by Sheila Weller newman |

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For many women, especially those of us over 40, Carly Simon, Carole King and Joni Mitchell provided the soundtrack to the most memorable moments of our lives. Who didn't listen to Mitchell's "Blue" after getting dumped? Who could hear "You're So Vain" and not think, "Where did she meet my boyfriend?" And "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"? That marked the first time we felt our sexuality was A-OK. Even as it spoke to our rawest emotions, this music, as Weller's book suggests, midwifed feminism.

Weller manages to be both scholarly and dishy in this almost 600-page tome. A superb journalist, she has uncovered a trove of unreported facts about her subjects. We learn, for example, about the child that King's first husband and collaborator Gerry Goffin had with a member of the Cookies during his marriage to King; the details of Simon's struggle with then-husband James Taylor's heroin addiction, and what finally ended their marriage; and the true identity of Joni Mitchell's "Cary"—who, by the way, is still a red, red rogue. The only irksome note in this otherwise captivating biography is the title. Girls Like Us? We wish.

by Elizabeth Strout |

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Thinking back on her first meeting with a man she loved but never left her marriage for, Olive Kitteridge—the curmudgeonly matron at the center of these interconnected stories— remembers "the sensation that she had been seen," Strout writes. "And she had not even known she'd felt invisible." Most of the Crosby, Maine, residents who populate this resonant collection might say the same: Olive's pharmacist-husband, Henry, who falls for his shy assistant; their neighbor Harmon, whose affair with a local widow turns from "a shared interest, like bird-watching" into full-blown love. Yet infidelity is only tangentially Strout's subject: Her themes are how incompletely we know one another, how "desperately hard every person in the world [is] working to get what they need," and the redemptive power in little things—a shared memory, a shock of tulips. Her lovely book is one of those.

by Jennifer Weiner |

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The continuation of Weiner's 2001 bestseller Good in Bed, Girls catches up with plus-size Cannie Shapiro 13 years after Bed left off (with Cannie raising baby Joy with new husband Peter after her debut novel hits big). The now-teenage Joy is beautiful, headstrong and resentful of her unpolished, still-zaftig mom—especially after she happens upon the racy semiautobiographical novel that made Mom's name. Burned by her brief brush with fame, Cannie has spent the years hiding out, ghostwriting sci-fi novels and devoting herself to her family. The two narrate alternating chapters, Joy trying to determine how much of her mother's book was fiction, while Cannie and Peter contemplate having another child via surrogate. Weiner displays her signature wry voice and sap-free knack for capturing heartfelt moments; an unexpected plot twist gives her story emotional heft. Fans should find Girls a worthy successor.


No beach fluff for Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz. Vacationing in Jamaica recently, they both finished Sylvia Plath's 1963 classic about suicidal depression.

PETE: The Bell Jar—it's the second time I've read it.

ASHLEE: I stole it from him, and I couldn't put it down.

PETE: She's a superfast reader, which is, like, really sexy, but it's so annoying if we're reading the same thing. She blazes through it. It's hard to keep up.

ASHLEE: We aren't in a book club, but we had [our own] in Jamaica. We just read and read.

How would Martin Luther King Jr.—who died 40 years ago this month—view our world? His lawyer Clarence B. Jones, author of What Would Martin Say?, has some ideas.

WHAT WOULD HE THINK OF THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE? He'd be exhilarated that an African American and a woman have the possibility of being elected, and that [Senator] Obama had the courage to start a dialogue about the 800-pound gorilla of race relations.

ABOUT THE IRAQ WAR? He'd be against the preemptive war, but would understand why Bush did it.

ABOUT AFFIRMATIVE ACTION? I think he'd say we don't need it.

WHAT WAS HE LIKE? Very humorous. Fearless, but aware of his mortality. There was an unspoken assumption that he wouldn't live a long time. The anniversary of his death is very hard.