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Tommy Nelson: Buster Gets Back on Track (Buster the Race Car) by Dale Earnhardt Jr., illustrated by Ela Smietanka

Week of Friday, June 1, 2018

Janet Mock's memoir, Redefining Realness (Atria, $16), captures Mock's experience growing up poor, multiracial and trans. She writes openly about her experience with coming out and transitioning, and the many ways she was accepted--and not--by those around her and by herself.
"Our genders are as unique as we are," Mock writes. "No one's definition is the same, and compartmentalizing a person as either a boy or a girl based entirely on the appearance of genitalia at birth undercuts our complex life experiences." The stories from these trans authors celebrate the complexity of gender identity:
Alex Gino's George (Scholastic, $6.50) is middle-grade fiction, but brings just as strong of a voice to the growing-up and coming-out tale of a young transgender child as any nonfiction. In George, Gino explores what it means to be transgender at a very young age, as 10-year-old George looks in the mirror and calls herself Melissa.
Man Alive (City Lights, $16.95), a memoir by Thomas Page McBee, opens with a seemingly simple question: "What makes a man?" In the following pages, McBee attempts to provide some kind of answer, grappling with the men who shaped his life and what kind of man he wants to be.

In Whipping Girl (Seal Press, $20), Julia Serano combines personal essays, gender theories, feminist teachings and contemporary culture in a compelling account of what it means to be a woman--and a trans woman--in 21st-century America. Serano encourages each of us to "turn our energies and attention away from the way that individuals 'do' or 'perform' their own genders and instead focus on the expectations and assumptions that those individuals project onto everybody else." Any one of these books will force readers to look at those expectations and assumptions in new, sometimes challenging, ways--and maybe that can help shift the gendered systems in which we all operate today. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Parallax Press: Unshakeable: Trauma-Informed Mindfulness and Collective Awakening by Jo-ann Rosen

The Best Books This Week


Darwin's Ghosts

by Ariel Dorfman

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On his 14th birthday, Fitzroy Foster has his picture taken, just as he has on every other birthday. But a strange image appears in the Polaroid shot--the face of a stranger in place of his own. More snapshots are taken, all with the same result. With his feisty childhood sweetheart, Cam, supporting him, Fitz reluctantly embarks on a years-long journey to discover who this man might be. On the way, they uncover twisted kidnappings of indigenous peoples and the 19th-century human zoos where they were exhibited.
In Darwin's Ghosts, Ariel Dorfman (Death and the Maiden) expertly intertwines fact and fiction. This haunted and haunting tale explores the concept of genetic inheritance, love and forgiveness. Can the misdeeds and sins of previous generations be handed down through the years until the right combination of DNA appears, creating the perfect host for these sordid affairs to manifest? It is this question that Fitz must answer if he ever hopes to see his own face in a photograph again. Dorfman's eloquent prose is filled with lengthy and twisting musings that propel the plot forward in search of truthful answers.
By combining science, historical data and conscience in this fictional piece, Dorfman raises questions about who is responsible for the invasion of foreign lands and the mistreatment of native people that happened hundreds of years ago--the people of that time or the generations that followed? His story is an artful look at love, clemency and exoneration. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Seven Stories, $26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781609808242

The Island Dwellers

by Jen Silverman

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Playwright Jen Silverman's deliciously addictive debut short story collection, The Island Dwellers, collects 11 stories mostly set on the islands of New York City and Tokyo, Japan. Each story is told from a first-person perspective, but many of the characters make appearances in more than one tale. We first meet the beguiling and brash Ancash in "Maria of the Grapes" when club hostess Maria tries to seduce him. When she discovers he's a gay prostitute, their friendship expands until they fall into bed together. In "Mamushi," Ancash tells how as a 17-year-old he had an affair with a man twice his age. In order to feel anything, Ancash encourages the man to beat him.
In the very funny "Surveillance," hypochondriac narrator Sammy takes some breaks between worrying whether she has a brain tumor and why one breast is larger (and warmer to the touch) than the other to deal with her two friends Agnes and Oliver. Agnes is paranoid but Sammy muses, "The thing about paranoia in the twenty-first century is that, at some point, it's impossible to know if you're crazy, or if you're astute." Oliver is a pet-sitter with a high mortality rate for pets under his supervision. "I just feel like the universe is trying to tell me something," he says.
Silverman's disarming and unconventional characters are all searching for a connection with others. Some are battling loneliness or the fear of being alone but they're all blessed with quick wits and warmth. This is an outstanding short story debut. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Random House, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780399591495

