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The Arab Business Code
Judith Hornok
Hornok’s workbook offers practical guidance for non-Arab businesspeople seeking opportunity in the Arabian Gulf, one of the world’s most booming emerging markets. Drawing upon many everyday examples and case studies, and displaying acute sensitivity to the assumptions and beliefs of all parties in cross-cultural communication, Hornok lays out crucial, general rules: develop chemistry with potential business partners, acknowledge the importance of family ties, honor and understand culturally specific rules of respect and face-saving. She also highlights some specific circumstances non-Arab business leaders might encounter, giving advice on eye contact, handshaking, saying “no,” and apologizing after one party causes another to lose face.

The material is strong and likely to prove helpful to its intended audience, but the book suffers from its lack of an index and chapter summaries, and its structure is haphazard. In the extended fourth chapter, for example, a scheme of nested, numbered sections with vague names (“Golden Rules,” “Key Codes,” “Strategic Codes,” “Tools,” “Building Blocks”) does little to lead readers to specific topics. A reader eager to learn about how a non-Arab businesswoman should handle feeling ignored by Arab businessmen in a meeting is unlikely to intuit that this gets covered under “Cultural no-go ABC 3: Eye contact” under “Key Code 4” of “Golden Rule 3: Respect.” Case studies are visually set aside in gray boxes but then referred to as though they’re part of the main text.

Hornok packs her six chapters with vivid examples, illuminating original quotes from Arab and non-Arab businesspeople, and lists of precepts and tools. Readers who take the time to highlight and organize their own favorite tips from her book will find them well worth returning to. She’s an engaging, informed coach, and business-minded readers will find much here that’s worth considering when it comes to avoiding pitfalls and managing expectations in cross-cultural deal-making.

Takeaway: Non-Arab businesspeople interested in deal-making in the Arabian Gulf will appreciate this sensitive, thorough guide to cross-cultural business interactions.

Great for fans of Great for fans of Rana Nejem’s When in the Arab World, Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map.

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

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Bound by Beliefs
Joseph C. Way
Way (A Pain in the Gut) throws gasoline on the basic premises of the history of Christianity and lights a match with this provocative work. Writing for his fellow Christians, he takes as his central precept that God “is love and acts only from love,” believing all other elements of religious faith can be derived from that concept, and that any claims contradicting it must necessarily be false. Among his other bold statements, he says that Jesus was a human, itinerant preacher who cared more about doing right while alive than about any notion of an afterlife; that the Bible isn’t meant to be interpreted literally; and that a God who acts from love would never damn souls to eternal hellfire.

Way persuasively argues that a physical resurrection is impossible and unproven. He asks a series of challenging questions, including why Jesus was able to feed 5,000 people from “someone’s snack” a single time but not repeat the process to feed all the hungry people he encountered on a daily basis: “The argument that ‘God can do anything,’ ‘It was only for Jesus,’ or ‘It was for that one special occasion’ is totally illogical, insufficient, and dodges the basic issue,” he writes. He asserts that natural laws come directly from an unchanging God, so tales of miracles that contradict physics must only be stories. He also proposes that “Jesus made deliberate efforts to restore Jewish worship to its Hebrew core, not replace it” and didn’t intend to start a new religion.

Many devout Christians will condemn the work as heretical, but open-minded readers may find Way’s well-reasoned, passionate arguments compelling, and his refrain that God is love and there is no hell will ease the minds of those brought up on hellfire-and-brimstone Christianity. This unusual view of Christianity raises far more questions than it answers and is likely to provoke deep thought and lively conversation.

Takeaway: Open-minded Christians will be drawn in by Way’s passionate arguments for a profoundly loving God and a pragmatic, fully human Jesus.

Great for fans of C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, Scott Shay’s In Good Faith.

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

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The Adventures of Rockford T. Honeypot
Josh Gottsegen
Debut author Gottsegen introduces young readers to the adventurous and charming chipmunk Rockford T. Honeypot in this gripping coming-of-age adventure. Rockford is wrangling his 10-year-old great-grandson, Theo, as they shop at a farmer’s market frequented by woodland creatures. While they’re stuck in the checkout line, other patrons coax Rockford into telling them about his travels throughout the Tropland rainforest. Rockford relates growing up as a bookish, ostracized child who wound up training with mindful chip-monks, riding on the back of a hawk, and learning from a renowned muskrat chef. As the stories get bolder, Rockford’s audience grows. Soon the local news station is broadcasting him live, drawing in people from his past who connect him to the growth, strength, and tenacity that made him who he is today.

