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Book Review: Nowever by Kristina Bak

At 16, Stevie Wales suddenly blossoms. Seemingly overnight, “Stevie the Mouse” disappears, and in her place stands a tall, beautiful girl, too beautiful in the eyes of her best friend the ultra-popular Winter. After Stevie snaps and attacks Winter, Stevie is shunned by many of the fickle teens in her Puget Sound island community, so she decides to become what she believes they all see anyway–the weird girl. As her oddity status rises, so does her anger, but when she is forced into a therapy program that includes working on a horse ranch, Stevie discovers her unusual ability to take away pain sensations in both animals and humans. Beginning to feel needed, Stevie seems to be on a positive path when she is seriously injured by one of the horses. Her life becomes a twisted version of an already blurry existence as she struggles to find “normal” again. In an attempt to find her true self, Stevie goes on an incredible journey to find her father, a man the world believes dead. She convinces her mother and therapist that she needs to go to Australia, the place where the wreckage of her father’s boat washed ashore. Her search takes her physically to a strange continent, and though this exploration becomes much, much more, she may find a truth she isn’t ready to accept.

Despite being set in a not-so-distant future, Stevie’s teenage world isn’t so different from now. Mean girls are still mean girls, and the smart, shy Stevie doesn’t feel like she belongs. So many teenagers, both male and female, can relate to Stevie’s (partially  self-imposed) alienation. Her artistic talents and her empathy for others are endearing traits that help bring Stevie to a culminating awareness. Both of these bring Stevie full-circle to find her own version of normal, her definition not the world’s. Seeing Stevie evolve into a confident young woman through her own efforts is inspirational and a lesson that adolescents–and some adults–need.

Though Stevie’s paranormal gift isn’t a major part of the novel, the gift symbolizes the noble need to help others. While Stevie can literally take away the pain of others, most people could figuratively do the same by sharing in the pain of others and trying to understand what someone is experiencing. Stevie can’t deny her ability even though she repeatedly tries to ignore it. When she stops her denial, she not only helps other characters, but she heals herself. This lesson isn’t lost on the all-about-the-self society of today. If only everyone could recognize suffering and try to eliminate it, this world could be a much better place.

One of the most engaging parts of the novel is Stevie’s time in Australia. This exotic, culturally diverse continent becomes a character unto itself, drawing Stevie into the adventure of a lifetime while giving her the closure she desperately needs. Pulled into the mysterious murder of a boy she meets, Stevie encounters others who inspire and help her find the man she once called father, and she learns true contentment by helping the family of the dead boy all while searching for own history. Ironically, in the midst of death, she finds life as she navigates a land as wild as her emotions.

This journey into self-awareness offers multiple stories in one. From a murder mystery in an alluring land to a revelation with a supernatural catalyst, Nowever will keep readers twisting and turning till the end.  

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: La Luministe by Paula Butterfield

Berthe Morisot knows from a young age that she is destined to be an artist, but living in eighteenth-century France severely limits her path. As a girl, she longs for the education any male artist would receive, and though her parents support her dream at first, Berthe isn’t even allowed to view some of the great works deemed unsuitable for females. Before long, she realizes she is uninterested in being any man’s student, wanting instead to explore her own style, painting the world of a modern woman–a real, intimate representation, not the perfection shown by most male artists. When her sister Edma, who originally paints with Berthe, marries and becomes the picture of femininity, Berthe feels the societal pressure to give up her painting and choose a husband. The one man she feels any connection to, fellow artist Edouard Manet, is a controversial rogue, and although she knows he feels it, too, he marries another. However, the two cannot break free of their would-be love, and when Berthe decides to model for Edouard, she is more tantalized than ever. As her fascination becomes obsession, Berthe will be forced to choose between her desire to be a respected artist or the fallen lover of a scoundrel. It will take a revolution for Berthe to have either.

This first-person fictionalized autobiography littered with famous Impressionists is the  story of a woman’s love affair of both art and a man. In discovering her style, she finds a love she didn’t want and often questions the sanity (and more importantly) the healthiness of that love. As though her struggle to be an independent artist in a world of oppression isn’t already enough, Berthe knows she should dislike, maybe even despise, Edouard but is drawn to the proverbial flame. Unable to have him but unwilling to give him up creates clashing needs: becoming an independent woman but still tangled in what is proper and expected. On top of her obsession for him, she is torn between admiration and envy a this man who often feels as much repression as Berthe and wonders which she’ll lose first, her determination to paint or her societal constraints.

