by Roxana Robinson |

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As a child, Jack Lambert was a funny, bad-boy charmer, the kind of kid who, asked why he misbehaves so often, grins and answers, "Well, I never do the same thing twice, Dad, so I guess sometime I'll run out of bad things to do."

If you have one like that at home—even if you don't—prepare to be deeply unsettled by Robinson's gripping fourth novel. Adored by his brother and their well-meaning artistic parents, Jack continues trying every bad thing until the worst one sticks: He becomes a heroin addict. Was it his parents' adultery and divorce that doomed him? An accident of genetics? As Julia and Wendell Lambert struggle to help their son, they find their ideas about themselves and the lives they've built crumbling. Robinson paints a chilling portrait of addiction, depicting heroin junkies in particular as ruthless in pursuit of their highs and rehab as hardly more than a crapshoot. There's little solace here, except in the accumulation of wisdom and softening of old resentments as the book's appealing, astutely drawn characters come together. We can't always save each other, but there's a kind of redemption in the fight.

by Lisa Unger |

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A woman with a secret past is hardly groundbreaking thriller material, but Unger's latest keeps the adrenaline pumping with a roller-coaster plot and harrowing psychological suspense. A wealthy suburban wife and doting mother in Florida, Annie Powers has never entirely recovered from the trauma she endured as a teen: enthralled and terrorized by a seductive serial killer named Marlowe Geary, she crisscrossed the country with him on a murderous crime spree. Told not long after she was finally freed from his clutches that Geary had died fleeing capture, she reinvents herself but is plagued by hallucinations and blackouts. Years later, when her daughter sees a strange man loitering near their house, Annie fears her tormentor is back. Will she have the strength to face down her demons as she dredges up old memories, hoping to come to terms with her fractured past? The convoluted resolution seems forced, but Annie's vividly rendered inner turmoil makes Black Out well worth the ride.

by Poppy Adams |

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When Vivien moves back to her family's crumbling English estate, her sister Virginia hasn't seen her in nearly 50 years. No matter: The poisonous sibling dynamics kick in instantly. Over a weekend, dark history spills out: Vivi's near-fatal fall from the mansion's bell tower; Ginny's relationship with Vivi's ex; alcoholism, dementia, possibly murder. Adams's first novel derives its tension from Ginny's unbalanced worldview. Is she a famous lepidopterist or a recluse? Is she shy or deeply disturbed? The unanswered questions ensure that readers will be haunted by this chilling psychological drama.

by Charles Leerhsen |

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SPORTS ILLUSTRATED editor Leerhsen examines the early-20th-century celebrity of Dan Patch, a standardbred horse who set the world speed record for the mile. From his almost mythical origins—born in Oxford, Ind., weak and nearly euthanized—to the peak of his fame (when he endorsed everything from cereal to razor blades), the horse touched everyone around him. "He had the potential to be talked about, lied about and criticized far beyond the town limits," Leerhsen writes. "Everyone in Oxford understood that, and it made their hearts pump." Patch mania faded as the car became America's obsession, but Leerhsen's biography is a potent reminder of a time when natural horsepower could still thrill thousands.


Read with effective restraint by actor Scott Brick, this tale of warring exes, medical ethics and Big Pharma is a smart page-turner.

THEN WE CAME TO THE END by Joshua Ferris
A novel about an office when you're on vacation from the office? Trust us—it's that good.

A young lawyer struggles with work, a breakup and her mom's death. Chick lit with heft, expertly read.

Gabrielle Union felt ugly; Michelle Obama thought college was beyond her. In the follow-up to '06's bestselling Letters to a Young Brother, actor Hill Harper (CSI: NY) asks dozens of well-known pals to share advice and coming-of-age struggles. "I realized so many girls now have the same insecurities," he says. "This book is like a hug on paper.

MICHELLE OBAMA "I used to get up very early before school to get a handle on my studying.... Neither of my parents went to college, and I never knew colleges or Ivy League universities were an option for me until my big brother Craig [went to] Princeton.... I thought, well, shoot! I'm smarter than him! So I applied and got in. And because of how hard I worked and the grades I made, I was ready for anything."

GABRIELLE UNION "I started developing crushes on guys, but they'd wind up liking my friends over me. So I started to question why: 'Maybe it's my hair, maybe it's the size of my nose, maybe it's my skin color?'... I would put pillowcases on my head, or T-shirts, and prance around in front of the mirror imagining that it was my hair and that I was finally beautiful.... I look back now and realize how much time I wasted.... We are never inadequate."

• Given a goat named Mugisa (meaning "luck") by the nonprofit Heifer International in '92, Beatrice Bira's Ugandan family sold the milk, paid for 9-year-old Beatrice's school with the profits and inspired a bestselling children's book, Beatrice's Goat, in 2000. Since then:

• A portion of the book's proceeds goes to Heifer, which provides livestock to impoverished rural areas. Over 500 families in Beatrice's village now own goats; all of its children attend school.

• Beatrice won scholarships to prep school in Massachusetts and to Connecticut College; she graduated this spring.

• Set to get a master's in international development, Beatrice, 23, says she'll "take my experience back to help my people."