by Robyn Cosio with Cynthia Robins

Makeup artist Robyn Cosio knows about bad eyebrows. Born with a dreaded unibrow, as a teen she shaved it off and spent hours each day drawing in new arches, line by line, with a No. 2 pencil. Luckily, the hair grew back. Now she happily helps clients such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Gina Gershon avoid similar follicular foibles. After all, Cosio writes, "what other calling allows you to give women an instant 'face lift' that will elevate their spirits as well as widen and enlarge their eyes?"

Using black-and-white images of icons from history and from Hollywood, she traces the evolution of eyebrow style: from Cleopatra's painted-on pair to Joan Crawford's "diva arch" and Brooke Shields's famously unplucked '80s brows. These days, grooming is in again, so for those who can't make it to Cosio's Beverly Hills salon, she provides a how-to guide. If your brows need filling in, she advises, use eye shadow instead of a pencil. And whatever you do, don't shave them. (ReganBooks, $30)

Bottom Line: Entertaining—if not exactly high-brow

by Elaine Kagan

Sex? Drugs? Bad behavior? These are the obligatory ingredients for juicy Hollywood reads. But you won't much miss them in this modest but irresistible tale from actress (Goodfellas) and novelist (The Girls) Elaine Kagan.

When 25-year-old actress Chassi Jennings, daughter of a venerable film producer, throws a tantrum on a set, the studio calls a time-out and sends her into therapy. Her psychiatrist Eleanor Costello eventually determines that Chassi's histrionics are a cover for deeper issues, such as the trauma of witnessing her movie-legend mom's death in a hit-and-run accident 14 years earlier. In the process, "La Shrink" (as Chassi calls Dr. Costello) gains insight into her own troubled relationship with her daughter. Still, as neurotic, drug-addled Hollywood brats go—remember the Meryl Streep character in Postcards from the Edge?—Chassi is a Girl Scout. Not to worry, though. Kagan keeps this mother-daughter drama bubbling along with smart dialogue and alluring details of Chassi's casually posh life—from her perfect golden hair to her new black BMW, the Holmby Hills mansion and finally the breathless, latte-serving actors-in-training who want to walk in her shoes. You'll be mentally casting this role—Gwyneth? Cameron? Jennifer?—long before you put the book down. (Morrow, $24)

Bottom Line: Delicious summer read

by Ridley Pearson

Seattle detective Lou Boldt is handed a string of burglaries to investigate. The latest victim, left paralyzed, is a policewoman who was probing departmental corruption. Novelist Pearson (The First Victim) deftly creates an air of suspicion as Boldt, unsure of the loyalties of his colleagues, gingerly solicits their help. His probe is complicated by his attraction to his female psychologist supervisor. Pearson weaves plot threads skillfully, and his villain is a compelling wacko. But technophobes should beware the ins and outs of garage-door openers and cell phones en route to the ghoulish finale. (Hyperion, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Fair to middling

by Jayne Anne Phillips

Beach Book Of The Week

Poet and academic Kate Tateman is happily single until she goes for inoculations before heading to India to teach. She falls in love with Matt, the doctor who administers the shots, and quickly the heroine of Phillips's linguistically beautiful new novel finds herself catapulted into the sandwich generation: She and Matt have a baby (before his divorce is final), and Kate's terminally ill mother, Katherine, comes to live with them. Kate also has to cope with Sam and Jonah, Matt's two unruly little boys.

Best known for her novels (Machine Dreams and Shelter), Phillips's early experience as a poet is apparent throughout MotherKind, but especially so in this description of Kate's sensations as she looks around at her backyard wedding celebration: "Music, running trills of sound. Slow pointillist colors. White balloons drifting in bunches, nodding over their tethers."

Phillips allows readers to become privy to Kate's thoughts and feelings as she assumes her new roles. Although Matt seems to have only a supporting role—a small flaw in this deeply felt story—the author's moving yet unidealized portrayal of Kate bonding with her baby as Katherine slips away from life is rendered with an affecting delicacy. (Knopf, $24)

Bottom Line: Beautifully realized domestic drama

by David Sedaris

Pity the poor Sedaris family. The things their famous relative writes about them—in addition to what he says as a regular contributor to National Public Radio—must have the clan in a state of permanent cringe. That is, if the situations in the latest collection of blisteringly funny pieces (28 in all) by the 43-year-old rapscallion were not so transparently exaggerated. A sun-worshipping sister is lampooned for being "tanorexic," and he lists his mom's hobbies as smoking, napping and reading the works of kitsch-maestro Sidney Sheldon. Then there is Sedaris père, a former IBM engineer, who, says the son, hoards food so obsessively that his closet still contains expired six-packs of Sego, the chalky chocolate diet drink of the 1960s. And what are we to make of the claim that in the author's childhood North Carolina household there was an unending turnover of pets, all afflicted with a failure to thrive? As he puts it, "Another day, another collar." (Little, Brown, $22.95)

Bottom Line: Me likee—lots

by Jeffrey Lent

Wounded in the final grim days of the Civil War, Vermont farm boy Norman Pelham marries the runaway slave who nurses him back to health—setting into motion a tragic, passion-filled drama that will reverberate through three generations. A richly observed epic, Lent's first novel tackles big questions—the limits of love, the cost of secrets, the pain and rage that are slavery's enduring toll—while spinning a gripping tale that is part good old-fashioned whodunit. (The mysterious horror from her past that blights former slave Leah's life, and the lives of her descendants, is not fully revealed until six pages from the end.) The language used by Lent's characters is pared down and humorless—Clint Eastwood-speak, New England-style—and the dialogue grows tedious. But that's only a minor imperfection in an otherwise deeply affecting novel. (Atlantic Monthly, $25)

Bottom Line: Luminous literary debut

by Ted Conover

Soon after taking a position as a corrections officer at the New York maximum-security prison known as Sing Sing for this riveting study, Conover gets the gist of his new job from a veteran guard: "To get out of here in one piece at 3 p.m." Con-over's previous books immersed him in Aspen's social elite and the world of illegal aliens. This time, while guarding vicious criminals (who ridicule him as "Barney," the slow-witted deputy on The Andy Griffith Show), he gets to practice "cell-extraction" (forcibly removing an inmate from his cell) and dehumanizing strip searches. After he is attacked (an inmate punches him in the head), his sympathy for the prisoners erodes; inmates are "not all bad," he writes, "just most of them." When Conover's one-year stint is over, he is wiser—not to mention wearier—for exploring a world that most of us would never dream of entering. (Random House, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Hits home

  • Contributors:
  • Julie K.L. Dam,
  • Erica Sanders,
  • Edward Karam,
  • Jean Reynolds,
  • David Cobb Craig,
  • Kim Hubbard,
  • Joseph V. Tirella.