A modern woman trapped in the nineteenth century, Berthe embodies the female struggle. Limited in infinite ways by societal views on women, she navigates a world of male domination in life as well as art, evolving much more quickly than her beloved Paris. If she marries, she wrestles with whether she is giving in or growing up, but as she matures in both art and life, she becomes angry with herself for her single-minded obsession of Manet and decides he is “not worthy of the woman [she would] become,” a woman (like so many modern women) who will find a way to have both a ground-breaking career and a family. As the list of prohibitions rises, so does her determination, and though her fight is for the individual woman (herself) it transcends that.

Just like Berthe Morisot’s paintings, La Luministe shows a real woman, a woman with hopes and dreams that outreach her environment. Just as Paris was thrust into revolution, Berthe set herself free in a bloody battle of change. This novel will show readers the beauty and struggle of both the artist and the female spirit.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Magic of the Pentacle by Diane Wylie

Richard Blackstone, aka The Mesmerist, is a successful magician working in San Francisco, but in the city of millions, he is truly alone because Richard has a secret. He is immortal. Centuries ago as a medieval knight in King Edward’s service, Richard’s life changed when he met a traveling magician and stole an enchanted amulet granting him immortality, magical abilities, and the power to sense others’ emotions, but magic comes with a price. After an enemy kills his wife and sons, he sees how miserable his long existence will be and gradually becomes determined to never love again rather than feel the heartbreak of loss, but following on overnight stay in a psychiatric hospital for an incidence in a bar, Richard meets a woman who challenges his long-held beliefs. What began as a bargain to help a patient becomes so much more for Dr. Juliana Nelson. After agreeing to attend one of Richard’s magic shows, Juliana can’t keep her mind or her hands off the sexy magician who is as mysterious as his magic show, but when she his learns secret, she is uncertain whether she can believe the tale. If it is untrue, Richard should be committed, but if she allows herself to believe it, she should be committed. If he is immortal, Julianna will inevitably be forced to give him up, and she is left to wonder if love can conquer time.

One strength of the novel is the paradoxical irony of Richard and Juliana’s relationship. After spending five hundred lonely years, he has now found his love redemption with Juliana, but in order to fully immerse himself, he must give up love as well, the family he watched die in the fifteenth century. If Richard ever wants to find happiness in his present life, he has to free himself from his past life, and Juliana is the key to his freedom. In a beautiful quest with his lady love by his side, Richard must face literal and figurative trials to release not only himself but also his suffering family. He learns the ever-powerful lesson of letting go, letting go of his love and his guilt. In addition to this emotional baggage, the couple also faces the issue of whether or not the joy of their current love can balance the future pain of loss. Because Richard is immortal, he will be forced to watch Juliana age and die. In facing her mortality, he questions his immortality and whether he can again give up love in exchange for finite happiness. Juliana also wonders if she can love a man who will be forever young and healthy while she drowns in the possibility that she will develop the same mental illness that her mother and grandmother have. She doesn’t know if she can saddle her magic man with what she fears she will become, but their love proves to be stronger than life AND death.

A mixture of romance, the paranormal, and historical fiction, this novel is has something for everyone. Romance lovers get their literal knight in shining armor. History fans will get to experience a fifteenth-century battle in a video game style quest, and paranormal buffs will love the power of the amulet.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Crytic Spaces (Book 3) by Deen Ferrell

