By Eliza Minot
REVIEWED BY MICHELLE GREEN
CRITIC'S CHOICE
NOVEL

Minot's second novel is a sharply evocative study of family life as seen through its smallest moments: An at-home mom and kids commune with Dad as he changes after work; a younger sister feels inept when she can't comfort her senile father on a plane; a brother's unwelcome bride is beaned by a croquet ball. Though Minot goes a bit off-course with a mysterious-parentage plotline, her story of Arthur and Florence Bramble and their children Margaret, Edie and Max is a joy when she lets the simple truths shine through.

Minot's tale is driven by the decline of Arthur Bramble, who, six years after Florence's death, is being consumed by cancer. Oldest daughter Margaret brings him to spend his last days in her pretty New Jersey suburban "house full of children" that she fears will be "a phantasmagoria of inappropriate behavior: the three of them jumping on Gramps's bed when he's in pain, a shrill argument in the hallway while Gramps is asleep, Gramps really sick (like he is) and dying (like he will)."

In fact, Gramps's dying—on an any-day summer afternoon, with Margaret close by and grandkids playing quietly on the floor—is almost enviable: Who wouldn't want to go so gently? And if the plot twist about the Brambles' births is unsatisfying, passages like this linger in the memory: "Showing Gramps a rose that she's picked, Flo, 3, says, '... it's not perfect. 'Cause look, it ripped. And this part's all floppy.'

"'Perfect things are never buddhaful, as you say,' said Gramps. His old finger, the pad ... leathered, a little bit deflated like a lion's paw, touched one of the thorns gingerly, then pressed a little harder to feel the point.

"'Right, Gramps. Ripped stuff's best.'"

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GEENA DAVIS: "I just bought Born to Rule [by Julia P. Gelardi], about five granddaughters of Queen Victoria who each became a queen ... of Russia, of Spain, of Greece ... I wanted to read about what it would have been like to be a woman in power more than a century ago."

LAURA BUSH: "I mainly read fiction. The Night Journal [by Elizabeth Crook] is historical fiction about the West, and that's where I hike every year. The President just read Challenger Park [by Stephen Harrigan] and highly recommends it."

BROOKE SHIELDS: Beach reading? "If I can even get to the beach—I don't even know if I am going to have time. But I have just started Jay McInerney's The Good Life."

HILARY DUFF: "I am reading The Alchemist [by Paulo Coelho] right now. I really like it."

SUPERMAN BRANDON ROUTH: "I don't know if most people will want to read something this heavy, but I really recommend Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It will take you all summer to read but you just might learn something, be inspired and have your opinions changed."

In the photo book A Dress for Diana, designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel (now divorced) share their memories. Highlights from Elizabeth:

ROYAL DUTY CALLS I was doing a fitting and was annoyed at having to pick up the phone. It was Diana and I froze; she said, "Would you do me the honor of making my wedding dress?"

MOTHER-DAUGHTER LOOK A wary Diana and her mother sat on the floor and sifted through sketches. We held our breath and finally the smiles broke out.

D-DAY None of us could remember doing up the hook on the petticoat. David, in his frock coat, had to get underneath all her skirts to check. As he resurfaced, the door opened and Diana asked, "David, have you met the Queen Mother?"

THE PRESIDENT'S COUNSELOR: THE RISE TO POWER OF ALBERTO GONZALES by Bill Minutaglio Chief of PEOPLE's Austin, Texas, bureau and author of First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty, Minutaglio profiles the controversial Gonzales—a native of Humble, Texas, and the nation's first Hispanic Attorney General.

REGARDING THE BATHROOMS by Kate Klise This pun-stocked novel for the 9 to 12 crowd is set in Geyser Creek Middle School, where clogged privies lead to a mystery. Author Kate Klise is a PEOPLE correspondent; illustrator M. Sarah Klise is her sister.