Express Reviews 

Book briefs for the month of September.

The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington
By Brian Francis
Harper Perennial, $12.95

Life isn't easy for thirteen-year-old paperboy Peter Paddington: He weighs two hundred pounds, he's at the bottom of the school social ladder, and he's struggling with strange new feelings about his male classmates. Even worse, his body is changing in unexpected ways -- his nipples have started puffing up and speaking to him, urging him to act out his deepest desires. Peter knows he shouldn't follow his nipples' advice -- they tell him to ogle sexy Andrew Sinclair at school -- but resisting them grows increasingly difficult. This debut novel is a bizarre coming-of-age comedy that captures the humor, pathos, confusion, and creepiness of growing up different. Peter lives in Bluewater, a John Watersesque white-trash paradise where conformity is expected and oddballs are shunned. It's a good setting, but Francis' comical descriptions of Bluewater's tacky residents and kitschy strip malls eventually start to wear thin, making you wish there was some meatier plot beyond Peter's nipple worries. But the novel's honesty makes it endearing. Peter isn't just unsure of his sexuality; he's unclear on the whole concept of sexuality. He has erotic fantasies without even realizing that they're erotic. This is thirteen as it really is: a weird and lonely age when nothing makes any sense. -- Mike Rosen-Molina

Good Advice for Young Trendy People of All Ages
Edited by Jennifer Blowdryer
Manic D Press, $15

It would be hard to mistake this slender anthology of unrelenting sassitude for any kind of self-help book, because the advice genre has to at least pretend to be in some way of use. If you're looking for tips on how to be in with the in crowd, well, first of all that's really sad, and second, you could glean about as much from listening to the Go-Go's song "This Town" a few times, aside from some vicarious stuff about which requests will make a tattoo artist roll his eyes or what 'tude to cop if you want the door guy at a club to think you're a total tool. The main reason to read this charmingly scattershot assemblage of anecdotal generalities is for just the kicks, baby, the kicks. A typical bit of advice from Mykel Board's "The Joy of Debt": "You've got to change your way of thinking. You are NOT paying interest. You are NOT paying back a loan. You are paying $50 a month so EVERYTHING IS FREE." With chapters on dominatrices and hip mamas, the transgendered and the incarcerated, drugs and plastic surgery and fabulous hair, it's scenesterism's love letter to itself, and if you are one of the titular YTPs, odds are you know at least one of the contributors (Ariel Gore, Bucky Sinister, Sherilyn Connelly, Lynn Breedlove, Clint Catalyst, et al.) personally. -- Sam Hurwitt

Dream a Little Dream of Me
By Eddi Fiegel
Chicago Review Press, $24.95

Cass Elliot was not only the Mamas and the Papas' strong, strident voice; she was a countercultural social hub. She also was obese --which, despite her indomitable good cheer, unfortunately both dampened her self-image and contributed to her death in her early thirties. Considering that her disappointing solo career yielded only a few modest hits, you might think it's a stretch to make Elliot the subject of a whole biography. Yet it's not, for her up-and-down life was not just interesting on its own terms, but also intersected with an amazing wealth of movers and shakers of the 1960s and early '70s. Paging through the first part of this volume is like connecting the dots of early American folk-rock, as she moved from coffeehouse folk and primitive rock to the most commercially successful Californian folk-rock group, and fostered connections that helped form the Lovin' Spoonful and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Fiegel interviewed an astonishing number of key players, from Papa Denny Doherty (for whom Elliot harbored lifetime unrequited love) and Mama Michelle Phillips to Graham Nash and even presidential candidate George McGovern (for whom she campaigned). Yet for all the love surrounding her, the singer couldn't find a man who really loved her -- which, combined with drug abuse and a floundering career, often made her final years tragic and depressing. -- Richie Unterberger

Homicide My Own
By Anne Argula
Pleasure Boat Studio, $16

Meet one of the oddest pairs of cops in mystery fiction: narrator Quinn, a dour, menopausal 49-year-old, and her partner Odd Gunderson, a meditative, hunky 32-year-old psychic Swede. Things begin straightforwardly enough when the two are dispatched to collect a fugitive: a thirtysomething systems analyst has skipped bail only to be nabbed with a fourteen-year-old Lolita in an Indian casino. Quinn, exasperated at landing such a crap detail and plagued with hot flashes, wants nothing more than to transport the prisoner back to Spokane, tear off her clothes, and run naked through the rain. But having attempted suicide while being held at the reservation's tribal HQ, the fugitive is unable to travel. This delay gives Gunderson just enough time to become inexplicably obsessed with an unsolved thirty-year-old double homicide on the reservation. Despite Quinn's protests, Gunderson mounts his own investigation, and things get weird when he goes into trances. Cantankerous Quinn is endearing as she wrestles haplessly with metaphysical questions and her own transformation. -- Michael Ansaldo

Wake Up, Sir!
By Jonathan Ames
Scribner, $14

At first this novel seems like a cheap literary trick: Ames has stolen the Jeeves character from P.G. Wodehouse's classic series and used him shamelessly, piggybacking on the charm of the original creation. Ames also follows Wodehouse's lead on plot, with Jeeves serving as valet to a young ne'er-do-well, providing moral support, hangover cures, and solutions for the hilarious disasters of the night before. But Wodehouse's novels were set in the mansions and country estates of Britain in the 1920s, while Ames' ne'er-do-well, Alan Blair, is adrift with manservant in modern New Jersey suburbs and the cheap bars of decaying New York towns. As the urbane valet and his nattily dressed young master careen through the mid-Atlantic states, it becomes clear that Blair is pining for a Wodehousian world that disappeared decades ago. His attempts to reconstruct that world in an era when dashing young rakes are referred to as alcoholics are both poignant and decidedly amusing. No review of this book would be complete without a list of the statistically improbable phrases that Amazon.com located within the text: nose fetish, eye patch, lost grandeur, escape pod, and seersucker jacket. That ought to give you the general idea. -- Eliza Strickland

The Great Hurricane: 1938
By Cherie Burns
Atlantic Monthly Press, $24

Before the advent of the Weather Channel, the Eastern seaboard was accustomed to the occasional unannounced storm. But the massive hurricane that shredded the coastline from Long Island to Providence in 1938 was inconceivability on top of insult on top of injury. Of especial interest now in the heart of hurricane season, Burns gives a blow-by-blow account of what happened to every barn door, sailboat, and Studebaker caught in the tumult. This thorough reporting swallows itself whole. It's probably bad form to compare natural disasters, but the Great Hurricane feels somewhat inconsequential after the tsunami last December. But this perfect storm had imperfect timing: Three days after setting down in someone's late-summer iced tea in East Egg, the storm was pushed aside in the national consciousness by the brewings of what would become World War II. It might be worse form to compare natural-disaster books, but reading Burns will make readers hanker for Sebastian Junger, who could do a better job even if he was writing about a windy day in Pacifica. -- Scott Steinberg

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