by Reba McEntire

Less a quilt than a series of Post-it notes, this book by the 44-year-old country singer is from the Robert Fulghum, fortune-cookie school of literature. McEntire likes to write about warm-fuzzy things—family, passion, peanut butter. "If you want to succeed in life," she advises, "pick three bones to carry: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone."

Personal interludes help. McEntire recalls composer Harlan Howard testing her ear with mediocre songs before offering better material. "The hardest decision I ever had to make," she says, "was to leave my first husband." After the 1991 plane crash that decimated her band, "I could either walk in the sunshine or walk in the mud. It depended on how I looked at life." McEntire's writing, like her singing, is studied; even expressing an intimate idea, she can sound distant. But her fans will likely be forgiving enough to enjoy this venture. (Bantam, $19.95)

Bottom Line: No chart-topper

by Joy Behar

Billed as a "scrapbook of essays and random thoughts" by Joy Behar, whose Brooklyn-accented wisecracks enliven ABC's talk show The View, this collection is a bit scrappier than her fans might like. Joy Schtick reads like a tryout of comic material in various stages of development, hastily thrown together and carelessly edited. Shrewd, polished stand-up lines pepper a goulash of mock advice columns, photos of Behar, her relatives and her dogs and riffs on real and imagined situations, often involving her Fellini-esque Italian family. Her father, a frequent gambler, and her submissive Italian mother were ill-suited, and one senses from the material provided that Behar has experienced a lot of frustration and pain. Occasionally she brings her intelligence to bear on that unhappiness: "People who are successful take the good and build on it. I'd take the negative and build on that." More often, though, she uses her family's foibles as a jumping-off point for jokes about sex, hygiene and toilet functions. At her best, Behar can coin a phrase with the right balance of zing and sting: "I'd rather wear black in August than do one sit-up." But the writing cries out for her sassy delivery. Without it, her ruminations often come off as flat and vulgar. In one case, the only excuse for a chapter on touring the Grand Canyon appears to be the tasteless pun she uses as its title. (Hyperion, $19.95)

Bottom Line: Behar's brass needs polishing

Coming of Age with Hillary's Class—Wellesley '69
by Miriam Horn

Schooled to pour tea without spilling a drop, to be docile wives and perfect mothers, Hillary Rodham's classmates graduated from Wellesley College in 1969—and found themselves in a very different world from the one for which their genteel education had prepared them. Miriam Horn's Rebels in White Gloves charts these idealistic young women's experiments with communal living, drugs and left-wing politics and their valiant and harried efforts to juggle motherhood and career. Much has been written lately about the generation that came of age during the 1960s, and little here seems startling or new, but many of the individual stories are unpredictable and fresh. One woman became a Buddhist nun, another a psychobiologist studying gender differences; one raised her family on a boat, sailing around the world and providing medical care, while another woman's marriage crumbled under the pressures of her job as Oregon's first female federal attorney. Like the experience of their most famous classmate, the lives of these Wellesley College graduates, several of whom have stayed friends with Hillary, remind us how much and how little has changed for women during the past thirty years. (Times Books, $24)

Bottom Line: Familiar but engaging tales of growing up the hard way with Hillary's college class

by Iris Rainer Dart

Book of the week

Dart's latest novel is like a bag of potato chips: easy to finish in one sitting, enjoyable in the process but hardly brain food. The author of 1985's Beaches (and Beaches II), Dart here trains her romantic eye on the life of Lily Benjamin, a 38-year-old divorcée and talented sitcom writer who's engaged to a cardiologist (yes, a heart doctor). Her son, strapping 15-year-old Bryan, loves tennis and bears a healthy resentment toward a father who abandoned him. The plot picks up speed when a stalker's bullet paralyzes Bryan. Then Lily's mentor at the sitcom dies of cancer, and Charlie Roth, an ogre who happens to be disabled, takes over.

Dart's lightning-quick pacing, economically sketched characters (who appear at just the right moments) and a sprinkling of genuinely amusing jokes are enough for readers to overcome the gooey message about loving a guy for "his perfect and beautiful soul," not his damaged body. (Morrow, $25)

Bottom Line: One guilty pleasure

The Story of an English House
by Charles Spencer

You'd think that Princess Diana's younger brother—infamous for his Melrose Place ways with models—might bring to his writing a certain élan. But he offers here an extraordinarily dry look at his family's ancestral home. With all the excitement of warm ale, Spencer chronicles the habits of the house's residents over five centuries. We learn, for example, that the first Earl Spencer built a library, in part, because "the family had long been interested in books," and that stone pedestals were added to the property in "1602, 1624, 1798, 1800 and 1901." Yawn. Only toward the end does the man nicknamed Champagne Charlie have any fun. He shares how he first got drunk at the age of 8; later, he savages his and Diana's stepmother, Raine, for her bad taste. But the final (and too few) pages devoted to his late sister revert to a museum-brochure monotone as Spencer, criticized for commercializing Diana's memory, dwells not on their closeness but on the "tasteful" items on sale at Althorp's Diana gift shop. (St. Martin's, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Needs renovation

>EDUCATING ESME Esmé Raji Codell The often hilarious diary of a newly minted fifth-grade teacher's struggles against student apathy and bureaucratic red tape. (Algonquin, $17.95)

INDIANA GOTHIC Pope Brock Brock uncovers his upstanding family's big secret: that his great-grandfather was shockingly murdered. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $24.95)

THE PROMISE OF SLEEP Dr. William C. Dement, with Christopher Vaughan An expert in sleep therapy traces the connection between restful nights and healthy days. (Delacorte, $24.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Edward Karam,
  • Francine Prose,
  • Erica Sanders,
  • Janice Min.