Mystery & Thriller

For Those Who Know the Ending

by Malcolm Mackay

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Martin Sivok was a high-level gunman in his native Czech Republic. Having gotten into trouble at home, he has escaped to Glasgow, where he resents having to go "back to school" as a low-level thug. He's trying to make his way in the new world when he falls for Joanne, who works in the family bookstore and lives a quiet life, offering Martin his first taste of middle-class stability. Suddenly, making real money is imperative: he wants to buy an apartment for Joanne's adolescent daughter, so he and Joanne can live together at her house in peace.
As For Those Who Know the Ending opens, Martin is tied up in a deserted warehouse, a bloody gash on his head. It will take the reader the length of the book, told largely in flashback with a roving point of view, to learn how he got there and whether he'll make it out alive.
For Those Who Know the Ending revisits the Dickensian cast from Mackay's novels Every Night I Dream of Hell and The Night the Rich Men Burned. It's set in the Glasgow underworld, and has its predecessors' bone-dry humor, squirm-making suspense, utter lack of mercy and unexpectedly fleshy characterizations. One career criminal is coping with the loss of his young child; another is concerned about how his daughter will respond to his new girlfriend ("That worried Nate more than anything he did in his work"). The book is full of bruised egos and hurt feelings--just don't expect a moral dilemma or a crisis of conscience. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Mulholland Books, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780316556071


The Other Lady Vanishes

by Amanda Quick

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Whether she's writing as Amanda Quick, Jayne Ann Krentz or Jayne Castle, the author of The Girl Who Knew Too Much knows how to spin a suspenseful and romantic tale. Quick's Burning Cove series is set during Hollywood's glam 1930s. The trendy place for all of the biggest celebrities to rest and relax, the California resort town is also the new home of Adelaide Blake, who fled a private sanitarium, where she was incarcerated against her will by her former husband.
Working in a tea shop, blending herbal teas for the stars, Adelaide becomes intrigued by widowed businessman Jake Truett, who is supposedly in town for a rest cure for exhausted nerves. Then the psychic Madame Zolanda, immensely popular among the Hollywood elite, falls to her death mere hours after predicting a bloody death would take place that night. Adelaide and Jake find the body, and Adelaide is immediately reminded of events that took place at the sanitarium.
Clearly something dark is happening in Burning Cove, as actors, moguls and mobsters all try to leverage Madame Zolanda's death to their advantage. Adelaide and Jake work together in an effort to figure out who killed Zolanda and how it connects to the dark experiments being done at the sanitarium.
Fast-paced, romantic and set in a vivid, bustling world, The Other Lady Vanishes is a perfect beach read, sure to appeal to lovers of historical fiction and romance alike. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Berkley, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780399585326

Biography & Memoir

Excuse Me While I Slip into Someone More Comfortable

by Eric Poole

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In Eric Poole's first memoir, 2010's Where's My Wand?, he chronicled his pre-teen years, during which he escaped daily bullying and a neat-freak mother by secretly pretending to be Endora from Bewitched. Poole's lighthearted and charming second memoir, Excuse Me While I Slip into Someone More Comfortable, picks up in the late 1970s, when the high schooler begins to suspect he might be gay. His coping strategies remain as dubious as in the first book--he plans to make himself cool by emulating the fashion style of his idea of a babe-magnet, Barry Manilow.
His initial sexual encounters with a girl are hilarious. His first time, he throws up on her. Later, opting for a more romantic atmosphere, he sets the stage with the soundtrack to Barbra Streisand's A Star Is Born cued up on his cassette tape recorder. Trying to figure out how to use a condom, he asks his date, "Well, do I just put it on the top like a beret?" Post-high school, he works at a travel agency. His snarky and inappropriate e-mails to coworkers ("Your body is like a children's playground--sticky, full of germs, and frequented by perverts") don't get him fired, they get him a humor column in the agency's monthly newsletter. Equally funny are his misadventures working at an ad agency and his stumbling attempts to find his way out of the closet.
Poole's acerbic but goodhearted tale of navigating that difficult period between living at home with parents and entering the adult world is a refreshing and inspiring read. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
RosettaBooks, $24.99, hardcover, 256p., 9781948122047