Rockford’s stories, gently enhanced by Kleyn’s tidy, detailed chapter head illustrations, introduce a menagerie of vibrant one-of-a-kind characters who are perfectly suited for older children, with gentle lessons to be learned from every interaction. Some of the elements are a little clichéd: Rockford predictably falls for the first female chipmunk he meets, and the faux-Shaolin chip-monks speak in stilted English (“We know pain of loneliness”), quote haiku, and believe in a mystical prophecy. Each chapter ends with a return to the frame story at the farmer’s market, with humor that can feel a little strained. However, the book’s target readers will breeze past these flaws and find the adventure enthralling.

Parents waiting for their children to be old enough for The Hobbit or Redwall will find this the perfect stopgap, with plenty of thrills as well as moral quandaries, somber loss, and emotional growth. The ending will elicit happy sniffles from readers who have gotten caught up in Rockford’s tale. Without stinting the action, Gottsegen delivers a powerful message about the importance of being brave, honest, and true to oneself.

Takeaway: Older children will absorb important life lessons while enjoying this thrilling story of a brave chipmunk’s forest adventures.

Great for fans of Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Barbara O’Connor’s On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s.

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

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Enchanted Everglades
Gail Kowatch
Filmmaker Kowatch brings larger-than-life characters and action scenes to middle grade readers in this highly visual mix of literary seriousness and fun adventure. Ocean River and Ellen Hansen, both age 12, are best friends—until Ellen’s father dies in a car crash and clumsy Ocean accidentally disrupts his funeral. When their parents take them on a vacation to the Everglades a couple months later, guilt-ridden Ocean isn’t even sure they can be friends again, and Ellen barely speaks to him. But their airboat crashes, and Ocean and Ellen must work together to find their parents and escape the dangerous swamp. On their journey they acquire supernatural talents and befriend an eccentric wood stork, a guileless soft-shell turtle, and Gumbo, a yoga-practicing, pacifist alligator who’s next in line to become king of the Everglades.

Kowatch’s descriptions and Shinn’s charming digital illustrations will leave readers feeling like they’ve stomped through the Everglades alongside Ocean and Ellen. The relationships are depicted with wonderful depth. Gumbo and his pals often meditate together, Ocean and Ellen talk about grief and growing up, Ocean’s parents share important lessons with him, and each character takes turns leading, encouraging, and sacrificing for the others in a way that feels sincere and psychologically healthy.

Yet all of these elements create a text that is sometimes busy and complicated. Chapters are told from various perspectives and the book blends Seminole mythology with Eastern spiritual practices, which may leave younger readers confused, uninterested, or just wanting more of the lively dialogue. However, the book’s quirkiness and cartoon-style illustrations, as well as its loose ends (perhaps left open for a sequel?), will likely keep them hooked. For kids entering adolescence in the 21st century, an adventure that includes real-life heaviness, environmental awareness and activism, meditation and affirmation, and a little bit of the absurd seems just right.

Takeaway: Tween readers (and their parents and teachers) will love the values, hardships, laughs, and learning in Kowatch’s thoughtful adventure fantasy.

Great for fans of the Magic School Bus series, the Magic Tree House series.

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

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Trauma Town Dispatch
Suzann Kale
This darkly comic novel dabbles in philosophy, romance, friendship, and the nature of existence, all in the unlikely setting of a small-town hospital. Sabine is a middle-aged switchboard operator at Trummel Hospital; her working life is plagued by intensity, and she might just be falling in love with the disembodied voice from a police scanner. She strikes up a friendship with an emergency room patient, Juliet, her next door neighbor and a Vietnam War veteran whose aloof personality and mysterious love life intrigue Sabine. When a woman shoots a teen hospital patient, Sabine feels a strange connection to the victim and is determined to understand what draws them together.

The budding friendship between Sabine and Juliet is where Kale’s writing really shines; Juliet’s worldliness and effortlessly cool demeanor are the perfect antidote to Sabine’s anxiety-fuelled stream-of-consciousness narration. The novel is underpinned by a much deeper exploration into Sabine’s personal existential crisis, which includes such philosophical problems as the fluidity of existence and the nature of death. The narrative never gets too heavy; Kale balances out the morbidity with a wry sense of humor. Scenes at the hospital, where Sabine interacts with her workmates Glo and Aja, are especially amusing, playing out like a classic comedy of errors.

