by Leslie Morgan Steiner |

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People PICK

"If you and I met at one of our children's birthday parties ... you'd never guess my secret." So begins Steiner's chilling account of the years she spent in her 20s loving a man who battered her. Now happily remarried, a successful author (Mommy Wars) and mother of three, the Harvard grad indeed doesn't fit the stereotype—which is part of her point. Her story: Charmed by "Conor," a Michael Douglas lookalike she met on the New York City subway, she overlooked his jealousy, reserve about his past and fits of anger. By the time he choked her during a night of passion, she was too smitten to protest. As the violent incidents worsen, it's hard not to wonder (in spite of yourself), So why didn't she leave? Fear, savior fantasies and addictive love all came into play, until an especially brutal beating gave her the courage to call it quits. In a way, Steiner writes, "I was lucky. I learned to spot—and stay away from—abusive men." Her compulsively readable book should help others do the same.

by Sarah Dunn |

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Holly Frick is the kind of character many women readers will immediately identify with. Not because she's reeling from a humiliating divorce from a man she still loves and shooting blanks in the brutal dating world, which she is. Not because she adopts a dog with brain cancer or tries to talk her married friend out of an affair. It's because the hapless protagonist of this topical novel is such a clever observer of modern life, offering a wealth of Exacto-sharp theories that echo sentiments we may feel but would hesitate to express. Sex still surprises Holly as something that's "so darn intimate"; she suspects she's "stuck in an abusive relationship" with New York City; and she balks at Buddhism because she "can't get behind a religion that doesn't have a God." Charming and approaching Tina-Fey funny, Dunn, whose first novel was The Big Love (no connection to the HBO series), combines crackling dialogue and absurdly real-feeling scenarios to create a big-city smart, yet universally appealing, little gem.

by Zoë Heller |

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Heller's follow-up to her acclaimed What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal is a scathing social comedy about '60s leftists all grown up in post-9/11 New York. The story kicks off with the famous, and famously antiestablishment, lawyer Joel Litvinoff falling into a coma. Mayhem ensues as his foul-mouthed wife, semi-lost daughters and drug-addicted adopted son attempt to sort out their disparate, and largely disappointing, lives. Heller makes some missteps—one daughter embarks on a less-than-believable affair—yet her dialogue never loses its keen bite and the story moves along with the unstoppable force of an express train.

by Jacqueline Novogratz |

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As a starry-eyed twentysomething, Novogratz left international banking to help women in developing countries borrow small sums of money to start their own businesses. (Among her inspirations: a small-world moment when she saw an African boy wearing the very sweater she'd given away years before.) From a bakery begun by unwed Rwandan mothers to telecommunications kiosks in India, the businesses she has worked with—and the nonprofit she founded, Acumen Fund—are helping to improve lives. An inspiring book by a remarkable woman.

by David Cristofano |

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Melody Grace McCartney, the 26-year-old at the center of this intense debut, has been in the witness protection program since she happened upon a Mob-related murder as a child. Forced to bounce from town to nondescript town to stay undercover, she resigns herself to a lonely life—until she meets a man from the old crime family who knows exactly who she is. They begin a relationship, trying to stay a step ahead of the Feds and the Mob as they go. Their speedy romance feels a bit forced, but the emotions of a woman caught in Melody's unlikely scenario ring deliciously, scarily true.

'[I was] marrying Conor... who'd just choked me and bashed my head into a wall...'


THE TEN-YEAR NAP by Meg Wolitzer What's a mother to do? The perennial question gets a fresh, fun spin in this novel about stay-at-home moms with doubts.

THE BIN LADENS by Steve Coll Putting the 9/11 mastermind and his extended family on the couch, Pulitzer winner Coll delivers an eye-opening read.

THE HOUSE AT RIVERTON by Kate Morton A verdant English estate, a mysterious death—and a keen-eyed servant who never forgot. Richly satisfying.

>• The TV legend, 72, who has a new memoir out, shares her thoughts on:

HER DIABETES DIAGNOSIS AT 33 "I thought I'd have to recline on a chaise the rest of my life." Since then, "there have been challenges, but I've triumphed."

HER 25-YEAR MARRIAGE TO ROBERT LEVINE "I'm 18 years older. When we met, he wasn't sure who I was." Why it lasts? "He's a man of few words and strong arms."

HER MOST REWARDING ROLE "Beth [in Ordinary People], because I was an expert at playing kind and happy-go-lucky and it was so different."

PAL CLORIS LEACHMAN "She was wonderful on Dancing with the Stars! I don't think I'll do it, though. I get my kicks in other ways."

>In his new book, Celebrity Rehab host Dr. Drew Pinsky reveals new findings on stars and narcissism.

WHAT IS NARCISSISM? It's taken to mean self-love, but it has more to do with self-loathing. It's a response to childhood emotional injury.

ARE MOST STARS NARCISSISTIC? On the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the 200 I tested scored significantly higher than average.

DOES FAME MAKE THEM THAT WAY? No. People with narcissistic traits tend to be drawn to the limelight. Anna Nicole Smith was the poster child for narcissism. We should be empathic—and not put stars on a pedestal.

>• Smart choices to captivate young readers of all ages.

FOR CRITTER LOVERS: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle This pop-up edition, created for Carle's beloved classic's 40th anniversary, is interactive bliss for tiny fingers. And who doesn't like a 3D butterfly? (3 and up)

FOR LITTLE TRICKSTERS: Sneaky Weasel by Hannah Shaw A varmint whose wiles have earned him stuff but no friends learns to be good—"but, you know, not sickeningly good." (4-8)

FOR TWILIGHT-CRAZED TEENS: Hunted by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast The fifth book in the hot House of Night series, about fledgling "vampyres." Move over, Stephenie Meyer. (Young Adult)

FOR RELUCTANT READERS: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney Cartoon illustrations and a hapless hero make these bestsellers go down easy. (8-12)