Body, Mind & Spirit

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

by Michael Pollan

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Journalist and author Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's DilemmaCooked) didn't consider taking LSD until he was nearly 60 years old. He had a mild experience with psilocybin mushrooms in his late 20s, but never had much interest in illegal drugs, nor introspection, religion or mysticism in any form. "But there are moments when curiosity gets the better of fear. I guess for me such a moment had arrived."
This curiosity resulted, among other more personal and intangible results, in How to Change Your Mind, a thorough and enlightening study of the history, science and personal experience of psychedelic drugs in the U.S. The invention of LSD in the 1950s sparked a revolution in brain science. Researchers discovered the role of neurotransmitters in the brain, and the neurochemical roots of many mental illnesses. Psychotherapists had remarkable results using psychedelic drugs in treatments. But as enthusiastic promoters of these substances spread them to the general unmonitored public, and the counterculture in particular, "the exuberance surrounding these new drugs gave way to moral panic."
Pollan interviews old and young researchers and "guides," and, with a long disclaimer on the copyright page, he describes his transformative guided personal experiences with LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and 5-MeO-DMT (the Toad). Of his mushroom experience he writes: "I honestly don't know what to make of this experience... I had felt the personhood of other beings in a way I hadn't before." Legal, expertly guided psychedelic therapies could be the future of mental health treatments and therapies as well as of the exploration of human consciousness. --Sara Catterall
Penguin Press, $28, hardcover, 480p., 9781594204227


She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

by Carl Zimmer

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She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity is an ambitious study of popular science from Carl Zimmer, the author of books such as Parasite Rex and Evolution. This one is a lengthy look at heredity from a number of angles, paying close attention to both the scientific discoveries that have illuminated the mechanics of heredity and the cultural history of heredity. Zimmer seeks to broaden the reader's definition of it as more than "the genes that parents pass down to their children."
That is not to say that he doesn't give genetics its due. In fact, he's perfectly willing to use himself as a guinea pig, having his genome sequenced and interpreted by scientists. However, Zimmer also pays attention to less familiar versions of heredity, including the process by which a single cell gives rise to an entire individual. He writes about our microbiome, which, in species of animals and plants, undergoes a "cycle of renewal" that "looks a lot like heredity." Moreover, Zimmer describes some of the ways human beings have tinkered with their genetic destiny, writing at length about the potential of the gene editing CRISPR technology.
She Has Her Mother's Laugh contains plenty of sobering reminders about the way scientific or cultural concepts of heredity can be abused, with chapters on the history of racism and eugenics. Nevertheless, these dark chapters, too, elucidate the complex story of heredity recounted in this extraordinary book. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Dutton, $30, hardcover, 672p., 9781101984598

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

by Steve Brusatte

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Dinosaurs have captured the public's imagination since their identification in the early 1800s. But as paleontologists continue to learn more about their subject, the story of how and when dinosaurs roamed the earth has changed. In order to shed light on how scientists understand dinosaurs in the early 21st century, paleontologist Steve Brusatte has written The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, a primer on how these terrible lizards arrived, conquered the Earth, died off and evolved into something new.
A professor at the University of Edinburgh, Brusatte is an American-born and -trained paleontologist whose work has taken him across the world, from the badlands of the States to quarries in Eastern Europe to Chinese digs. Using his own experiences as a way to bind together the last 200 years of dinosaur research, Brusatte walks the reader through the primordial soup and mass extinctions that led to the evolution of early dinosaurs and the appearance of creatures most people recognize, like T. rex and Triceratops. He also explains how scientists now know that some dinosaurs evolved into birds before a giant asteroid smashed into the Earth, dooming nearly all dinosaurs while sparing our mammalian ancestors.
Brusatte's prose shows the excitement he feels about his subject, making the book more of a conversation than a dry tract, though he can get a tad too personal sometimes. Still, this is a great introduction for folks wanting to learn more about dinosaurs. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Morrow, $29.99, hardcover, 416p., 9780062490421