Some heavy-handed pop culture references and literary allusions can be a whimsical reminder of time and place, but often they drag or stall an otherwise enriching narrative. For instance, the description of a character’s voice as a “soft Uma Thurman Henry and June art film voice” feels uninspired. This stylistic choice distracts from Kale’s impressive ability to create likable, three-dimensional characters. This inquisitive look at personal connection in a disorienting setting perfectly captures the weirdness of hospitals and the importance of human vulnerability and authenticity.

Takeaway: Readers with a taste for philosophy and absurdity will enjoy this darkly comic tale of mishaps and friendship in a small-town hospital.

Great for fans of Richard Hooker’s MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

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

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With the Courage of a Mouse
Donna Sager Cowan
Sager Cowan’s twisty middle grade debut features unexpected friendships and a delightful mix of mystery and adventure. Simon Cheddar, a quick-thinking, resourceful mouse, is escaping from a hawk when he runs into Catt, a skittish cat who’s been abandoned by her humans. Impulsively, Simon invites Catt to join him on his first day at Superhero School. Catt and Simon quickly become best friends, and Simon cautiously introduces Catt to his friends and family in hidden Mouseville. Everything is going well until other cats attack Mouseville. The mice blame Catt and banish Simon, who sets out to prove his friend’s innocence.

Economic anxiety drives the story. Catt is traumatized by life as a starving alley cat, impoverished city mouse Ricky despises and envies the “soft” country mice of Mouseville, and meerkat butler Nigel longs to be his own boss. It’s not clear why this anthropomorphic paradise is so riddled with inequality and privation. No one questions the school’s peculiar policy barring orphans from attending, even when it puts Catt—who “refused to be property again”—in an impossible quandary: allow a total stranger to adopt her, or give up on school and live on the street. Homelessness is treated as a plot point, not a societal ill. Given the constant mentions of wealth and poverty, the lack of analysis beyond compassion being good and greed being bad feels like an oversight.

Sager Cowan makes the many characters distinct, aided by Reid’s sometimes clumsy but colorful illustrations. Superhero School classmates Patty Porter, a tech-savvy pig, and Freddy Flickerson, an agile frog, help Simon crack the case. Without pontificating, Sager Cowan clearly teaches readers about accepting and trusting others who come from different backgrounds. This series starter is filled with mystery and a lot of heart.

Takeaway: Tween readers will enjoy this warm-hearted mystery’s memorable animal characters and imaginative setting.

Great for fans of Gigi Priebe and Daniel Duncan’s Adventures of Henry Whiskers series.

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

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The Empress of the Clouds
Desiree Ultican
Ultican’s enjoyable American steampunk adventure features a sterling heroine. When Evaline Amstel’s husband, Heinz, is murdered in 1896 Joplin, Mo., she’s left in a dire situation. Heinz, an inventor, racked up significant debts, stole from her personal funds, and quietly paid for the upkeep of Bettina, his daughter from his secret first marriage—which never legally ended. Evaline decides to forge her own path forward, determined to care for Bettina and rescue Heinz’s failing airship company. After Evaline confirms that Heinz was involved in shady dealings, she’s stalked by spies, kidnapped, and forced to labor on the doomsday device her husband had unwittingly begun to build for megalomaniac Erasmus Marchand. Only once she escapes is she able to turn her focus toward stopping Erasmus’s plot to assassinate the president.

The cast is strong and diverse, and the white protagonists have an almost modern acceptance of and respect for the nonwhite characters. Unfortunately, that depiction is undermined by some questionable narrative choices, including eye dialect, period-accurate racist language, and characterization derived from caricature. People of color are used as props for white people’s characterization—a Chinese-American surprising a white man by speaking fluent English, an enslaved teen girl being sexually exploited by Erasmus—and vanish from the story as soon as the point is made.