Seventeen-year-old mathematical genius Willoughby has the weight of the world on his shoulders–literally. As part of a secret time travel organization known as Observations, Inc., Willoughby and his team, usually silent observers in their travels, have been tasked with keeping the balance between control and chaos. After the murder of their friend and mentor H.S. a year ago, he and his team have sought answers to questions they don’t even know how to ask, and though all of his team has suffered, Willoughby can’t help but feel he could have done more, more to help H.S. and more to keep his team, namely his girlfriend and musical prodigy Sydney, safe. Since Willoughby can “see” time code and take advantage of time junctions, he has a natural connection with time and can sometimes even track people throughout the time grid, a skill his nemesis, a manlike creature known as Beelzebub, takes credit for. Unfortunately for the Observations, Inc. crew, Beelzebub can also manipulate time but in a much more advanced way. Hellbent on finding the Prime Hole Facility, a time hub created by Earth’s historians the otherworldly Atlanteans, Beelzebub wants to recreate history, restructure mankind’s past, and plunge the planet into chaos. He and his Dark Edge Brotherhood will stop at nothing, having already killed Willoughby’s boss and mentor since Willoughby is the key to unlocking a gateway of power, unleashing unlimited control over man. Before he can harness his full potential, he and his team will have to solve millennia old clues while searching for a lost ancient princess and steering clear of the Dark Edge, but very soon, both Willoughby and Sydney will learn the true cost of his power.

A prevailing idea within the novel is self-discovery. The characters often delve deep within themselves to find that hidden spark, that “push a little harder” mentality to solve the issues thrown at them by forces that want nothing more than to drown creativity, thus ridding the world of enlightenment and plunging it back into darkness. The characters have to stop fear’s subjugation and free themselves enough to look inside for the answers that are quietly waiting for daylight. Through that self-discovery comes growth but only when the characters stop looking to the world to define themselves (a lesson most people need). Only by truly finding the power within can Willoughby save humanity, but he can’t do that alone.

The bond between the characters is not only the key to survival in this high-stakes time game but is also a strength of the novel. Since Dark Edge Rising is the third in the Cryptic Spaces series, the Observations, Inc. team is firmly established; however, this pre-established bond will not keep the reader from enjoying the character interactions. Each team member has his/her own unique ability or place on the team in this something-for-everyone narrative. Despite their individualism, the characters’ friendship dominates. Repeatedly, the theme of unity saves the day and keeps the plot rolling steadily along. Each member brings something new to the story, and the alternating point of view keeps the story fresh and the reader engaged.

Indiana Jones meets The Matrix  in this sci-fi thriller where the past and present collide in an explosion of history and intrigue.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.


Cryptic Spaces, Book Three: Dark Edge Rising won First Place in the 2017 CIBAs in the Dante Rossetti Awards for Young Adult novels.

Book Review: Salvaging Truth by Joanne Jaytanie

Famed marine biologist and researcher Claudia Rawlings is presumed dead by everyone but her daughter Riley. When Claudia’s research vessel goes down presumidly with no survivors, Riley goes on a desperate search for any sign of Claudia, eventually turning to Dagger Eastin, co-owner of Hunters and Seekers a marine salvage business. Dagger soon realize this isn’t a simple search and reclaim mission when someone takes a shot at him during an exploratory  dive with Riley. Former Navy SEALs, Dagger and his partners Kaleb LaSalle and Stone Garrison are the definition of relentless, and they quickly become embroiled in the investigation that has caught the attention of some very influential people, all seeking Claudia’s important research. But Riley learns that her mother has left behind clues to her missing research, and the Hunters and Seekers pull out all the stops to help and protect Riley. The wild scavenger hunt sends Dagger and Riley on a trip through Riley’s past, but Russian spies, big oil, and psychopathic hitmen lurk around every corner as Riley seeks her mother’s legacy.  

Much more than a pretty face, Riley is a smart, successful female main character. Shadowed by a hitman and refusing to patiently wait for the official investigation, Riley faces challenge after challenge. Despite being thrust into a dangerous environment, she refuses to play the timid female victim, but she is isn’t without vulnerability, knowing instead when it is time to ask for help and rely on Dagger’s expertise. Riley is fallible protagonist with guts and brains, creating instant connection for the reader.

The first in a series, Salvaging Truth introduces readers to three heartthrobs destined to create an immediate book crush. The men of Hunters and Seekers are not only tall, dark, and handsome, but smart, funny, and lethal. The relationship between this “band of brothers” is touching and promises myriad future adventures. The touching bond these men share creates an extended-family that is almost as close as Riley is with her mother. In fact, “created families” is a strong theme within the novel. Riley, an only child whose father passed away a number of years prior to the novel’s action, finds a family when she meets Dagger, Kaleb, and Stone. Many times, she relies on these men to not only protect her but to also provide the emotional stability she needs when she believes her mother has been killed. As she follows the clues to her mother’s research, she relives many important familial moments while creating this new family with Dagger.

