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STIEG LARSSON

Room

by Emma Donoghue

It's a ripped-from-the-headlines scenario: Kidnapped and impregnated by her captor, the heroine of this mesmerizing novel must raise her son in a garden-shed prison. Who could possibly relate? The way the peerless Donoghue handles it, anyone who's ever loved a child.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

A poor southern farmer, Lacks died of ovarian cancer in 1951. Her tumor's unusually hardy cells, harvested for lab use, have helped lead to countless medical advances, yet her descendants remained too poor to buy health insurance. Skloot's nuanced investigation is an eye-opener.

Freedom

by Jonathan Franzen

Impressive and engrossing, Franzen's zeitgeist-capturing tale of love, family, and the search for meaning lived up to the considerable hype.

Life

by Keith Richards

The much-anticipated memoir from rock and roll's Rasputin proved well worth the wait. "Believe it or not, I remember everything," Richards declares, and so it seems, from the Rolling Stones' beginnings to his drug-fueled heyday (and beefs with Mick) to the lovely women along the way. But it's his smarts and passion for music that shine most brightly; fan or not, you'll love him by the end.

Here's a statistic for you: Last summer books from Stieg Larsson's Millennium crime trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) were selling one per second in the U.S. The appeal? Propulsive plots and a feisty, pierced heroine, for starters. The books (now available as a gift set, below) have sold 50 million copies worldwide, and a film starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara is in the works.

I Remember Nothing

by Nora Ephron

At 69, she's just two years older than Keith Richards, but to hear her tell it, Ephron's recall's far worse. Luckily some synapses are still firing: The follow-up to I Feel Bad About My Neck includes chapters on her youth and career and drily hilarious musings on the trials of aging. If we have to grow old (and as they say, consider the alternative) there's no better guide.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

by Jennifer Egan

Much was made of Egan's experiments with form in this inventive novel (there's an entire section written in PowerPoint). But it's the characters-record exec Bennie, his assistant Sasha, his childhood friends-and the poignancy of their shifting fates that make Goon Squad indelible.

A YEAR OF PUPPY LOVE

Blame it on the success of Marley & Me: Lately dog memoirs have tumbled into bookstores like pups from a crate. Along with slobbery odes to Fifi or Fido, there are tales of redemption through canine rescue, even a sub-genre on saving dogs of war. Among the picks of the litter: Julie Klam's You Had Me at Woof, about a woman besotted by Boston Terriers, and Oogy by Larry Levin, about a specimen so funny-looking (but really, how cute!) that "only a family" could love him. Every dog had his day in 2010; maybe next year cats will get lucky.

Unbroken

by Laura Hillenbrand

She was gathering information for her smash '01 bestseller Seabiscuit when she came across Louis Zamperini in the sports pages. Intrigued, Hillenbrand made the Olympic runner and WWII prisoner-of-war-camp survivor her next project. As painstakingly researched and evocative as its predecessor, Unbroken is a triumph.

E-BOOKS

GAINING GROUND...

The Nook, the iPad, the Kindle ... with so many e-readers, it's no wonder e-book sales are booming.

• For the first time ever, digital books outsold hardbacks on Amazon.

• Romance novels (like Distracting the Duchess, right) are the fastest growing segment of the e-reader market. (No more embarrassment at being seen with those racy covers!)

• You can give e-books as presents: Amazon has a new "give as gift" button; Barnes & Noble and Sony offer e-book gift cards.

Just Kids

by Patti Smith

Reading rocker Smith's account of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, it's hard not to believe in fate. How else to explain the chance encounter that threw them together, allowing both to blossom? Quirky and spellbinding.

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1

Open this book to any page, and you'll happen upon a gem. ("All over the world there seems to be a prejudice against the cab driver ...") Published on the 100th anniversary of Twain's death, as he stipulated, this memoir brings him gloriously alive.

One Day

by David Nicholls

After a one-night hookup, newly minted college grads Emma and Dexter agree to meet on the same date, July 15, every year. Will they end up together? Their deliciously witty love story keeps you reading-and looking forward to Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in next year's movie.

SUNSET PARK

BY PAUL AUSTER

A tale of redemption and love: a man who banishes himself and is destined to return from where he ran. I wish most books were written by Paul Austery.

-Gavin Rossdale

MINI SHOPAHOLIC

BY SOPHIE KINSELLA

The most entertaining book I read this year, and it helped me come to grips with my shopping habit. Thank you, Sophie Kinsella!

-Chrisette Michele

HE CRASHED ME SO I CRASHED HIM BACK

BY MARK BECHTEL

A read that lives up to the promise of its title-it's an inside peek into the land of NASCAR.

-Tom Cavanagh