A Tale of Two Sisters

by Julia Glass

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One doesn't read so much as sink into a Julia Glass novel, lulled into an escapist reverie by her mastery of a certain upper-middle-class milieu—think Ivy League educations and European vacations—and its attendant luxury problems (finding both oneself and true love being recurrent themes). In this story about sisters spanning 25 years—and nearly as many boyfriends, cross-country moves and career changes—the reader is initially in familiar territory, propelled by cinematic fast-forwards that keep the pace sitcom-snappy. The fraught bond between Louisa (the responsible sister) and Clem (the reckless one) serves as a thread loosely connecting their life trajectories, until an abrupt severing blindsides reader and sister alike. It's a risky move by an assured writer and it pays off, elevating a novel that begins as sophisticated diversion to a haunting dissection of human fragility.

by Ron Rash

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Returning to North Carolina with his bride, Serena, lumber baron George Pemberton is met at the station by the kitchen helper he's impregnated and her father, who's carrying a knife "sharpened . . . so it would plunge as deep as possible into Pemberton's heart." From that arresting opening—only one man leaves the platform alive—the violence escalates along with the tension in this absorbing story about rapacious greed in Depression-era Appalachia. Both nature and people are expendable to the Pembertons as they race to clear-cut the forest before the government grabs their land to create a park. Though Rash paints Serena, an ice queen in jodhpurs, as nearly mythical, his loggers are human, laboring for little pay, often at the cost of life or limb. The story gathers momentum with a heart-racing denouement that pits merciless Serena against the kitchen girl who's borne Pemberton his only child. Thrilling stuff.

An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

by Elizabeth McCracken

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In the annals of grief memoirs, stillbirth stories don't figure big. How much is there to say, after all, about a baby who never drew breath? McCracken, who was days from her due date when her doctor failed to find a heartbeat, knows how much. In plain, affecting language, she tells her tale: how she and her husband, then living in France, playfully named their son-to-be "Pudding"; how his death's particular horror lay in the fact that "nothing had changed. We'd been waiting to be transformed." There's no wallowing here: She finds humor from the moment a midwife asks if they want to speak to a "nonne" (nun) and her husband hears it as "nain" (dwarf). Now mother to baby Gus, McCracken writes, "It's a happy life, and someone is missing." To her credit, readers will feel they know who.

Glass's first novel, Three Junes, won the National Book Award for fiction in 2002 and has become a book-club favorite.


EXIT MUSIC by Ian Rankin
About to retire, Inspector Rebus lands a case that proves he's still got his crime-solving chops. A fitting end to a fine series.

A MOST WANTED MAN by John le Carré
More heady intrigue and espionage from the master, this time probing the moral complexities of the war on terror.

THE BRASS VERDICT by Michael Connelly
Connelly unites sleuth Harry Bosch and The Lincoln Lawyer's Mickey Haller. Satisfying fireworks ensue.

• Capitalize on the excitement of this year's presidential race by adding some politics to your children's book pile.

MY DAD, JOHN McCAIN by Meghan McCain

An adoring portrait of a war-hero dad by the Republican blogger and would-be First Daughter. Dan Andreasen's burnished artwork telegraphs "antique" or "experienced"—you decide. (Ages 4-8)

FIRST KIDS by Noah McCullough
The author of this engaging miscellany is only 13 but has a keen eye for facts that will fascinate his peers. (Who knew the Bush twins' puppy peed in the Oval Office?) (Ages 9-12)

SEE HOW THEY RUN by Susan E. Goodman
How can a candidate get the most votes but lose the election? What's a hanging chad? These and other mysteries of the political process cheekily explained here. (Ages 9-12)

YES WE CAN by Garen Thomas
Released when Obama and Clinton were still vying for the Democratic nomination, this bio for middle schoolers can't provide all the latest, but it's a smoothly written account of the candidate's life up to almost-now. (Ages 9-12)

OUR WHITE HOUSE created by the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance Want something nonpartisan? 108 authors and illustrators offer up poems, stories and paintings of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and its residents since 1797. (Ages 9-12)

• Visit takeyourkids2vote.org for games, fun facts and links to other child-friendly political sites.
• Take your kids to the voting booth on Nov. 4.
• Read Mr. President by George Sullivan, but you'll have to wait: Only one of these covers will make it into stores.

• Struck by the weathered beauty of the locals near his Michigan summer cabin, photographer Paul Mobley set out to photograph farmers from Maine to Alaska. "You ask yourself, Where have all the good people gone?" he writes. "Well, I can tell you. Drive up to any farmhouse in this country. You'll find them. They're there."

• In a new memoir, the eternally bronzed actor, 69, looks back on the swath he's cut through Hollywood and ponders the meaning of life. He shares with PEOPLE's Maureen Harrington.

The most fun in the world. But when I was seeing her, she did make me wait one night while she wrote a thank-you note. I told her I was out of there. She was used to men catering to her.

What does a life mean? Not a hill of beans—that's from Casablanca. As you get older, it's how you do it that makes the difference. I don't get taking yourself so seriously. I always think, "Aren't I foolish?" I'm the brunt of the joke and I love it.

It's all natural, baby. I tan the original way. It seems less like cheating, somehow.

I learned to cook. I fix myself a tray with a bud vase, a napkin in a ring. I play it as an actor: If I was playing a butler, how would I serve me best?

I had a team to take care of me. They worked on me like an Indy car. They thought, he's the oldest one in captivity—one tusk, but he's there.

My epitaph should read, "Being of sound mind, he spent it all."

>What would Jesus do? When it comes to our planet, say the publishers of The Green Bible, he'd be all for making it last. How their new edition can help:

IT'S MADE WITH ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY MATERIALS Soy ink, recycled paper and a linen cover.

IT INCLUDES ESSAYS LINKING CHRISTIANITY AND ENVIRONMENTALISM by Desmond Tutu, Pope John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi and others.

EARTH-FRIENDLY PARTS ARE IN GREEN INK "Some evangelicals [think] the Bible says God gave the earth to humans to dominate," says HarperOne publisher Mark Tauber. His version highlights passages that emphasize "caretaking" instead.