by Tom Arnold

Spending more than 20 minutes listening to Tom Arnold could give anyone a headache. Diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder as a kid, even he admits he can be obnoxious. Yet he's also perfectly charming in his hilarious and oddly insightful autobiography. Raised by an alcoholic mother who married seven times, Arnold had many substance abuse and relationship problems of his own. The worst of them coincided with his five-year marriage to Roseanne, who hired him as a writer for her show before the two hooked up. While his shots at his ex are priceless albeit juvenile ("She had 'Property of Tom Arnold' [tattooed] on her butt, which, of course, made me the fourth largest property owner in California"), he waxes wise when reflecting on his failures, making this a celeb tell-all with some heft. "It's easy to enjoy each other while on a vacation in Maui," writes Arnold, who married third wife Shelby Roos in 2001. "The key is to find someone you can have fun with during the six-hour flight over there." (St. Martin's, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Full plate

by Lynn Coady

You can't help but pity 15-year-old Guy Boucher. His parents are divorced, he never sees his father, and his primary male influence is his uncle Isadore, a hulking, humorless drunk. Isadore bullies Guy (pronounced Gee, with a hard G) and his family, hurls insults at them and "borrows" their TV on Christmas Eve so he can hock it to buy booze. And yet in this slice-of-life novel self-pity is far from Guy's mind, which leans more toward fantasies of Corinne Fortune, a high school cutie from nearby Big Harbour. She captures his heart with the words, "You're not from around here, are you?" Unfortunately for Guy, Corinne has a rich inner life of her own, and the fallout from her fantasy world has dangerous implications.

This is no teen romance novel. Coady has crafted a detailed, intimate and often bleak look at life in a remote and insular corner of Cape Breton, N.S. To call it uplifting would be a stretch, but as social studies go, it's hard to beat. (Houghton Mifflin, $24)

BOTTOM LINE: You go, Guy

by Nicola Barker

Barker's willfully obscure fifth novel traces a gaggle of misfits and misanthropes (the "behindlings" of the title) and a self-styled guru named Wesley who leads them on a vaguely defined treasure hunt around the British isle of Canvey. Behindlings brims with oddballs, not least among them Wesley, whose spiritual quest began with the fratricidal act of locking his own brother in a Frigidaire, and Wesley's nemesis, the "beautiful yet unspeakably wronged Katherine Turpin," a foul-mouthed nymphomaniac who may or may not have aborted "her own father's bastard." But there is no plot to speak of, and Barker's frustratingly inscrutable characters don't interact so much as collide like billiard balls. Behindlings is twice as long, and half as good, as it should have been. (Ecco, $27.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Ding-a-lings

Page-turner of the week

by John Case

Sculptor Danny Cray likes to boast that he's an artist, but when the bills come due, he's less a Michelangelo than a Mike Hammer, not averse to taking the cash that a mysterious Euro-tycoon offers him to do a little freelance detective work.

The deal turns deliciously sinister as Cray confronts five gory murders, mind-boggling technology and a Satan worshipper. From Washington, D.C., where Cray is a part-time legal gumshoe, the action bounces to Italy, Turkey, Silicon Valley and Switzerland in a race to save the world from a billionaire madman.

The tempo is equally crazed, the locales exotic, and the characters—including a modern Turkish prince fighting an ancient family war—intriguing. Occasional stretches of stilted dialogue and improbable twists seem a small price for a breakneck yarn of good vs. evil. (Ballantine, $25.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Fast-paced Case

by Ron Hansen

Two Parisian lovers in mid-tiff miss their "See America" bus and are stranded in Seldom, Neb., in a romantic comedy about "a love quadrangle" with sundry locals added for optimum confusion. This slim novel has both sophisticated and down-homey humor—the latter a tad overdone—with laugh-out-loud scenes. It's a treat as light and flaky as a croissant. (HarperCollins, $17.95)

BOTTOM LINE: French bliss

  • Contributors:
  • Jennifer Wulff,
  • Debby Waldman,
  • Alex Abramovich,
  • Cathy Burke,
  • Annette Gallagher Weisman.