeaway: Jeon’s ripped-from-the-headlines stunner based on current events and world leaders will be impossible for readers to put down.

Great for fans of Sam Bourne’s To Kill the President, Robert Wood Anderson’s Resurrection Runner.

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

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Bird in a Snare
N.L. Holmes
Hani, a military scribe and diplomat in the service of the real-life Ancient Egyptian pharoah Amen-hotep III, dominates in N.L. Holmes’s newest historical mystery. Hani, also a real historical figure, divides his time between a large and loving family in Waset (Thebes), the then-capital of Egypt, and a heavy workload abroad as an emissary for the king. As part of his duties, Hani must solve the murder of the king’s ally Abdi-ashirta, found assassinated in his own locked palace with a dagger in his back. With political corruption rampant and few trustworthy allies other than his secretary Maya, Hani travels across the Two Kingdoms to solve a case that pushes his conscience to its limits. While Hani seeks answers, the king’s son and co-regent, Akh-en-aten, consolidates his power through radical religious reforms, turning brother against brother, even within Hani’s own family.

Holmes gears this adventure toward serious fans of adult mystery and accurate Egyptology, but readers unfamiliar with Egypt’s New Kingdom period will find the closing historical note and glossaries of names and places) extremely helpful. Fans of the genre will notice parallels between Hani’s voyage and popular Ancient Egyptian mysteries featuring a mid-tier official of the king with a sidekick who, like Maya, is a dwarf. But, though these similarities are hard to ignore, Holmes’s clearly well-researched plot and characters—including her more egalitarian treatment of dwarfism—do much to distinguish this book from its predecessors.

Hani and Maya are instantly likeable protagonists, and there are enough twists, turns, and court intrigues to satisfy all lovers of historical mysteries. Holmes’s writing is simultaneously colorful and informative, blending vivid depictions of Hani’s surroundings with subtle cultural histories presented mostly without judgement. Readers will find it hard to put down this tale of ancient intrigue.

Takeaway: Diplomatic intrigue takes center stage in this absorbing and historically accurate Ancient Egyptian mystery.

Great for fans of: P.C Doherty, Lynda S. Robinson, C.J. Sansom.

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

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The Brute
Mike Klaassen
Klaassen (Cracks) serves up an engrossing adventure with a flawed teen protagonist. Fortney “Fort” Curtis is the titular “brute,” with a hulking manner and hair-trigger temper. During a boy scout camping trip with his father and several younger boys, Fort’s camp is pulverized by a tornado and he loses his temper in the aftermath, accidentally breaking one of the boys’ arms. Fort is forced to find a way to master his emotions as he treks across dangerous country seeking help for the ruined camp—in the process dealing with the elements and vicious animal attacks, including a harrowing trip across a flooded river.

This young adult novel deftly balances classic man-versus-nature and man-versus-himself literary tropes. Though Fort’s temper makes others fear him, the book portrays him not as a villain but as an unlikely hero searching for peace; he worries others will reject him when they see his exasperation and anger. Over the course of the story, Fort's desperate need to protect the others drives him to develop self-control amid an array of dangers emphasizing the indifferent brutality of nature.

Klaassen provides just enough detail to turn characters like Fort's twin brothers (Tommy and Timmy) and Billy, the young boy whose arm he broke, into fully realized people instead of just plot devices. Though Klaassen does pile on the perils—the final encounter with an aggressive bull is over-the-top—he also keeps the narrative direct and short. This visceral, exciting, and fast-moving adventure with an unusual protagonist illuminates the need to conquer one’s own demons to help others.

Takeaway: Young adult readers who enjoy flawed characters and the outdoors will be swept up in this suspenseful adventure.

Great for fans of: Kate Alice Marshall's I Am Still Alive, Shaun David Hutchinson's Feral Youth.

