by Frederic Fekkai

"Being French doesn't automatically make me an authority on sexiness," writes celebrity hairdresser Frederic Fekkai. But as his clients would attest, it does raise his stylishness quotient. A Year of Style aims to spread his philosophy of chic: Forget the high-maintenance hair and makeup. Less is more.

Unfortunately, the book itself doesn't follow that sage advice. Divided into monthly chapters with topics such as Holiday Looks, it gets bogged down by laughably detailed instructions. ("To apply shampoo," he notes, first "make sure your hair is really wet.") A daily calendar offers a pithy quote or suggested task. While you might want to pass on the Martha Stewart-y entries (April 20: "Change your lightbulbs from frosted to clear to make your home more sparkling"), others serve to remind you to pamper yourself once in a while—and that, of course, is always in style. (Clarkson Potter, $35)

Bottom Line: Not-so-easy chic

by David Baldacci

When a family argument turns tragic, precocious 12-year-old Lou Cardinal and her kid brother Oz are uprooted from their soft New York City lives to a mountainside farm in Virginia. Once there, Lou is stunned by the grueling farmwork, annoyed by what she perceives to be the ignorance of country folk and angry at her newly incapacitated mother, whom she blames for causing the car crash that killed her father. But pugnacious Lou is devoted to 7-year-old Oz—whose sweet wishes for his mother's recovery inform the book's title—and intrigued by her hardy great-grandmother, who has taken them in. Eventually, deep friendships with a mountain boy and a country lawyer soften Lou's harsh ways. Author Baldacci is best known for his thrillers (Absolute Power, Saving Faith) but in Wish You Well he weaves an old-fashioned coming-of-age story. While minor characters seem stock, the 1940s details ring true, and a compelling courtroom trial—pitting the family against a land-grabbing coal company—provides a stirring conclusion. (Warner, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Little suspense-but plenty to savor

by Jewel

Singer-songwriter Jewel is nothing if not earnest. Her new book, a collection of diary entries, reveals a bright, introspective young woman. Unfortunately, her labored insights tilt toward the standbys of pop psychology. Of her first beau, for example, she says, "I was in love with the idea of being in love." Later she finds herself "seeking an approval from others that I wasn't willing to give myself." It's a shame Jewel didn't choose to write a straight-ahead memoir, since this book's best moments are the sketches of her genuinely fascinating Alaska childhood. As a tot singing with her musician parents in remote villages, she was ferried to gigs in dogsleds, and local kids stroked her exotic blonde hair. She once lived in a cabin without a phone across a canyon from her dad, who yodeled when he wanted her to visit. Jewel is a decent writer, though some lines make you want to revoke her poetic license: "Everything seems melancholy in the light of a moon that is emptying its essence into the greedy darkness." There's a sentence only a hardcore fan could love. (HarperCollins, $24)

Bottom Line: Sincerely mixed bag

by John Sandford

Page-turner of the week

He may be a computer whiz, but Kidd is no wimp. Sandford's corporate spy-for-hire (who is referred to by a single name, à la Cher or Madonna) has returned to action for the first time since 1989's The Fool's Run, and he proves as handy with lock picks as with a keyboard. When an old associate turns up dead—supposedly shot while breaking into the offices of a shady software company-Kidd is asked by the man's sister to investigate. And he needs all his considerable talents to untangle a conspiracy that may reach all the way to the upper echelons of national security agencies. The result is a taut, intelligent thriller, highlighted by several high-tech heists that show just how brainy—and well-prepared—a 21st-century outlaw needs to be. Fans of Sandford's "Prey" series, starring police detective Lucas Davenport, should relish the reintroduction of this equally complex hero (and his larcenous, sometimes lusty sidekick, LuEllen, a tough-as-titanium thief who spices up the proceedings). You don't need to be a tech-head to be riveted-and chilled—by Sandford's vision of a world in which information is a life-or-death issue—and no information-is private. (Putnam, $25.95)

Bottom Line: Convincing cyberthriller

by the Beatles

Even now it's tempting to think of the Beatles as a cultural force so powerful they not only transformed popular music but impacted everything from fashion to politics. But as John, Paul, George and Ringo tell it in this long-awaited group recollection, their view was decidedly different. "It was crazy," says George Harrison, describing the height of Beatlemania. "Not within the band. In the band we were normal. The rest of the world was crazy." That unique perspective—along with more than 1,000 snapshots, handwritten notes and business letters—gives this epic volume its considerable charm. Even Beatle experts will enjoy the fresh anecdotes uncovered in interviews with the three surviving band members. (Lennon's contribution is cobbled together from various interviews.) However, their alternating recollections don't always get to the emotional heart of their experience—which only makes Lennon's demise the more poignant. For while the interviews he gave prior to his 1980 death are refreshingly frank, we're left wondering how the most unvarnished of the Beatles would have seen it so many years later. (Chronicle, $60)

Bottom Line: Mostly magical history tour

>THE SUGAR ISLAND Ivonne Lamazares

This novel by a Cuban-born author evokes the Elian saga—but hers is set in the '60s, and it's about a mother and daughter escaping on a raft. (Houghton Mifflin, $23)

THE LOVE HEXAGON William Sutcliffe In what may be best described as a novelized British version of Friends, the lives of six London twentysome-things are charted with delicious English wit. (Penguin, $12)

BLACKBIRD Jennifer Lauck This affecting memoir, subtitled A Childhood Lost and Found, gives hope to those who have weathered the loss of a parent, particularly a mom. (Pocket, $23.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Julie K.L. Dam,
  • Anne Moore,
  • Laura Jamison,
  • Samantha Miller,
  • Peter Ames Carlin.