by Alec Baldwin

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"Many readers," writes Baldwin, "will ... dismiss this book as nothing more than the grumblings of an angry and bitter man." Well, yes. The 30 Rock star, who made headlines last spring after the vituperative voice mail he left his 11-year-old daughter hit the Web (a refresher: He called her "a rude, thoughtless little pig") does have preconceptions to overcome.

But here's the surprise: His book, though something of a mess, isn't just a rant. An account of the seven years he spent battling over custody issues with ex-wife Kim Basinger, Promise raises valid questions about the fairness of modern divorce court toward dads in particular. Baldwin claims it was "parental alienation syndrome"—Basinger's supposed undermining of him to daughter Ireland—that led him to the breaking point in '07. While that would in no way excuse the infamous voice mail (after which he says he contemplated suicide), he paints a convincing picture of his frustrations over canceled visits and unanswered phone calls.

Nonveterans of the divorce wars will tire of the book's procedural blow-by-blow, but Baldwin, for all his apparent hotheadedness, comes across as a guy who delights in his daughter, now 12. "As she grew," he writes, "we began sharing moments she could not have shared just a couple of months before ... laughing at a beat of [TV] humor more sophisticated than what the Powerpuff Girls had offered...." She changed so fast, and he missed too much of it.

by Kate Atkinson

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Readers who devoured Atkinson's two previous literary thrillers about policeman-turned-PI Jackson Brodie may feel that they're on familiar turf with her latest. Like her smartly executed Case Histories, published in '04, this new Brodie mystery opens with a heat wave followed by a shocking crime.

This time, though, Atkinson tosses so many elements into the mix that her protagonist—a wisecracking teen with a tattered life—fades into the background. Arson, kidnapping, blackmail, murder by ink pen—there's enough mayhem for an entire season of CSI, but a banged-up Brodie spends much of his time out of commission after a fateful train wreck.

If anyone saves the day, it's Louise Monroe, the tough, sexy (newlywed) detective who can't stop loving him. Monroe, in fact, is charismatic enough to play a much bigger role the next time around—perhaps one that involves cutting straight to the romantic chase.

by Nicholas Drayson

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For three years, kind, round, middle-aged Mr. Malik has been an eager participant in the East African Ornithological Society's field trips. A keen birdwatcher, he enjoys the avian wildlife near his native Nairobi. But the group's guide Rose Mbikwa holds even greater appeal, and Mr. Malik, a factory owner, would like nothing more than to invite the widow to his club's annual dinner dance. Just as he plucks up the courage to invite her, though, an old friend arrives on the scene to compete for her hand.

This charming novel gently pokes fun at Kenyan politics as it highlights health and social issues facing much of Africa. If you are a fan of Alexander McCall Smith's, you'll find Drayson's knowing, sprightly writing just as entertaining, even if you're not much of a birdwatcher.

by Stieg Larsson

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The biggest Swedish phenom since ABBA, Larsson's debut was a huge bestseller in Europe. The girl of the title is a teen gone missing near Stockholm, but the novel is less a conventional mystery than a portrait of the man hired to find her: Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist forced to take a sabbatical after being unfairly sued for libel. Against enormous odds, he must piece together his shattered life while sifting through a cast of distrustful locals, eccentric relatives and beautiful but emotionally unavailable computer hackers to solve the crime. Too predictable to make you lose sleep, Tattoo is nonetheless diverting enough to make it worth your while.

• For Mother Warriors, the follow-up to her bestselling Louder Than Words, Jenny McCarthy talked to other moms fighting to find the best treatments for their autistic children. Also chiming in: boyfriend Jim Carrey, who contributed a chapter. "We're buds," he writes of McCarthy's son Evan, now 6. "I soon realized I was going to learn as much from Evan as he was from me."

• In her new book The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small, Children's Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman challenges parents, educators, leaders—all of us—to pitch in and shape up our world for the youngest generation.

I'm a new grandmother [to Ellika, 7, Zoe, 5, Elijah, 3, and Levi, 3]. I'm obsessed with leaving them a better world.

War, education, health care. While I'm proud of what's happening with race and gender in our presidential race, we have a huge population of children left behind. Eighty percent of minority fourth graders aren't reading at grade level. A child is killed by guns every three hours.

It's about waking up, getting off your duff, seeing our problems clearly and solving them. It's [the CDF's] 35th anniversary year—I would've hoped we'd be out of business by now. People say, 'You do such wonderful work,' and I think, 'Help!' We've all got to.