In this mystery as dark as the depths, dangers and secrets abound. Mystery and romance lovers will devour this fast-paced thriller.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Dark Water by Chynna Laird

Sixteen-year-old Freesia Worth should be enjoying her summer break, not looking for her missing mother. Almost a year ago, Tamara went missing. Unwilling to admit the likely truth that her mother is deceased, Freesia takes on the mission of finding her.

Having lost her father in a peace-keeping mission in Afghanistan, Freesia is desperate to find her mother, who was last seen at Hawk Lake, the location of the family’s yearly summer retreat and Tamara’s favorite place in the whole world. As a psychologist, Tamara counseled many soldiers who served with James and suffered from PTSD. And with the police getting ready to close their investigation, Freesia understands that if she wants to find any last clues to her mother’s disappearance, the lake is the best place to look.

It isn’t long before her hopes turn to resignation as she uncovers clues that something horrible happened to her mother and that one of the men her father called a friend is likely involved. As Freesia wades deeper into the mystery, she becomes intertwined with a supernatural being and a deadly killer.

The supernatural elements within this novel greatly enhance the mystery. Readers not only get a great “whodunit” but also a paranormal twist in the legend of “The Watcher,” a First Nation man who is the guardian of Hawk Lake and of all those who love it. The Watcher also helps souls seeking retribution, vengeance for the misdeeds of evildoers.

The Watcher leads a mysterious gothic girl to reveal the fragmented clues Freesia needs to unravel the disappearance of her mother. As this girl plants the “seeds” of justice, the more difficult the book is to put down!

Dark Water brings awareness to two important disorders, PTSD and SPD. Several characters within the novel have post-traumatic stress disorder, and the author sympathetically showcases the suffering of these men, haunted by images no one should see. Freesia develops compassion for the often-frightening behavior of the men in her father’s former unit, and here Laird’s strength leads the reader carefully through the torture these men and their families endure.

At the same time, Sage, Freesia’s eight-year-old sister, has been diagnosed with SPD, sensory processing disorder. Sage hasn’t spoken since her mother’s disappearance and only truly connects with Freesia, who must patiently help Sage communicate what she’s seen and heard. Just as Tamara fought for the PTSD soldiers that she counseled, Freesia fights to bring her sister back in order to unlock the secrets buried within her.

A blue sweatshirt, a pair of broken sunglasses, a strange girl, and a mystery worthy of a television drama, Dark Water will captivate and intrigue mystery-lovers and paranormal fans alike.

Book Review: Deadly Proof by M. Louisa Locke

Annie Fuller, a part-time clairvoyant/landlady, is determined to improve her life. As the daughter of a financial investor, Annie knows a great deal about bookkeeping and investments. Putting her knowledge to good use with her fledgling accounting business, the pretty widow seems on-track again since moving to San Francisco, opening her home to boarders, and transitioning from her former job as the fortune-telling Madame Sibyl.

Having agreed to marry attorney Nate Dawson, she can almost touch the happiness she deserves after her disastrous first marriage, but when Nate is hired to defend a woman accused of murdering her boss, Annie turns private investigator in an attempt to help her fiancé with his first solo criminal case. At first, Nate’s biggest obstacle is the client herself, Florence Sullivan, who refuses to even speak to him for several days. Soon the issue becomes the sheer number of suspects who wanted Joshua Rashers, the ruthless owner of a printing company, dead. But as Annie and Nate’s sister Laura begin to dig deeper into the lives of Rasher’s family and employees, they will soon face deadly dangers of their own.

Strong personas form the nexus of this series, which features many of the same characters in both novels and novellas. Most of the characters have elaborate backstories that really “flesh out” the novel’s plot, but a familiarity with the previous stories isn’t a necessity for the reader. Readers will fall in love with Annie’s intelligence, Laura’s tenacity, Nate’s devotion, and Florence’s fortitude. Throw in the eclectic boarders and one feisty Boston Terrier, an unforgettable cast emerges that readers will adore.

