by Amanda Quick

When her antique shop becomes a bulletin board for a band of spies and a man who tried to blackmail her turns up dead, Lavinia Lake does what any resourceful widow in 19th-century London would do: She becomes an investigator. Joining forces with the gruff and volatile Tobias March, Lavinia scours London from society balls to waterfront brothels in search of the killer.

Quick has spun a tense and romantic tale in the crumpets-and-strumpets milieu of Regency England, and her pacing is impeccable as Lavinia and Tobias close in on their prey. But when the sparks between them become hard to ignore, the headstrong Lavinia realizes that the identity of the murderer is not the only thing she would like to uncover. (Bantam, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Sexy and suspenseful

by Jodi Picoult

Take a bubbling cauldron of mass hysteria, toss in a pinch of the burgeoning sexual power of teenage girls and you've got...no, not that Carson Daly program on MTV but the Salem witch-hunts. Updating a familiar story in soapy style with a contemporary New England setting, Picoult (Plain Truth) jumps around the viewpoints of a bewildering assortment of overwrought characters, including four high school girls who practice the pagan religion Wicca and a well-intentioned young man so handsome that delusional young women keep accusing him of rape. Despite being predictable, Salem Falls is a fun, frothy brew of mystery, sex and small-town secrets. (Pocket, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Not bewitching but crafty

by Joyce Ostin

If you don't want to read another word about celebrity moms staying up all night when their kids have a sniffle, this is the book for you. This handsome collection simply offers alluring black-and-white photos of about 50 mothers with their girls: There's Olivia Newton-John and Chloe, Gillian Anderson and Piper, and Téa Leoni and Madeleine "West" Duchovny, who, at almost 1, looks an awful lot like her daddy, David. And as in any good gallery of portraiture, there is a Madonna and child—in this case, one named Lourdes.

Photographer Ostin is friends with many of her subjects, including actress and writer Carrie Fisher (who penned the book's introduction and poses with mom Debbie Reynolds and daughter Billie, whose father is Hollywood agent Bryan Lourd), and everyone pitched in for a noble cause. A breast cancer survivor, Ostin is donating 100 percent of the proceeds from this work to help fight the disease. (Abrams, $29.95)

Bottom Line: A real filial-good book

by Elizabeth McGregor

A polar bear and her cub thrive in a frozen world that kills men. Starving sailors locked in by ice take off on foot to try to save themselves. A modern-day explorer searches for clues to what really happened on that lost expedition. These interconnected stories, about the real 1845 voyage of Sir John Franklin from England to the Arctic in search of a passage to the Pacific, form the body of Elizabeth McGregor's engrossing fact-based novel The Ice Child.

The sailors' death march is brutally realized. But the love affair between the contemporary explorer tracing the disaster and the journalist covering him is less skillfully drawn, eventually slipping into disease-movie-of-the-week cliché. But that's a minor complaint. The Ice Child is a full-bodied work that ably spans generations and continents. (Dutton, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Chillingly good read

by Diane Mott Davidson

Beach book of the week

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Goldy Schulz is having one heckuva day. First her living room window is shot at. Then she finds a dead body. Then her husband takes a bullet in the shoulder. As if that weren't enough, the caterer has to plan a luncheon for a new client. Time for an Advil? You bet. But Goldy refuses to wait for the police to figure out how the crimes connect. Moving into a restored castle where she has signed on to cater a banquet, Goldy whips up a few batches of fudge cookies and a baker's dozen of theories. Suddenly everyone is a suspect, from her ex-con ex to the creepy castle's eccentric owners to her husband's old flame.

In her 10th "culinary mystery," Davidson cooks up such a complex batter that the ingredients don't blend until the very end, while the suspense factor rises higher than a champagne soufflé. Warning: With Goldy sharing her recipes (her Queen of Scots Shortbread looks particularly good), you may want to pull your reading chair up next to the oven. (Bantam, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Cuisine art

by Joanna Burger

Everybody knows parrots can be taught to mimic speech. But in this brilliantly observed memoir, ornithologist Burger reveals what parrots can teach us. The tropical birds, who often live as long as people do, express rage, fear, jealousy, trust, compassion and even love for human caretakers. Yes, that kind of love. Turns out Polly wants much more than a cracker.

Burger, 60, knows that in the wild parrots mate for life, but her training didn't prepare her for Tiko, a 46-year-old male she adopted 15 years ago. When he builds "nests" under furniture during mating season, it's funny; when he tries to lure her in by nipping her toes and scurrying back to his nest, it becomes unnerving. The straight man in this bedroom farce is Burger's parrot-pecked husband, who endures dive-bombing attacks when he snuggles with his wife.

After Burger gets Lyme disease, Tiko becomes her nurse, carefully preening her hair for hours as she sleeps. Human emotions, Burger decides, should not be excluded from animal behavior. "The dog-eat-dog world is touched by gentler forces," she writes. It's an elegant idea in an unusually thoughtful book. (Villard, $23.95)

Bottom Line: A literary coo

  • Contributors:
  • Diane Simon,
  • Laura Jamison,
  • David Cobb Craig,
  • Anne Moore,
  • Jennifer Wulff,
  • Max Alexander.