By Kim McLarin
REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT
CRITIC'S CHOICE
NOVEL

This fiercely acerbic study of motherhood and the price it extracts just might make you want to rethink Mother's Day. McLarin, author of the highly praised 1998 novel Taming It Down, gives us a prickly African-American heroine who admittedly takes some time to warm up to. Accomplished, educated Grace seems to have a perfect life: a luxurious house in an upscale Boston enclave, an adoring scientist husband and two young daughters. But being a stay-at-home mom in hothouse suburbia suffocates her. The unused sociology Ph.D. that she worked so hard for now seems like part of a life she should have led. She begins to dislike her kids and regret her choices, and when her husband pushes for another child (he wants a son), ditching her family seems like a viable option. It's not entirely surprising considering her heritage: Rae, Grace's sharecropping grandmother, continually abandoned her children to save herself from crushing poverty, and Mattie, Grace's love-hungry mother, clings so tightly to Grace that she threatens to smother her. Told from the alternating points of view of these three women, the narrative shifts from past to present, raising unsettling questions about love and belonging. As Grace struggles to handle her own feelings of enslavement, McLarin offers up compelling meditations on race, class and history—and delivers an ending that's like a punch to the heart.

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By Peter Ames Carlin
REVIEWED BY PORTER SHREVE
BIOGRAPHY

David Crosby once called Brian Wilson the most highly regarded musician in America. Paul McCartney declared Wilson's "God Only Knows" the greatest song ever written. But despite being labeled a genius for performing and writing the layered harmonies that made the Beach Boys superstars, Wilson has spent much of his life struggling. Acutely sensitive and saddled with a controlling manager-father, he sank into addiction and depressions that stalled his promised masterpiece, SMiLE, for decades. Wave follows Wilson from top of the charts in '63 to besotted in '75 to unburdened, though still fragile, in 2004, after SMiLE was an acclaimed hit. Journalist Carlin (formerly a PEOPLE writer) interviewed the surviving Beach Boys, including Wilson—who lives in Beverly Hills and still performs—and had access to hours of unreleased recordings. His book is both a first-rate biography and a compelling social history about a generation's loss of innocence.

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By Brian Copeland
REVIEWED BY JOSH EMMONS
MEMOIR

Comedian Brian Copeland once got a letter accusing him of not being a genuine black man, and his memoir would seem to support this. He doesn't play basketball. He quotes James Garner from Maverick. He listens to Rick Springfield. But the book does more than list his tastes; with humor and pathos it traces a life spent dodging racial epithets from blacks and whites (he's been called Oreo as often as the n-word) and achieving what he sees as the true African-American attribute: resilience. A native of the once all-white San Leandro, Calif., he concludes that "no one person or group ... holds the monopoly on what in this society is the 'true' black experience." He has demonstrated as much in this affecting book.

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Fiction

Ruby by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton: Women weaned on young-adult author Block's mesmerizing alchemy of fairy-tale fantasy and Hollywood glitz will fall under the spell of this grown-up romance, about an L.A. nanny who uses magic to land the hunk of her dreams.

The Owl & Moon Café by Jo-Ann Mapson: A comforting confection of a tale set at a Monterey Bay family eatery, Mapson's ninth novel features four generations of strong-willed women helping each other cope with life's vicissitudes while keeping the customers happy.

Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande: Grande's spare, elegantly written tale of a young Mexican girl searching for her farmworker father, missing since he left to seek his fortune in "el otro lado," is a timely and riveting read.

Save Your Own by Elisabeth Brink: The heroine's predicament: At 26, she's a virgin with no prospects who's about to lose her fellowship to Harvard Divinity School. Working at a halfway house for addicted women, implausibly enough, helps her solve both problems in this funny, engaging debut.

Psychic Junkie: Can't stop consulting psychics? There's no 12-step group for that addiction, but in a new memoir struggling actress Sarah Lassez swears she had it bad.

WHAT GOT YOU STARTED? When I was depressed over a failed romance in 2003, I went to a psychic who predicted I would find much happiness and success. I was hooked.

WHAT WERE THE SIGNS? I was calling 10 psychics a day. I couldn't leave the house. Positive psychic readings gave me a high, but if I got bad news I'd have to call others to undo the damage. At my worst I spent $1,000 in one month—twice my rent.

DID YOU GET MEMORABLE ADVICE? One said my [failed] relationship was like broken celery—we were separated yet still connected by "those stringy things."

WERE THEY EVER RIGHT? Maybe 1 to 5 percent of the time. I think psychics are telepathic if anything—they can read your mind. One told me I'd had too many readings so I had holes in my aura. She sent me home without a reading. I was annoyed but now I respect her.

HOW DID YOU KICK THE HABIT? I went to a therapist who said I was a classic case of obsessive-compulsive disorder and recommended Zoloft. I started a Web site, psychicjunkie.net, for people like me. I've had a couple of relapses—and I'm still hooked on my tarot cards—but I feel much better.