Travel Literature

Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier

by Mark Adams

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A little closer to home than his popular Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams's Tip of the Iceberg takes place in Alaska and follows in the footsteps of John Muir et al. on the 1899 scientific expedition financed by railroad tycoon Edward H. Harriman. It is both the amusing travelogue of a city dude rolling his first kayak and a sound history based on Muir's journals, Aleut artifacts, a little geography and geology, and ample quirky statistics.
The hero of Adams's tale is Alaska itself--"essentially a small continent." Its acquisition by the United States from Russia in 1867 was tagged "Seward's Folly," which was a raw deal for Seward. As Adams demonstrates with wit and insight, it might better be called "Seward's Steal" if measured only in natural beauty. As he makes his way up the Inside Passage a century after the Harriman expedition, he finds the same stunning geography as those early explorers, scientists and naturalists did.
The state's economy has always been boom-and-bust, in what Adams calls its three gold rushes: first it was stripped of game by fur traders, then came the Yukon gold rush and, finally, the Alaska pipeline tapped its vast oil reserve in Prudhoe Bay. But the latter is running dry.
An easy-going conversationalist, Adams chats with a cross-section of Alaskans, including his Glacier Bay guide who runs off two threatening brown bears. The "sourdough" guide reminds Adams, "You can be in awe of the beauty, but you have to remember that things can go from 'Ooh, ahh!' to 'Oh, sh*t!' in an instant." That might be as good a summary of Alaska as any. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Dutton, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781101985106


Tropic of Squalor

by Mary Karr

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In a spiritual companion to her last poetry collection, Sinner's Welcome, Mary Karr delivers Tropic of Squalor, a compact exploration of the emotional complexities of divine devastation. In the first half, it covers the full range of secular religiosity, from an apology to the unseen creatures we kill every day, to a breathless prayer for David Foster Wallace. The second half tracks an exodus to New York City and explores the surprisingly divine corners found there. Meditations on the daily grandeur of cello songs ("Psalms: Carnegie Hall Rush Seats") and conference room projectors ("Hebrews: The Mogul") build to a crescendo of post-9/11 horrors ("Lamentations: The More Deceived").
As in her previous poetry collections, Karr embraces the majesty of religious devotion to capture the minute sublimity of a tangible world. In "How God Speaks," she worships the "cashmere flesh" of a lover, while in "Psalms: Carnegie Hall Rush Seats" she praises the moment when "the cello is taken/ into someone's arms, taken between/ spread legs and lured into/ its shivering." Such poems showcase Karr's strength in capturing emotional imagery, but also her ability to show reverence for the irreverent. An expert in tone, Karr never allows the weight of her subject matter to overcome her dexterous wit, nor does she give her wit permission to undermine its subject matter. Such a dual talent proves fundamental as Karr wrestles with the past in order to pray for the future, hoping for the possibility of "the forever disposed transforming." --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Harper, $22.99, hardcover, 96p., 9780062699824

Children's & Young Adult

Anger Is a Gift

by Mark Oshiro

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Moss's father was shot by the Oakland police six years ago. "He was coming out of a convenience store... didn't hear the order from the cops to put his hands up. Got shot, and died right there." Turns out, the police were on the "[w]rong end of 12th Street." The shooting sparked rallies and protests, giving Moss a kind of "weird celebrity status." Now a teenager, Moss suffers from anxiety and the long-term effects of trauma. He doesn't want to be famous or to be an activist--he simply wants to be able to exist safely as a black teen.
It's the beginning of Moss's junior year and he and his diverse group of friends realize that the school's lack of funds is hindering their studies, while implicit racism and classicism are influencing their school lives. As students illegally download books for English class, they face random locker searches and, eventually, metal detectors at the school's entrance. When a freak accident with one of those metal detectors injures one of Moss's friends, he moves beyond thinking--"caring is all I can do"--and steps into activism. A bright spot in "all of it" is Javier, a Latinx teen who boldly asks Moss out on the train. Both are inexperienced when it comes to dating, and they happily stumble into first love together.
Anger Is a Gift feels like the next natural step in contemporary young adult realism--there are several incredible books that candidly and tenderly portray police violence against black youths; Oshiro's debut shows what happens next. It shows the slow, painful process that is recovering from and living with trauma. It shows how a life can be irrevocably altered (or lost altogether) due to a "mistake." Anger Is a Gift, and so is Oshiro's arresting, nuanced work. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Tor Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 12-up, 9781250167026

