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Cure for the Common Universe

Christian McKay Heidicker. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4814-5027-0

Heidicker's debut offers a realistic portrayal of the difficulty of overcoming addiction, whether it involves controlled substances or video-game controllers. Jaxon, 16, is addicted to an MMORPG; as his health and social life suffer, his father forces him into video-game rehab, but the timing couldn't be worse: Jaxon has just scored his first date. Desperate to get out of "V-hab" in time to meet Serena in just a few days, Jaxon must work through a series of game-like challenges to earn enough points to be discharged. The snarky, expletive-prone banter between Jaxon and his compatriots is both believable and an easy hook for readers who might typically prefer World of Warcraft to novels. But where the novel really shines is in Jaxon's interactions—as a white, upper-middle-class boy—with campmates who are diverse in terms of both ethnicity and sexuality, and who challenge some of his preexisting assumptions. In confronting Jaxon's privilege and complicated family history, the book eschews easy answers for a more authentic ending that promises that the work of self-improvement is ongoing and difficult. Ages 14–up. Agent: John Cusick, Folio Literary Management. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Misadventures of Max Crumbly: Locker Hero

Rachel Renée Russell. Aladdin, $13.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4814-6001-9

Russell returns to the journal-style format of her bestselling Dork Diaries series as she introduces a hapless, comics-loving boy named Max who recounts many of his woes while stuck inside his school locker. Featuring the same doll-like black-and-white cartooning style and lined-paper backgrounds of the Dork Diaries books, the story strikes an awkward balance between slice-of-life underdog problems and over-the-top plot developments, shifting into the latter after Max escapes his locker and attempts to live out his superhero fantasies by foiling thieves who have infiltrated the school. Unfortunately, the book's comedy is forced and often misses the mark, weighed down by tired catchphrases ("Don't get it twisted!"; "That was just wrong on so many levels!") and gross-out gags, such as when Max imagines peeing on school bully Doug "Thug" Thurston in a fight-or-flight response. Early on, Max cautions that those who don't like "comic book cliffhangers" may not want to continue, but that caveat may not prepare readers for just how unsatisfyingly and abruptly Russell concludes her story. Ages 9–13. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Real Sisters Pretend

Megan Dowd Lambert, illus. by Nicole Tadgell. Tilbury House, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-88448-441-7

Tayja and Mia may enjoy pretending to be "hiking princesses" who must scale the mountains of the family sofa, but as older sister Tayja makes clear, there's nothing pretend about them being sisters, even though they don't look alike (Tayja has brown skin, Mia white). "We are sisters," she says, staring into Mia's eyes. "Real sisters." In an extended dialogue between the girls, Lambert (A Crow of His Own) highlights the small but important conversations that happen among siblings trying to understand their place in the world and within their families. Tadgell (Friends for Freedom) emphasizes the girls' closeness in warm watercolor-and-pencil vignettes that show them talking about being adopted by two mothers (one is white, the other of Asian background) while playing with their stuffed toy lion, having a snack, and generally hanging all over each other. The sisters also talk frankly about the fact that "some people" don't instinctively see them as a family, remembering a recent grocery store encounter. Though the story is somewhat message-heavy, it's still a useful reminder of the varied ways families can take shape. Ages 4–7. (May)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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"Oh, No," Said Elephant

A.H. Benjamin, illus. by Alireza Goldouzian. Minedition, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-988-8341-07-8

Poor Elephant. His friends want to play hide-and-seek, leapfrog, and other games, but his bulk and slowness seem destined to keep him out of the winner's circle. "Oh, no," says Elephant in response to each suggested game. "I'm not good at that." Dressed in a natty bow tie and pants, Elephant makes the most of each situation, and Iranian artist Goldouzian does the same, in wildly inventive paintings that celebrate the animals' chaotic play. Teacups and chairs go flying when Elephant hides under a table during hide-and-seek; "I can see you!" shouts Monkey, soaring in through a window. Later, Zebra attempts to pole vault over the "too tall" Elephant during hopscotch. Some readers may be surprised at how mean Elephant's friends are ("You're foolish!" cries Leopard, tangled up with Elephant in a jump rope), but Benjamin (The Big Splash) subtly emphasizes the value of participation—and that it's possible to have fun even when an activity isn't one's strong suit. Eventually, the tables turn when Elephant suggests playing tug-of-war: Elephant may be big, clumsy, and slow, but he's also strong, in more ways than one. Ages 3–5. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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It's All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook

Gwyneth Paltrow. Grand Central Life & Style/Goop, $35 (288p) ISBN 978-1-45558-421-5

