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Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival

Norman Ollestad

HarperCollins, $25.99/hardcover

Though nonfiction survival stories lack suspenseful endings — we know they lived to write the tale — the survival details are so alluring. Especially in Norman Ollestad's case. He was only 11 years old when a four-seat Cessna carrying him, his father, his father's girlfriend and a pilot crashed into a blizzard-battered peak in California's San Gabriel Mountains. His father and the pilot died instantly, but Ollestad awoke to find the girlfriend in critical condition, in need of an evacuation that he'd have to attempt. The narrative, now told at the age of 41, intersperses their perilous descent with key moments from Ollestad's upbringing that ultimately prepared him for the ordeal. Most poignant are vivid and beautiful scenes of learning to surf, ski and understand his father, who challenged him (lovingly) in every respect. As an homage to that man, it's flawless. — Matthew Schniper

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Gothic Charm School: An Essential Guide for Goths and Those Who Love Them

Jillian Venters

HarperCollins, $13.99/paperback

This book's "About the Author" page reads: "Jillian Venters ... was a fairly spooky and morbid child. When she discovered the ... Gothic sub culture, she clapped her hands with glee and fell upon it like a babybat upon a box of Count Chocula cereal." Now, as an "ElderGoth," she's sort of a Miss Manners for the pale-skinned, dark-garbed set. In the book (as on her Gothic Charm School blog) she answers questions, dispels myths, and addresses topics such as: "Why no one really has an 'original' Goth Look, so get over yourselves already"; "The never-ending debate about fashion vs. music"; and "How to reassure people you aren't a Satanist, drug fiend or psycho killer." It's lightweight and occasionally repetitive, but also witty and entertaining. My only beef is with Venters' habit of referring to herself in the third person, but maybe it's intended to be part of the macabre mystique. — Jill Thomas

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Soul Survivor: The Reincarnation of a World War II Fighter Pilot

Bruce and Andrea Leininger with Ken Gross

Grand Central Publishing, $24.99/hardcover

There are a few conclusions you can draw from a book like this, written by a couple about their young son's unexplained and detailed memories of World War II: that the authors are deluded or lying, that the authors are exploiting their child for personal gain, or that the authors are describing an experience so unbelievable they were driven to share it. Earlier in my life, I would have seen this book and immediately assumed one or both of the first two. But as I confess here publicly for the first time, on a handful of occasions my own daughter as a toddler talked about her "other father Colin who died in a fire" and her "Grandma Lottie," asking me if I remembered them from "before I was her mother." I wrote it off at the time, but this book, engagingly written with an eye for specifics and a balanced viewpoint, makes me go, "Hmmm." — Jill Thomas

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