Girl Made of Stars

by Ashley Herring Blake

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In her senior year at a performing arts school in Tennessee, Mara McHale has her hands and heart full trying to manage schoolwork, the feminist group she founded as a freshman and her relationship with her "best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-ex-girlfriend," Charlie (who is in the process of coming to terms with and being defined as nonbinary). What Mara does not anticipate is being forced into having to choose between her twin brother, Owen, and her other best friend, Hannah. But when Hannah accuses Owen of raping her, that's exactly the nightmare Mara finds herself in, aware that "[t]o believe one person is to disbelieve another." Either alternative is unbearable. The situation with Owen and Hannah drives Mara's own past experience with sexual assault to the fore, and she must confront the painful complexity of being a friend, a sister and a victim: "It's a tangled mess of simple facts, a kaleidoscope of right and wrong. The aftermath--that's what's complicated."
Ashley Herring Blake (How to Make a Wish; Suffer Love; Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World) is a powerful model for young adult readers who are looking for a voice of their own. Girl Made of Stars is exquisitely nuanced, exploring the thorny issues and feelings around sexual assault, gender, sexuality and communication. As a deeply committed feminist, Mara has always believed in trusting survivors' stories, especially because "no one ever believes the girl." The support and understanding Mara and her friends share as they go through the unthinkable allows each to deal with the situation with a very human kind of grace: "[T]his tightrope of love and anger, compassion and hate, is awkward and precarious. Maybe it will be for a really long time." Indeed it will. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9781328778239


by Julie Murphy

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Whether readers are familiar with Julie Murphy's Dumplin' or not, they will find plenty to love in Puddin'.
Murphy's follow-up features contestants Millie Michalchuk and Callie Reyes from Clover City, Texas's Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, two girls who--at first glance--couldn't be more different. Millie isn't the most popular girl at Clover City High School; in fact, due to her weight, she's usually the object of jokes. Even though she is bullied, Millie isn't a loner--she values her friendships and works diligently to keep them strong. Callie, on the other hand is beautiful, popular and dating a hunk. She rolls with the "in" crowd but her friendships tend to be superficial, based mostly on how they advance her status with Clover City High School's premier dance team. When unfortunate circumstances bring the two girls' worlds crashing together, neither is ready for the results.
The authenticity of Murphy's characters makes Puddin' more than a fun, breezy read. Millie's constant battle to believe in herself and be stronger than the bullies will ring true with anyone who has ever experienced some form of harassment. Millie is proud of who she is but she still has to do a daily cost-benefit analysis: "Is this floral tunic too loud? Is me being happy wearing it worth the attention it will cost me?" Callie also deals with bias and stereotypes, and even struggles to fit in with her own family: darker coloring inherited from her father's Mexican roots make Callie feel like an outsider with her very white mother, stepfather and half-sister.
Above all, Puddin' is an enchanting salute to female relationships with potent themes like the value of friendship, the cost of bigotry and the vast potential of girl power. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Balzer + Bray, $17.99, hardcover, 448p., ages 12-up, 9780062418388

Michael Eon's These Things Happen is "raw and compelling" (Readers' Favorite), "urgent [and] beautifully written" (BookLife) with "smooth, evocative prose, well-drawn characters, and the intriguing time and place of 1970s Brooklyn" (BlueInk Review).

Flashing through Daniel Zimmer's life, past and present, These Things Happen is an unflinchingly honest account of the inevitable ups and downs of coming-of-age and recovery. With the atmospheric backdrop of 1970s Brooklyn, These Things Happen fearlessly examines generational abuse, the transformative power of confronting addiction, and the profound life-changing potential of redemption. "With a vivid, engaging storyline," Eon's debut novel is "a thoughtful read" (BlueInk) that "imparts a compelling message" (BookLife). "The energy of being a child in a city that will eat you up, if you let it, seeps through the pages" (Readers' Favorite).

Daniel Zimmer will do almost anything to end his pain -- except for the one thing that might work.

Growing up in 1970s Brooklyn under the shadow of his tyrannical father, Daniel Zimmer struggles to find a sense of safety and belonging. Daniel and his brother Max find moments of solace in the rebellious rhythms of early punk and metal bands. But when faced with an unexpected family tragedy--for which Daniel feels responsible--Daniel finds escape in the numbing grip of alcohol, offering temporary relief from his pain and guilt. Carrying childhood trauma into adulthood, Daniel spirals deeper into the clutches of addiction. Just as he finds the strength to embrace sobriety, the ghosts of his past resurface, forcing him to confront his demons head-on.

What began as catharsis through writing about his own recovery journey inspired Michael Eon's powerful examination of a life-long relationship with addiction and recovery in his debut novel, These Things Happen.

Girl Friday Books: These Things Happen by Michael Eon

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