MEMOIR

By Sting

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Could the man who once wrote a song called "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" actually write a first-rate memoir? Sting, a.k.a. Gordon Sumner, has done it with this engrossing look at a life colored by a fierce determination to escape the industrial gloom of his working-class upbringing in northern England.

Best known as lead singer for the Police, Sting was no child prodigy. The title comes from an incident in which his grandmother hears him banging away on a piano and asks, "Can't you play something nicer than that...that broken music?" Most of the memoir predates the band, focusing instead on Sting's childhood, his parent's sad, dysfunctional marriage (Dad was a dairy worker, Mum a hairdresser), endless gigging in rough-and-tumble clubs, stolen girlfriends and, every once in a while, a phenomenal show. He also explains how he got his nickname (via a yellow and black striped sweater), recalls his first-jam session with brash American drummer Stewart Copeland, cops to stealing chords from Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" for his own "So Lonely" and says he hated Copeland's idea to name their trio the Police.

With writing that is both witty and refreshingly self-deprecating, this book has pleasures that extend well beyond interest in the man's music alone.

BROKEN MUSIC

By Edgardo Vega Yunqué
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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In an exceptional epic shaped by the jagged rhythms of jazz, Vidamía Farrell, an Irish-Puerto Rican teenager, struggles to get her estranged father, Billy, to resume his career as a pianist, which ended when he was wounded in Vietnam. Jumping effortlessly back and forth in time, the author weaves in the stories of the Farrells' family, linking them to events ranging from the forced resettlement of the Cherokees to the first Gulf War, and to artistic figures from trumpeter Miles Davis to Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Vega Yunqué's love for jazz and America's cultural diversity resonates, though he handles a violent episode with an oddly benevolent tone, and he tends to keep preaching after the reader has been converted. Despite those off notes, you'll be humming Bill Bailey long after the music stops.

NOVEL

By the editors of In Style

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When you get dressed in the morning, do you look good? If your answer isn't a confident "yes," the editors of IN STYLE (a sister publication of PEOPLE) want to help. They tell you not to think of "chic as something reserved for the very rich or the very thin" in a fun guide to flip through with friends over a bottle of wine. Chapters are devoted to categories of clothing, with advice for each body type (and, alas, every major body flaw). Some of the tips are just common sense, but others are novel and useful, such as the ones about evaluating vintage clothing and caring for your big-ticket items. Adding to the fun are red-carpet photos of Hollywood's hottest stars

ADVICE

By Peter Straub

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Something, or someone, lurks behind the black windows and fire-charred walls of the abandoned house at 3323 Michigan Street. Whether it's a murderer, a ghost or a palpable echo of past evil, it has lured 15-year-old Mark Underhill inside with his flashlight and crowbar.

This haunted-house story doesn't follow old scripts; Straub is the master of subtle, smoldering dread. He even bends the smell of chocolate-chip cookies to his dire purpose: It heralds the eerie arrival of just one of young Mark's pursuers, a "lost girl" living in the house. This consummate horror novelist's creepy, erudite vision of the beyond will chill you like a winter wind.

HORROR

By Susan Braudy

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Kathy Boudin, a member of the '60s extremist group the Weathermen, spent more than 20 years in prison for the 1981 Brinks robbery that led to the slayings of two police officers and a security guard. While her parole in September got a lot of attention, few accounts examined the roots of her ideology. Braudy, who knew Kathy growing up, delves deeply into her family's crippling psychological games in a fascinating and largely sympathetic account.

Kathy's descent into violence, Braudy argues, was partly a play for the attention of her father, Leonard, a leftist civil-liberties lawyer who helped leak the Pentagon Papers and once defended Fidel Castro. But papa Boudin was focused elsewhere. A skirt-chaser whose many affairs led his wife to attempt suicide, he insisted to his daughter that "the central story line was his own heroism."

Still, Kathy, now 60, is a convicted murderer. Braudy's portrayal of her as a victim of her background may rankle some readers.

NONFICTION

By Sara Nelson

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Readaholics, meet your new best friend. Finishing 52 books in a year—everything from Charlotte's Web to Anna Karenina—Nelson reports back frankly. (Of The Satanic Verses, she writes: "I wasn't in sympathy with the Ayatollah; I just didn't get it.") The books echo in her own life in surprising ways: After a row with her husband, she took solace in the grim world of James Frey's memoir of drug addiction A Million Little Pieces. Her passion for the page shines throughout.

NONFICTION

In the beginning, the word went forth. And the word was...Lego? Brendan Powell Smith's book The Brick Testament, which portrays biblical scenes made from the toy blocks, has inspired ministers to request the images for children's programs. "The Bible," he says, "is full of great stories that translate into Lego."

  • Contributors:
  • Joe Heim,
  • Tom Conroy,
  • Allison Lynn,
  • Laura Italiano,
  • Pia Catton,
  • Annette Gallagher Weisman.