Not Child's Play

by Jerry Oppenheimer |

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People PICK

REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

GENRE
You can tell it's Mattel—it's swell! That was an early slogan of the toy giant, but this juicy exposé shows that life inside the 64-year-old company was hardly always fun and games. Outsize personalities helped ensure that: There was cofounder Ruth Handler, who bought a sexy little doll in Germany and remade her into Barbie (without bothering to obtain a licensing agreement). Engineer Jack Ryan claimed design credit for the new doll too, and urged girlfriends to get Barbie-curves through plastic surgery. The book covers more serious corporate dysfunctions as well—the image-tarnishing '07 recall of toys containing lead, for instance. But it's the Barbie tales that are most delectable—and just in time for the ageless one's big birthday.

Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese |

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REVIEWED BY MICHELLE GREEN

NOVEL
Conjoined twins, Shiva and Marion Stone are separated by the doctor whose caesarean fails to save their mother. Raised near the Ethiopian hospital where they were born, the brothers lock into a struggle that mirrors the country's political tension: Their family is touched by murder, a coup, betrayal. Physician and memoirist Verghese plays straight to the heart in his first novel, which will keep you in its thrall.

The Agency

by Ally O'Brien |

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REVIEWED BY CLARISSA CRUZ

NOVEL
Literary agent Tess Drake is 36, successful and the kind of sexy that makes other women "take a second glance and pinch their mouths unhappily." Cocky and aggressive, she handles her needy authors, barracuda-like office politics and scandalous love life with stilettoed aplomb. Until the day her boss is found dead—and Tess is under suspicion. The plot is entertaining enough, but the real draw is the witty heroine, who's prone to observations like, "We were as close as two attractive women can be. Always one little mistake away from...a bitter feud." Not PC, perhaps, but a delight.

The Vagrants

by Yiyun Li |

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REVIEWED BY ANNE LESLIE

NOVEL
The brutal execution of a young woman who has spoken out against her government affects each of the fascinating characters in Li's debut novel, set in 1979 China. Ten years before the Tiananmen Square Massacre, citizens are struggling under oppressive Communism, knowing defiance has a high price. Ordinary people show extraordinary strength as they work, scheme, love—and dare to speak truth to power. "If we don't," says one mother to another, "there will be a next time, another child.... We each have to do what we can." Li has done what she can, brilliantly.

>Another book timed to the doll's half-century mark: Barbie and Ruth, about Mattel's Ruth Handler. Best bit: Handler named Barbie and Ken after her kids. They weren't pleased.

>DON'T STOP BELIEVIN'

by Brian Raftery Karaoke changed his life, says author Raftery. His homage to this peculiar art form will have you singing along.

THE MAKEDOWN

by Gitty Daneshvari What to do if your boyfriend's cuter than you? Bring him down a peg, of course. This novel tells how.

SUPER IN THE CITY

by Daphne Uviller Sassy single girl takes over as superintendent in her parents' Manhattan brownstone; zany adventures ensue.

>In tough times, image matters more than ever, says publicist Howard Bragman, author of Where's My Fifteen Minutes? He suggests learning from these stars:

• JOE THE PLUMBER Rule No. 1: Public images are no longer reserved for Hollywood stars.

• RICKI LAKE She shows you can turn your image around.

• WILL SMITH He's comfortable in his skin. Know who you are—who has the time to fake it?

ANGELINA JOLIE Just get out there and do something that helps other people. It comes back to you.

>• The author of Coraline and last year's Newbery Medal-winning The Graveyard Book knows how to give kids chills—but what makes him shiver and shake?

A sampling:

OH, WHISTLE, AND I'LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD by M.R. James

"The scariest short story—somebody is haunted by a bedsheet."

THE SHINING by Stephen King

"Deeply creepy—the best haunted house story of them all."

BOOKS OF BLOOD by Clive Barker

"Actually scary while being beautiful."

HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill

"The first time I remember being scared as an adult author." About a haunted suit, the novel was so gripping Gaiman even read while "flossing my teeth."—