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

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The Land Steward's Daughter
Becky Michaels
Michaels’s expertly realized debut historical romance (the first installment in the Winters series) breathes fresh air into the genre. Elaina Walker has been raised almost as family by the duke and duchess of Blackmore; though her father is only a land steward, her late mother, Lady Eleanor Crawford, was a close friend of the duchess. Elaina’s maternal family may snub her at every opportunity, but her middle-class station is elevated by ducal support. No longer a tomboy running amok with the second son, Will, she’s now a refined spinster of 25, entertaining the idea of marriage with banker Giles Hunt—until Will returns from 11 years of school and military service. Although she’s not considered an acceptable match for him, their faithful correspondence during his absence has strengthened their already close bond.

Michaels steers the story with a steady hand, alternating between Will’s and Elaina’s viewpoints and rendering unusually sympathetic portraits of supporting characters and romantic rivals, including Hunt, Will’s older brother Montgomery, and Montgomery’s young fiancee Clara. The protagonists’ history is fleshed out through excerpts from old letters, and the epistolary basis of their relationship is wholesomely romantic.

But this novel is more than a traditional romance; it examines the work of creating a mature, partnered relationship, too. Classic genre themes are touched upon—the conflict between marrying for duty and for love, scandal and propriety in high society—but the centerpiece is a richly imagined, vibrant celebration of love. Readers will be swept away by this new twist on an old favorite.

Takeaway: This smart, refreshing historical romance, focused less on winning and wooing and more on the evolution of a relationship, will sweep readers off their feet.

Great for fans of: Eloisa James, Georgette Heyer.

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

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Miranda and the D-Day Caper
Shelly Frome
Frome (The Secluded Village Murders) blends a cozy whodunit with a political thriller in this mystery novel set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Miranda Davis, an Indiana-raised realtor fresh off solving a local poison-letters case, is surprised when her cousin Skip, a radio DJ in New York, unexpectedly arrives in her small town. He was chased out of the city by threatening letters after he accidentally leaked details of a right-wing domestic terror plot on the air, and having read an article about Miranda’s sleuthing skills, Skip asks his cousin for help in uncovering the truth behind the chaos he unwittingly stumbled into.

Rife with references to Erwin Rommel’s North African campaign, the SAS, Commandos Strike at Dawn, and Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, this book seems geared toward older readers looking for a blend of current events with WWII history and childhood nostalgia. Yet many of these references are jarring and out-of-place, especially given that the protagonists are in their 30s. At times, readers will feel as if they have entered the story too late: though this is the only book in the series so far, references to a previous case and prior relationships give a sense of missing information, and supporting characters (such as Harry, Miranda’s “part-time lover”) lack detail and clear motives.

This novel shines in its depiction of life in the mountains of North Carolina. Readers familiar with the area around Asheville will love the realistic descriptions of the city and its environs, including cameos by local institutions ranging from the Biltmore Estate to Black Mountain’s Blue Ridge Biscuit Company. Miranda is a spunky, no-nonsense protagonist who audiences will root for as she takes decisive action to make sure Skip’s job—and her small town—remain safe.

Takeaway: This mystery combines modern political intrigue and Blue Ridge Mountain life with WWII nostalgia.

Great for fans of: Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series, Maddie Day’s Country Store Mysteries series.

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

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Stockboy Nation
Thomas Duffy
This sequel to Stockboy is a timely but anemic story of a man’s midlife crisis during the age of Covid-19. Phillip Doherty is now 40-something, and his successful first book, a memoir about working in Manhattan at novelty bookstore Milton’s World of Fun, has not led to more writing success. Now living in San Diego and unable to find any sort of writing job, he begins working part-time at the local branch of Milton’s, much to the dismay of his live-in fiancée Melissa, a lawyer currently paying most of their bills. The romance is gone and Phillip is torn—should he return to New York and his old job or stay and pursue a relationship with LeAnn, an attractive college professor?

Duffy has the day-to-day stuff of working retail down pat, but Phillip is so indecisive that he wavers in his decisions almost as quickly as he makes them: Melissa or LeAnn, San Diego or New York City? The only thing he sticks with is his job, but with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, even that may no longer be an option. A pagelong flirtation with religion goes nowhere, and the characters’ political discussions occasionally feel forced and unwieldy.