Though the dynamics between characters is interesting, the real value of the novel lies within its portrayal of the struggle for women in the late nineteenth century. Set in the 1880s, the events of the novel aren’t far removed from the Civil War that ravaged the country, and while that war was fought for the equality of all men, subjugation of women would continue for another fifty years. And though the plot makes use of actual suffragette Emily Pitts Stevens, the novel covers much more than women’s suffrage. It explores all aspects of prejudice against women, including the rights of female workers and business owners as well as a woman’s place in the marriage relationship. From Annie’s financial independence to Laura’s dream to become a lawyer, the women fight for a place in a literal man’s world. Even Annie’s upcoming nuptials bring questions of propriety over personal enjoyment, and every woman in the novel–married or single–feels the bite of mental bondage in some way and none more than Florence who is being tried in the media based in part because of the sensationalism of her gender.


Deadly Proof: A Victorian San Francisco Mystery, Book 4 won First Place in the 2017 M&M Awards.

Book Review: Watch Over Me by Eileen Charbonneau

 

Twenty-four-year-old Kitty Charente is trying to put her life back together. As a switchboard operator for Spenser’s International, a perfumer based in New York City, Kitty wants to put the death of her husband killed in service to the Canadian Royal Air Force and the miscarriage of her baby behind her and move forward, but when her boss, Jack, gives her the task of wining and dining an out-of-town salesman, Luke Kayenta, Kitty’s world is turned upside down overnight. Luke, with his haunted eyes and strange accent, clearly isn’t like Jack’s usual salesmen, and she’s certain he’s much more when she secretly watches him perform a strange ceremony on the eighty-sixth floor of the Empire State Building. Unbeknownst to Kitty, Luke has come for her. Charged with delivering a deathbed letter from Philippe, Kitty’s husband, Luke is drawn to more than Kitty’s grief. Beyond his promise to deliver the smuggled letter, the stories Philippe shared of his beautiful dark-haired wife helped Luke escape his imprisonment in Spain and brought him halfway around the world to find her. Now that he’s found her, he doesn’t want to let her go, and despite the danger surrounding this man whom everyone seems to be chasing, Kitty follows his reckless path through the twisting, wartime streets of New York, but Luke’s relentless pursuers appear at every turn and their instant attraction won’t be enough to protect either of them.

The rebirth of Luke’s tormented soul is the real jewel in this novel, book two of the Code Talker Chronicles. Luke isn’t a Spaniard as Kitty’s been told but a Navajo code talker, and he’s keeping more secrets than the forbidden letter. Tortured in Spain at the hands of Nazis, Luke has yet to truly escape his persecutors and have his mind released to live–and love–again. Haunted by his burning at the hands of his captors and by the death of his clan brother, Luke wants to return to his beloved home of Arizona and his simple life as a sheep farmer. With his Valentino eyes, capable hands, and beautiful heart, the mystical Luke seeks freedom for himself but also freedom for his country, the very country that typically spits upon his native heritage. His invaluable work in the intelligence service has cost him more than a pound of flesh, but his chance at love and life with Kitty, his continual inspiration, is built upon a fragile ledge of espionage and the memories of her heroic husband, and now the woman he loves is charged with the task of of testing whether Luke’s job, his very mind, has been compromised.

In a world of half-truths, crooked policemen, spies, and impersonators, the real question is who to trust. Watch Over Me shows a lively caricature of 1940s New York spinning wildly in the madness of espionage, where secrets darken sacrifices and both threaten and create the bond of family.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

Book Review: Striking Blind by Lonna Enox

Sorrel Janes wanted to vanish, and for a while, she did just that. As a former television crime reporter in Houston, Sorrel was surrounded by danger, and when her husband was murdered by a drug cartel, she fled her life of minor stardom, changed her name, and moved to the usually quiet town of Saddle Gap, New Mexico. After opening a small shop selling consigned crafts and beginning a career as a nature photographer, Sorrel thinks she finally has what she wants most, especially considering she’s caught the eye of handsome sheriff’s deputy Chris Reed, but when her photograph–one from her days as a reporter–surfaces on a body found murdered “cartel-style,” she is suddenly thrust back into her old life. Soon the violence spreads into her own life again after she receives a mysterious package, and though she fears for her fragile new existence, her curiosity won’t let her rest until she knows the truth about her connection to the victim, but this adventure may be more than she can handle.