Continuing her restorative eating approach, actress and cookbook author Paltrow (It's All Good) presents a collection of 125 favorite recipes for "the chronically busy." Recipes have a family focus and feature kid-friendly, healthy breakfast dishes such as almond-orange or chocolate cinnamon overnight oats and a ginger chia pudding. "Pick-Me-Ups" include prepare-ahead chicken or shrimp chopped salads, wraps, and vegetable-rich Mexican and Thai style noodle pots. Main dishes include polentas and pasta with rapini or curry lime roasted cauliflower, and there are plentiful seafood dishes. For "Something Sweet," choose fruited shakes or coconut-heavy confections such as pudding, key lime tarts, and cookies. Paltrow's trick for uncomplicated, delicious meal-making is her list of go-to pantry basics from specialty food shops: Asian sauces and pastes, a spectrum of vinegars and oils, gluten-free whole grains, and other items such as kuzu root, bonito flakes, hemp seeds, and coconut sugar. Not all the recipes are quick to assemble, but they are "approachable for cooks with any lifestyle and any skill level," making it easy to eat well and mindfully. Paltrow's recipes offer refreshing ways for home cooks to regain balance in their lives and on their plates in face of today's on-the-go lifestyle. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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83 Minutes: The Doctor, the Damage, and the Shocking Death of Michael Jackson

Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne. St. Martin's/ Dunne, $27.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-250-10892-0

In this tiresome account, Richards and Langthorne provide the already well-known details of Jackson's dysfunctional family, his alleged pedophilia, and his descent into drug addiction following the burns he suffered during the filming of a Pepsi commercial. Richards and Langthorne attest that January 27, 1984, was the beginning of the end for Jackson, as he grew more and more dependent on narcotics to ease his pain. After Jackson meets Conrad Murray in 2006, Murray assumes the mantle of the King of Pop's personal physician, and their lives are intertwined forever. The authors ramble on needlessly about Murray's native country of Grenada in addition to pointing out that the debt-ridden Murray was just as much in need of Jackson as Jackson was of easy access to drugs. Sprinkling their allegedly objective chronicle with judgments about "bizarre" nature of the "tragedy," they conclude that Murray was negligent in his care for Jackson and speculate against all evidence that the singer might still be alive if Murray had practiced good medicine. In the end, the authors succeed in illustrating little more than what readers most likely already know. Agent: Carrie-Ann Pitt, Blink. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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I'm Just A Person

Tig Notaro. Ecco, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-226663-7

For four months in 2012, stand-up comedian Notaro descended into a decidedly unfunny period of her life: she survived a bout with the life-threatening bacterial infection, Clostridium difficile, only to find out that her mother had died; not long after she buried her mother, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a double mastectomy. In this deeply captivating memoir, Notaro opens her raw wounds, candidly sharing her most intimate thoughts about life before and after her illnesses. Notaro chronicles her early struggles with her mother and stepfather, and her departure from her home in Houston to make it on her own in Los Angeles. She discovers her gift for comedy, performing night after night at open mikes, and eventually lands an audition for a show that the comic Sarah Silverman has written just for Notaro. In a moment of uncertainty, she panics and exclaims "I'll go on, I can't go on," a theme that echoes throughout the book: "When you're struggling to secure the role of yourself, you do wonder whether you know who you are. Up until that audition, I felt confident I did." After her illnesses, Notaro slowly returns to the stage, gaining a large following when she introduces her new routine with the words: "Hello. Good evening. Hello. I have cancer, how are you?" By January 2013, Notaro feels reborn and ready to set out on a new life, and these days she's happier than ever. Notaro's searingly honest and sometimes humorous memoir will wrench readers' hearts and inspire them in equal measure. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The United States of Beer: A Regional History of the All-American Drink

Dane Huckelbridge. Morrow, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 9780062389756

Huckelbridge (Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit) switches his focus to "the ubiquity across the length and breadth of American civilization" of beer, of which Americans consume six billion gallons on a yearly basis. As in his earlier work, Huckelbridge delivers a fascinating look at American history, arguing that the local production of beer—"beginning with the earliest American settlers, and continuing on up to the craft brews of the present day"—reveals how local beers "actually helped to shape the distinctive regional cultures that would cohere and combine to build a nation." Displaying an enormous understanding of American history as well as a fine wit, Huckelbridge starts with the beer shortage that was a "source of stress" for all aboard the Mayflower, and notes that drinking beer was "as much a part of office life in New England" as Excel charts today. He engagingly analyzes the Dutch influence on beer-making in New York, explains the role of local corn production as an influence on the beer made in the South, details how the German migration to Midwest America in 1848 led to the darker lagers that of breweries such as Busch and Schlitz, explores how Prohibition led to the production of the "sweeter, more watery, and less flavorful" beers that still dominate the market, and looks at the "unexpected innovations" of West Coast companies such as Anchor Brewing that led to the birth of microbrewing. (June)

Reviewed on 05/27/2016 | Details & Permalink

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