The tale is ripe with drama and daring feats, but the telling is dry and matter-of-fact (“She brought the lever forward as smoothly as possible to abruptly halt the craft from diving into the landscape below”), reducing the tension in otherwise exciting events and making it hard to emotionally invest in the wellbeing of the characters or the relationships they form with one another. Nonetheless, the well-constructed plot creates a real sense of adventure. Evaline is an inspiring heroine for anyone who longs to see a bold and self-reliant woman stare down danger and do what’s right.

Takeaway: Steampunk fans will admire the bold and self-reliant heroine of this airship adventure.

Great for fans of Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, Gail Carriger.

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

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Desperately Seeking Novelty
Sandra Arnau-Dewar
Freelance editor Arnau-Dewar’s gritty and inspiring debut memoir chronicles the challenging experience of parenting children with ADHD (and eventually being diagnosed with it herself). After her children, Cindy and Eric, were diagnosed with ADHD in the 1990s, Arnau-Dewar became a fierce advocate for them. Finding upsides as well as downsides to their way of thinking and interacting with the world, she searched for a way to view ADHD as something other than a mental disorder, eventually coming to see the condition as a product of evolutionary biology.

After an introduction that feels more like a scientific paper, complete with nine footnotes, Arnau-Dewar shifts smoothly into memoir mode and expertly toggles back and forth between the 1950s and the 2010s, unflinchingly examining her nomadic childhood as the only child of a single mother. She also lays bare her family’s other mental issues, including the suicides of both her parents. She pulls no punches about the difficulties of raising children with ADHD—her marriage was among the casualties—but painstakingly details the joys of “restless energy and exuberant curiosity,” “passion and optimism,” alongside the challenges of dealing with teachers, doctors, and sometimes self-destructive kids.

Woven into the recollections are a variety of references to scientific studies on ADHD. “Remember that natural selection occurs when a change (mutation) in the genetic code favors survival,” Arnau-Dewar writes, theorizing that hyperactivity, impulsivity, and aggression allowed humans to avoid predators. She does a masterful job of compiling studies to back up this hypothesis and her suggestion that the condition be called “executive function adaptation” to reduce stigma and recognize the positive aspects of ADHD mental wiring. Meticulously researched and skillfully written, Arnau-Dewar’s memoir does double duty as a brutally frank instructional guide for parents of children with ADHD.

Takeaway: Readers raising children with ADHD will greatly benefit from Arnau-Dewar’s blend of memoir and science.

Great for fans of Thom Hartmann’s Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception, Blake E.S. Taylor’s ADHD and Me.

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

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Ballast Point Breakdown
Corey Lynn Fayman
Musician and author Fayman’s fourth Rolly Waters mystery (after Desert City Diva) takes private investigator Rolly on a quest to find Butch Fleetwood, a former Navy diver who’s been missing for over two decades. Environmental activist Janis Withers crashes her boat into the Admiral’s Club ballroom in San Diego, pours gasoline everywhere, and dies in the subsequent fire. Her fellow activist Melody Flowers asks Rolly for help finding Butch, whom Janis claimed was Arion, the dolphin king, and the inspiration for the Lemurian Temple that Melody and Janis founded for dolphin worship, which Janis’s parents plan to sell. As Janis once ran the fan club of Rolly’s former band, he agrees to help Melody. Soon he’s mired in a mystery involving a water park, a wealthy painter, a secretive government contractor, and the elusive Harmonica Dan. As people linked to the investigation die mysteriously, Rolly forges ahead to solve the puzzle of Butch’s disappearance while eluding a cunning killer.

Fayman quickly draws the reader in with the boat crash scene, which couples dry humor with fiery drama. The story is fast-paced and intensified by the myriad of twists and turns, each establishing another characters who had a reason to want Butch dead. Fayman craftily ties together the mystery behind Butch’s disappearance and the present-day deaths. Though Fayman clearly outlines the characters’ motives and how they connect to one another, readers must pay close attention to the details to have a thorough understanding of the intricately woven web.

Fayman expertly underscores the ups and downs of a musical career, and his use of the San Diego area and the influence of the naval base there adds elements of realism and authenticity. Mystery fans will quickly warm to the affable Rolly, a genuine man who, though scarred by events of his past, has embraced the present to live one day at a time. This standalone installment will satisfy both newcomers and series fans with a fascinating mystery and colorful cast.

Takeaway: This music-themed murder mystery will draw fans of old-fashioned gumshoes, vivid characters, and twisty, layered stories.

Great for fans of Robert B. Parker’s Crimson Joy, James Patterson and James O. Born’s The River Murders.

