by Laura Lippman |

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This stand-alone novel from the author of the popular Tess Monaghan mysteries succeeds brilliantly on several levels—as an inside look at book publishing, as an exploration of the fallibility of memory and as an absorbing mystery. Protagonist Cassandra Fallows is an author who bared all in two memoirs, one about her philandering father, one about her own sexual history. But after bombing with book three, a novel, she's latched onto an intriguing tidbit in hopes of turning it into more nonfiction gold: a childhood acquaintance who spent seven years in prison for refusing to disclose the whereabouts of her infant son. Did she murder him? Is she taking the rap for a boyfriend? Why was no body ever found? Writing the story, though, requires that Cassandra reconnect with a quartet of black friends she lost touch with after high school, all of whom are unimpressed by "this neurotic white woman who can't shut up about herself." Lippman is in total command of her material, weaving strands about race, family myths and self-deception into a mystery so taut the reader is nearly afraid to keep going—and simultaneously powerless to stop.

by Steve Amick |

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As World War II winds down, Wink Dutton arrives in Chicago to deliver a message to the wife of his Marine buddy Chesty Chesterton. Wink, a gifted illustrator, has lost the use of his drawing hand in the war and been discharged as a result. Chesty's wife, Sal, is struggling to keep the couple's camera shop afloat by secretly posing as a pinup girl. Chronicling the fateful intertwining of these star-crossed souls, Amick's expertly crafted novel combines an unusual love story with an intriguing, atmospheric peek into the American graphic-art world in the 1940s.

by Lisa Lutz |

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In the third installment of this popular series, Isabel Spellman is on a break from her family's private investigation agency but can't resist a case involving a jealous husband. She's also in therapy, insisting she's being blackmailed by someone who makes her wash cars and go to zoos. Amazingly, it all makes sense in the end, and Isabel and her quirky family are such good company that you won't mind even when it doesn't.

by Caitlin Macy |

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Focused on affluent thirtysomethings in pre-Madoff Manhattan, this eloquent collection illuminates subtle class distinctions and lends insight into lives fraught with self-inflicted vulnerabilities. In "The Red Coat," a woman is intimidated by her assertive cleaning lady. In "Christie," a self-righteous young wife scoffs at an ex-classmate's lavish lifestyle, then finds her real issues are with herself. The characters aren't always sympathetic, but they're candid—uttering truths we might hesitate to say. Spending time in Macy's world is like tasting your first caviar: more potent than you expect, and yet you want more.


AMERICAN WIFE by Curtis Sittenfeld Laura Bush may be out of sight (and mind) in Texas, but this smart, fictional take on her life still satisfies.

GO WITH ME by Castle Freeman Jr. Set in backwoods Vermont, Freeman's fine literary thriller offers humor, pathos and indelible characters.

THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING by Drew Gilpin Faust Last year's award-winning look at how the Civil War changed our view of death. Improbably gripping.

>• What does character look like? Eleven well-known photographers offer up their interpretations in American Character, a book featuring portraits of ordinary citizens from coast to coast.

RICHARD RENALDI trained his lens on natives and visitors to Alaska, including the summer workers from Seattle below. "I wanted to explore how life is lived along the distant margins of the American continent," he writes.

ANNA MIA DAVIDSON focused on organic farmers of the Pacific Northwest. The work of being "a true steward of the land," she writes, "is humbling to witness."