The story’s topicality is a boon. In the throes of a pandemic that already has killed many Americans, readers would think Phillip’s world might have grown desperately dark. Instead, he eats junk food and binge-watches television like so many people have. Duffy’s lead lacks agency, so his story is reminiscent at times of someone who begins journaling without much to say. But readers with similar experiences will find him relatable.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a novel about navigating a midlife crisis or being underemployed during Covid-19 will find familiarity in its lead character.

Great for fans of: Caitlin Kelly’s Malled, Matthew Quick.

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

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Life is a Ride: My Unconventional Journey of Cancer Recovery
Chris Joseph
Joseph’s intensely moving cancer memoir unwinds his distressing years in traditional and alternative medical treatments. In October 2016, Joseph, a 59-year-old single parent living in Santa Monica, Calif., finds his life at an unceremonious standstill upon detection of stage three pancreatic cancer. An indifferent healthcare team and the devastating aftereffects of chemotherapy compel him to take control of his treatment and consider unconventional routes. While chronicling his journey on his blog, he succeeds in finding a stable outlet for his anxiety and apprehensions. In courageous and profound sequences, the reader finds him regaining his composure as he counters his doubts as a father, a boyfriend, a brother, and a friend.

Interactions with his sons are the emotional cornerstones of the book, but he also comments on the American healthcare system and underscores how recovery begins by taking charge of one’s life. Readers will appreciate the affecting accounts of other patients that support his informed insights on medical care and fitness, as well as the clear and straightforward prose.

Joseph skillfully balances the bleakness of the subject with candidness and levity. His analogy about fear being an “obnoxious roommate who doesn’t clean up after himself” is one of the many standout observations of the narration. Liberally infused with candor and vulnerability, Joseph’s thorough introspection of his years in cancer treatment is a rewarding examination of love, duty, legacy, and mortality.

Takeaway:This gripping cancer memoir is a unique exploration of identity, community, and the American healthcare system through the story of an ordinary man’s life-altering illness.

Great for fans of: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, Joules Evans’s Shaken Not Stirred... A Chemo Cocktail, Julie Yip-Williams’s The Unwinding of the Miracle.

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

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Trine Rising: The Kinderra Saga: Book 1
C.K. Donnelly
The first installment of Donnelly’s coming-of-age fantasy series blends introspective self-discovery with high-stakes adventure. In the land of Kinderra, people are born either Aspected—having the power of clairvoyance, healing, or defending—or Unaspected. Young Mirana Pinal is born with all three powers, making her a Trine. After seeing a disturbing vision wherein she destroys Kinderra, Mirana confides her secret only to her boyfriend, the Unaspected Teague Beltran. She soon learns that she is part of a prophecy foretelling the destruction of her homeland at the hands of a new Trine. The other Trines are the peaceable sage Tetric Garis and the Ain Magne, a warmonger bent on subjugating the citizens of Kinderra. When the threat of an attack from the Dark Trine forces Mirana to reveal her visions, Tetric Garis takes her under his wing to train her. Can Mirana thwart her own destiny and save the kingdom from herself?

Donnelly has set her story in a classic medieval Europe-flavored fantasy world, complete with armies on horses, ancient prophecies, and an extensive dramatis personae. Although the author makes some moves to differentiate her work from other stories in the genre—for instance, by substituting common English terms with Kinderrian ones—some readers may find the net result is more distracting than illustrative.

But Mirana is a sympathetic heroine, her struggle to find her place in the world will be relatable to young readers, and her romance with Teague captures the tensions and thrills of teenage love. Polished prose, strong characterization, and the author’s keen eye for atmospheric detail keep this coming-of-age story engrossing.

Takeaway: Young adult readers will be swept up in a gripping fantasy adventure with a main character they can root for.

Great for fans of: Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series and Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone.

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

Click here for more about Trine Rising

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