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

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Nikolai Delov
James Dante
Dante (The Tiger’s Wedding) provides a slice-of-life peek into the complicated mind and life of wealthy businessman Nikolai Delov as he navigates the complexities of life in post-Soviet Russia. Nikolai, who owns a large trucking company, is driven, occasionally ruthless, and determined to make his mark in the newly privatized nation. As a father, he struggles somewhat—especially with his grown son, Valentin, whose love of art and hatred of capitalism are at odds with Nikolai’s approach to life. As a lover, he’s drawn to charismatic and idealistic Inessa Zorina, a social worker who helps young woman escape the horrors of human trafficking. When all of these elements intersect, he’s forced to examine himself and his choices even as he faces treachery in business and his personal life.

The descriptive and flowing narrative style conveys a deep understanding of all things Russian, including glimpses of life from before the fall of the Soviet Union through the rise of the Russian Federation. The characters are vibrant, though inconsistencies in dialogue and scene transitions occasionally muffle their voices, as does a heavy reliance on narrative exposition throughout the first several chapters. Esoteric word choice and the many forms of address for one person may be jarring for those unfamiliar with Russian culture. At several points, the plot seems like little more than a very loosely connected series of vignettes (some of which tend to meander), though the purpose of each one is eventually reviealed.

The subject matter, particularly the human trafficking, is handled with sensitivity and respect and never feels exploitative. Nikolai’s journey and how all of his identities intersect, even as he tries to keep them compartmentalized, will strike a chord with readers as it thoughtfully entertains. This is a richly developed story of how one man’s struggle to refine his identity is mirrored in the sociopolitical changes surrounding him.

Takeaway: This richly developed story of a man’s quest for identity in post-Soviet Russia will entertain and enthrall readers of slice-of-life literary fiction.

Great for fans of Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov.

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

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The Meaning of Life
Nathanael Garrett Novosel
This inviting mix of philosophy, science, and self-help dives into a question that thinkers and teachers have pondered for thousands of years: What is the meaning of life? While considering how this complex question can be viewed through the lenses of growth, experience, desire, belief, emotions, ethics, support, and choice, Novosel encourages each reader to independently develop a sense of purpose and direction. He grounds the quest in research into human psychology and the microbiological origins of life, asserting that the scientific “how” of life and the philosophical “why” of life are entangled rather than distinct and making analogies between the growth of living organisms and the personal growth that gives life value.

A brief introductory quiz asks readers to rate statements such as “I appreciate what I have in life” and “I live my life with a sense of purpose.” After each chapter’s introduction, there is a lengthy explanation of each core concept. These sections can read like scholarly articles (“With more time, effort, and attention, humans maximize their abilities”), but they’ll appeal to readers who are moved by scientific analysis. Pragmatic tools at the end of each chapter help the reader make more personal connections to each of the eight concepts. At the end of the book, the reader returns to the initial questions to see how their understanding of the meaning of life has changed.

Thoroughly and consistently covering every aspect of the quest for the meaning of life, Novosel helps readers to walk away with a concrete sense of personal discovery. He neither leans on nor tries to refute religion, making the work accessible to readers from the staunchly atheist to the deeply devout. Whether readers are struggling in difficult times, experiencing uncertainty, or living their best lives, this book will help them find their footing and develop unique individual concepts of direction, purpose, and meaning.

Takeaway: Anyone curious about the history of the quest for meaning or in need of a personal sense of purpose will benefit from this thorough guide.

Great for fans of Maxie McCoy’s You’re Not Lost, Misty Edwards’s What Is the Point?, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’s Designing Your Life.

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

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Does It Hurt?
Burton Moomaw
Moomaw, a licensed acupuncturist, effectively demystifies acupuncture in this beautifully presented and informative debut. He gives detailed responses to eight common questions about acupuncture, including “Does it hurt?”, “Does it work?”, and “What health problems does it treat?”, and explains how hair-thin needles, inserted into the skin and muscles, manipulate the body’s chi (energy) flow. For those still intimidated by acupuncture, Moomaw briefly introduces other common Chinese medical treatments. He also discusses how imbalances in the body can affect health, and analyzes some of the contrasts between Chinese medicine’s qualitative science and whole-body-approach and Western medicine’s quantitative science and treatments based mainly on pharmacology and surgery.

