By Ian McEwan

The setting is England in the summer of 1935, and 13-year-old Briony Tallis is writing a play about a girl whose reckless love for a wicked count is punished with a case of cholera.

When Briony catches her older sister Cecilia and the caretaker's son Robbie in a carnal moment, her imagination goes berserk. Later that night, when her cousin is apparently raped, Briony's tenuous grasp of reality leads to a crime that destroys Cecilia and Robbie and plunges Briony into a lifelong quest for penance.

This stunning novel trolls the recesses of human suffering and forgiveness, following Briony until she is 77. McEwan doesn't draw his characters; he etches them, indelibly. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $26)

Bottom Line: Death and drama

By Latifa

After the Taliban took over Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1996, 16-year-old Latifa left her middle-class family's apartment just twice in five months. She saw women beaten for wearing white shoes. Her brother's wedding was raided because there was music.

In this slim memoir, Latifa (a pseudonym), now 22 and living in Paris, recounts daily indignities while daydreaming about Leonardo DiCaprio, whom she sees in a pirated Titanic video. Such "ordinary girl" behavior, she writes, was "a way of denying the imprisonment." (Talk Miramax, $21.95)

Bottom Line: Enqrossina peek behind the veil

By Michael Connelly
Book of the week


A 20-year-old cold case gets cynical LAPD Det. Harry Bosch fired up in the latest mystery from the author of last year's bestselling A Darkness More than Night. It's a moody morality tale. bout the search for the killer of a 12-year-old boy whose bones are unearthed in the Hollywood Hills. Investigating the death of a child, Bosch reflects, "Hollowed you out and scarred you.... Child cases left you knowing the world was full of lost light."

As Bosch begins his tangled pursuit, blame seeps in several directions: It's likely that both the dead boy's father and sister beat him. The LAPD, which is embarrassed by a PR bungle, wants Bosch to wrap up by pinning the murder on a man who is conveniently dead.

Connelly, a former L.A. Times reporter, adroitly keeps the suspects coming and going, but Bosch's affair with a beautiful, troubled rookie is gratuitous glitter for this noir narrative. Otherwise Connelly gets it all just right—pace, setting, dialogue—as his melancholy hero deftly weaves a thin thread of hope through a spartan saga of good and evil, light and darkness. (Little, Brown, $25.95)

Bottom Line: Hard tale, well told

By Fran Drescher

One doctor told her to eat less spinach. One prescribed a bedtime dose of gin and tonic, and another merely complimented her on having "the [breasts] of an 18-year-old." Two years later, in 2000, after futile visits to eight doctors, Fran Drescher learned she had uterine cancer and needed a radical hysterectomy. "Was I going to die?" she wondered. "I've got Lancôme I haven't even opened yet." The actress's excruciating journey from the 1998 onset of her symptoms—such as cramps after intercourse—through her full recovery reveals a raw, vulnerable side to the Nanny. Although at times too descriptive (a first attempt at post-op sex reads like a letter to Penthouse), Drescher writes with unforced humor and plenty of gusto. She informs, comforts and movingly entertains. (Warner, $22.95)

Bottom Line: A funny lady provides laughs—and inspiration

  • Contributors:
  • Michelle Vellucci,
  • Julie K.L. Dam,
  • Cathy Burke,
  • Jennifer Wulff.