Striking Blind has a depth of characters not often found in a mystery. Even characters not featured in the main storyline have significant development. From Teri, Sorrel’s pregnant best friend and star employee, to the murder victim in the prologue, characters have extensive backstories, creating round, believable personas that enhance the featured mystery.  As Chris Reed points out, Sorrel, like her equine namesake, is stubborn and feisty–the trademark of a great protagonist and detective. Her extensive history given in the previous two novels won’t be overwhelming if this is the reader’s first experience with the series. With the descriptions of Sorrel’s everyday-life, like her inability to cook and her cantankerous cats, the reader feels a real connection to Sorrel. Persistence and curiosity make her a believable former reporter and a victim unwilling to stand still while someone threatens her and her new life.

Lovers of romance and paranormal won’t be disappointed either. The flirty banter and interaction with hunky cop Chris Reed makes for a pleasant distraction in the action, and with the promise of more romance to come, readers will want to continue this series. To add supernatural flavor, Sorrel is commanded by a dream entity to help the “weeping child,” and though she never fully finds the answer to this midnight task, it haunts her until the end.

From the gruesome death in a mysterious cave till the very end when, in an unexpected twist, the killer is revealed as someone closer than any of the characters imagined, this “edge of your seat” mystery will keep the reader guessing.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”

 

Book Review: A Tale About a Dachshund and a Pelican: How a Friendship Came to Be by Kizzie Jones (Author) and Scott Ward (Illustrator)

In Kizzie Jones’s  A Tale About a Dachshund and a Pelican, Goldie thinks she’s found a new friend. When she comes upon a pelican on the beach during her walk with her owner, she immediately approaches the strange creature, trying to strike up a new friendship based on their physical similarities. After she points out they both have long muzzles, Pelican shows how its mouth is made to hold fish, which Goldie cannot do. Undeterred, Goldie points out their similarly long bodies, but Pelican explains how its body isn’t covered with fur but feathers made to fly. Finally, Goldie accepts how truly different the two are and is about to leave disappointed when Pelican explains that creatures with differences can still be friends as long as they try to learn about each other. Just like Goldie and little girl who owns her, the two very different creatures become forever friends.

Jones has created a tale celebrating the differences in everyone. Whether human, animal, or bird, differences don’t have to separate. In accepting the differences rather than forcing similarity, people can create a symbiotic existence, just like a dachshund and a pelican. In a world that often condemns “being yourself” and forces an artificial sameness, this short children’s book embraces what makes people–or in Goldie’s case, animals–special. While myths and tall tales typically show fun explanations for how the natural world works, this one takes a more emotional and less physical path. When Goldie is about to leave disappointed, Pelican points out what makes both him and Goldie unique, effectively cheering Goldie on to appreciate those differences while showing how friends don’t have to be the same, only tolerant and welcoming to diversity. It is also beautiful that Goldie sees similarity where there really isn’t any. She looks for ways to identify with Pelican before she introduces herself. She works to find a common ground even when it means trying (and failing) to fly. What a better place this world would be if everyone looked with the “sameness” in others instead of first attacking the differences!

Scott Ward’s illustrations make the tale come alive with bright colors and whimsical representations of sand and sea. An unusual feature is the illustrations within the written text. Ward highlights some important words by making them cartoonish and large, which just adds to the overall fantastical appearance sometimes with a sprinkling of stars, sometimes with a rainbow of color.

Perhaps Goldie says it best when she summarizes, “All kinds of creatures can like each other without being alike.” Humans of all ages, not just the children for whom the book was written, could use a little more Goldie attitude.

A Tall Tale About a Dachshund and a Pelican: How a Friendship Came to Be won First Place in the LITTLE PEEPS Awards for Kizzie Jones. Congratulations!

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Chanticleer offers “editorial book reviews, manuscript overviews, writing contests, book awards, an author conference, workshops, and book marketing opportunities to help authors achieve their publishing goals.”