Moomaw’s organized and succinct writing make this a comprehensive look at the practice of acupuncture as well as Chinese medicine’s other energy-focused treatments. He fairly portrays the strengths and weaknesses of Chinese and Western medical systems, encouraging readers to make informed judgments on their options for medical treatments. Straightforward language and the use of highway metaphors to describe the interconnectedness of the body’s energy meridians make it easier to understand and visualize the flow of the chi.

The crisp photographs clarify the descriptions in the text, showing how fine an acupuncture needle is, how it’s inserted, and where the energy channels are located in the body. The images in the book are monochrome, but Moomaw helpfully provides a link to view the same images in full color. Diagrams and charts such as the map of the tongue and how the five elements relate to various organs help readers understand the body’s relationship to chi and how acupuncture can affect it. Successfully educating readers about acupuncture and Chinese energetic medicine, this book will also stimulate discussion of medical treatment options and is an excellent starting point for further research.

Takeaway: This is a perfect introduction to acupuncture and Chinese medicine for the curious newcomer.

Great for fans of Andrew Weil’s Spontaneous Healing, Steven Cordoza’s Chinese Holistic Medicine in Your Daily Life.

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

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The Midnight Hour
Bud Harris, PhD
In this “message-driven memoir,” Harris (Students Under Siege: The Real Reasons Behind America’s Ongoing Mass Shootings and How to Stop Them), a Jungian psychoanalyst, asserts that an American addiction to “positive thinking” has resulted in not being able to acknowledge a fear of personal or financial misfortune, leading to a decline of empathy for those who experience such misfortune. His own devastating losses in the 2008 financial crash put him on the receiving end of this empathy gap and shocked him into political awareness. He encourages readers to view this time of sociopolitical change as an opportunity to employ creative citizenship, develop empathy and understanding, and move beyond division in order to reclaim the essence of American democracy.

Blending the psychoanalytical and the political, Harris segues between transformational experiences in his personal life and relevant observations regarding the American body politic, scolding politicians regardless of party. He employs the recurring motif of “shadow,” an element of Jungian psychoanalytic theory, to explore the concept of a crisis of empathy within a fractured and factionalized America. Harris also includes literary and social science perspectives that bolster his case for the need to recreate a nexus of citizenship and shared humanity.

Some readers might benefit from a few introductory paragraphs on the basics of Jungian analysis, but the text is mostly accessible to a general readership. Harris’s considerations are timely, relevant, and incisive. He’s unafraid to describe himself as “full of rage and pain and heartbreak” while maintaining compassion for others, and he clearly renders some potentially complex concepts, such as the individual responsibility to create a better collective society. This memoir provides a graceful yet challenging vehicle for the positing of some pointed observations and difficult questions regarding the meaning and responsibilities of American citizenship and membership in the human race.

Takeaway: Readers craving meaningful civic engagement within a well-functioning American democracy will value this insightful and challenging call for empathy.

Great for fans of Sahar Ghumkhor’s The Political Psychology of the Veil: The Impossible Body, James Hollis.

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

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What I Tell Myself FIRST
Michael A. Brown
Brown, a former police officer, college professor, and anger management specialist, combines his empowerment training with his love for children in these powerful lessons in self-esteem. The text opens with the declaration, “I am alive, alert, and able.” It continues with a reminder to breathe, more room for journaling, and various affirmations (“Not everyone will like me. That is okay! I like me!”) and imperatives (“I must always tell myself the truth”). This inspiring text is accompanied by Ranucci’s gorgeous digital artwork.

While the text is minimal and simple, the ideas are complex and important. Statements such as “I am beautiful/handsome TO ME” and “How I speak can earn respect” will prompt caregivers to talk to kids about their bodies, their relationships, and their feelings. Some adults may disagree with a child stating “It is NO ONE’s job to ‘Protect Me’ from anything. That is my job,” but the general message of independence and self-care is valuable. A toddler may practice saying, “I like me!” while older kids can start learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from the diagram in the back of the book.

