By Jane Green

After Mr. Maybe and other breezy comic novels about clever British women hunting for the perfect man, Green moves on to what happens after the fairy tale. This time what makes her heroines lightheaded are dirty diapers. Three thirtysomething Londoners share their gripes about motherhood. Talk show producer Julia is trying to save a four-year relationship with a not-so-brilliant plan to get pregnant. Her fellow TV producer Maeve has the opposite problem: an unwanted pregnancy from a onetime hookup with a guy she barely knows. The only one of the trio who already has a baby, graphic designer Sam, finds that being a mom is less pastel-colored fun and more work than she'd bargained for.

Green's writing is uneven, but she draws dead-on portraits of the emotional roller coaster each woman is riding. Julia's deep baby envy and Sam's simmering resentment of her husband's freedom are deftly handled, but it's in Maeve's hand-wringing about whether to end her pregnancy that Green's charm comes through. As for their men, they "group together to find common ground...move to the horrors of having wives obsessed with babies, gradually reveal their softer sides as they compare notes and eulogize the joys of fatherhood." (Broadway, $21)

BOTTOM LINE: Sweet but mushy

By Peter Blauner
Critic's Choice

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When Barry and Lynn Schulman bought their dream house in her hometown in suburban New York, the real estate agent told them, "You'll be happy here." But that was before the World Trade Center attack sent emotional and economic shock waves up the Hudson River Valley. And it was before Lynn's best friend was murdered and decapitated, bringing Lynn's ex-boyfriend and local cop Michael Fallon back into her life. Unfortunately for her, his hormones are in nostalgic overdrive.

Forget about suburban happiness. In this riveting thriller, the Schulmans just want to keep body and soul and family intact. Blauner has a fine ability to pile crisis on crisis—did we mention that Barry's biotech company is tanking?—as he builds a palpable sense of heartbreak and menace. Here's a suspense novel that truly hits us where we used to live before 9/11: in a warm nest of domestic assumptions. (Little, Brown, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: A very Good Day

By Kate White

If Looks Could Kill, Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief White's debut as a mystery novelist, was a delicious takeoff on the backstabbing world of women's magazines—with the backstabbing made literal. Her follow-up starts promisingly with a murder at a high-end Massachusetts spa. True-crime writer Bailey Weggins, in need of some R&R after all that stressful sleuthing in Looks, discovers a dead masseuse rolled up head-to-toe in Mylar—a note sure to chill any beauty devotee who has ever come down with claustrophobia during a mud wrap. But after that inspired stroke, Body turns into a by-the-numbers mystery, with little of the insidery fun that made Looks such a delight. With its pampered customers, wacky treatments and psychobabbling practitioners, the spa world should be ripe for a tongue-in-cheek satire. But this time White's characters are about as meaty as an arugula salad. The novel perks up whenever Bailey returns to Manhattan or flirts with a romantic prospect—proof that White's slayings are best served with a side dish of sex and the city. (Warner Books, $23.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Deadly dull

By William Lashner

There may be plenty of accomplished courtroom professionals in this twisty tale of deceit and murder, but there's not a decent lawyer in sight. When Victor Carl is asked to defend his friend Guy Forrest, who is charged with shooting his lover, Victor fails to mention that he too was sleeping with the victim, conniving minx Hailey Prouix. All three of these charmers have an Esq. after their names in this juicy, behind-the-bench view of legal skulduggery at its dirtiest. Lashner, a former lawyer, tracks every compromise and shady deal that led to Hailey's death. She is more archetype—a generic manipulative sex bomb—than personality, and some of the details that emerge in the climactic trial (including incest) are too lurid to be credible. But the secondary characters are wildly colorful, including a snaky rogue investigator with a face "like a battered hardball" and a couple of stoic cops a few steps behind the scrambling Victor. The story rolls along with the force of a downhill boulder and considerably more finesse. (Morrow, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Bad people, terrific tale

A Day in the Life of the United States Armed Forces

You may just be tempted to drop and do 20 push-ups after you spend a few minutes with these stunning images of military folk. The pictures range from the gung ho (a patrol in Afghanistan is seen through night-vision goggles) to the not so (glum Coast Guard recruits await what we can only guess is their 10,000th breakfast of fried eggs, below). The 16th volume in the Day in the Life series salutes the profession of arms from Iceland to the Philippines on Oct. 22, 2002. It's all here: honor and boredom, danger and really terrible architecture. You'll meet not only the hapless recruit with three drill sergeants screaming in his face but also the staff sergeant putting on mascara in her car. As Walter Cronkite notes in a warm and witty foreword, "The common denominator is service." This is the ideal gift (hint, hint) for your aimless teen. (HarperCollins, $40)

BOTTOM LINE: Fight for a copy

By Randy Wayne White

The 10th in White's Doc Ford series of Florida mysteries finds the crime-solving marine biologist and his hippie sidekick Tomlinson matching wits with a randy cult charlatan and his band of pith-helmeted swamp thugs. There are plenty of fisticuffs and shoot-outs, but White brings a vivid imagination to his fight scenes: wrestling holds, skull-cracking saps, tasers, spearguns and even a shotgun shell hurled with the speed and precision of a major-league fastball (Tomlinson may be based in part on White's friend, eccentric former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee). It all roars along with cliffhanger chapter endings and great technogear: Think Mickey Spillane meets The Matrix. All that plus we're treated to a battle with the Everglades Swamp Ape. (Putnam, $21.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Rich and mysterious

  • Contributors:
  • Lan N. Nguyen,
  • Ron Givens,
  • Samantha Miller,
  • Arion Berger,
  • Kyle Smith,
  • Steve Dougherty.