Some of Brown’s affirmations are too fragmented or unexplored. A statement such as “In my work, I am worth” is very vague standing on its own. Fortunately, Ranucci’s illustrations carry the text. She beautifully portrays children of various ethnicities and body shapes and sizes, including a boy in a wheelchair and a girl wearing a hijab. The statement regarding work and worth is accompanied by kids walking dogs and mowing the lawn, giving readers smiling examples of odd jobs and ways to help their neighbors. The colors are vibrant, the cartoonish style is warm, and the pictures are varied. This positive and heartwarming text is one that educators, caregivers, and children can learn from again and again.

Takeaway: This beautifully illustrated picture book will enhance both homes and classrooms with its positive affirmations and gentle lessons in self-worth.

Great for fans of Grace Byers’s I Am Enough, Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be... You and Me.

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

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Arnold Falls
Charlie Suisman
Suisman’s debut is by turns hilarious and poignant as a mayoral election, a fight to prevent the construction of a tire factory, and efforts to save a charismatic turkey from becoming Thanksgiving dinner coincide. Arnold Falls, N.Y., is a small town rich in eccentric residents and odd traditions, and Jeebie has lived there long enough to become accustomed to both. When his friend Jenny Jagoda prepares to run in the upcoming mayoral election, Jeebie is eager to help her with canvassing, pranking the competition, and saving Arnold Falls from ruthless businessmen and bloodthirsty chefs.

Half the charm in Suisman’s debut comes from the town itself, a place inexplicably named after Benedict Arnold by the miscreants who founded it. Suisman’s attention to detail and the quirky details in particular—such as the abnormal climatic conditions that cause “Old Testament-style barrages of idiopathic hail several times a month, irrespective of cloud cover, temperature, or best-laid plans”—make Arnold Falls feel like a real location. The characters add to the general air of comedy and chaos, including a talented pickpocket who’s also a talent agent and the dear old lady whose mother ran one of the town’s most popular bordellos during its red-light heyday.

The residents of Arnold Falls face very human problems. Struggles with depression, caring for a friend with leukemia, and affections that arise from a disastrous first date all paint a picture of a community where people care deeply for one another. Their schemes to save Chaplin the turkey are hilariously grand, while efforts to prevent construction of the tire factory take a more bittersweet turn. Suisman’s comedic novel will charm readers with its endearingly eccentric characters and its slice-of-life portrait of a disreputable corner of New York State.

Takeaway: This charming, funny novel is ideal for those who love small towns and eccentric townspeople.

Great for fans of Jonathan Dunne’s Balloon Animals, Tom Sharpe.

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

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Just the Way He Walked
Kathleen Pooler
Pooler (Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey away from Emotional Abuse) chronicles her son Brian’s tumultuous 23-year struggle with substance abuse and addiction in this emotional memoir. Beginning in his mid-teens, Brian’s life devolves into a cycle of episodic drug use and alcohol bingeing, periods of sobriety, new beginnings, lost opportunities, encounters with law enforcement, and a revolving door in and out of rehabilitation programs. Pooler, a single mother, tries to support Brian and his sister, Leigh Ann; pursue a career in nursing; and tentatively start dating again. When she’s diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, her identity as a caregiver is disrupted, and she gradually realizes that she needs to let Brian find his own path to wellness.

The narrative doesn’t shy away from exploring Brian’s father’s history of alcoholism as well as Pooler’s codependency with her son: “I needed to let go of my need to fix what he could and should do for himself,” she writes. “I continued to enable him, which robbed him of his ability to experience self-empowerment.” The book is primarily narrated by Pooler, but the inclusion of other relatives’ perspectives (filtered through Pooler’s recollections and voice) reminds the reader that addiction affects an entire family. The experiences, behaviors, and feelings of Pooler, Brian, and their loved ones are always at the forefront.

The short chapters and interludes mark the passage of time, introduce new characters, and delve deeper into connections and contrasts in Pooler and Brian’s intertwining stories. These elements are not always in chronological order, which may occasionally disorient readers; however, this technique allows the reader to experience Pooler’s emotional roller coaster. Pooler refers often to her Catholic faith but doesn’t evangelize. An appendix includes concise lessons Pooler has learned, as well as resources for parents of addicted children. Through telling her own story, Pooler provides a needed touchstone and plenty of hope for parents going through similar challenges.

Takeaway: Anyone who’s seen a loved one wrestle with addiction will appreciate this gripping account of despair, hope, and redemption.

Great for fans of Great for fans of Robin Barnett and Darren Kavinoky’s Addict in the House, Lisa Hillman’s Secret No More.

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

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