Friends Like Us

by Lauren Fox |

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REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

NOVEL

This contemporary tale would seem to have all the makings of chick-lit fluff: Willa, the insecure-but-witty narrator, is struggling through her 20s with no career direction and no luck in love. When her short, nerdy pal from high school shows up looking handsome and improbably tall, he is-of course-attracted to her beautiful best friend. The book is funny, breezing along as it nails its Gen-Y characters, but it's weightier than fluff. In fact, it's a strikingly wise exploration of the bonds people forge and break. Fox delivers on plot, but it's her insight, emotion, and eye for universal truths that make Friends Like Us memorable.

The House I Loved

by Tatiana de Rosnay |

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REVIEWED BY LISA KAY GREISSINGER

FICTION

In her quietly elegant 11th novel, the bestselling author of Sarah's Key again explores the idea of home as both sanctuary and embodiment of history. The setting is 1860s Paris, where houses are being razed under a plan to transform the city from medieval village to modern capital. Unable to save the family's ancestral residence, the elderly Rose Bazel hides in the basement writing to her late husband. Her letters, poetic and honest, reveal a world soon to be destroyed by progress. A mesmerizing look at how the homes and neighborhoods we occupy hold not only our memories but our secrets as well.

Rez Life

by David Treuer |

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REVIEWED BY ERIC LIEBETRAU

NON-FICTION

In his nonfiction debut, Ojibwe novelist Treuer shows that America's 300-plus Indian reservations are about far more than casinos. Occupying 2.3 percent of the nation's land, they provide important structure and support for their 2 million residents, embracing modernity while constantly fighting to keep cultural traditions alive. Treuer's poignant, penetrating blend of memoir and history illustrates that despite long-standing problems, including poverty and high rates of alcoholism, reservations remain strong, proud bastions of Native American life.

In her explosive new memoir, former White House intern Mimi Alford opens up about her 18-month relationship with the 35th President

HOW IT BEGAN

On her fourth day as an intern in 1962, Alford, 19, was invited to swim with JFK in the White House pool then dine with him. After an aide plied Alford with daiquiris, JFK led her to Jackie's bedroom, where she lost her virginity. "I think he did take advantage-I was so young," she says. "But I liked feeling special." He began flying her all over the country for trysts.

JFK'S YOUTHFUL CHARM

Though Kennedy was 45, "With me, he was boyish, almost shy sometimes," recalls Alford, 69, now a grandmother living in Massachusetts. The pair liked to race rubber ducks in his tub. "It was fun." Did she love him? "I think a part of me did."

HIS DARK SIDE

JFK asked her to give an aide, and later his brother Teddy, sexual favors. Reflects Alford: "It's dark to look back on." Still, she insists, he was "a kind man. Just troubled."

ON JACKIE

"I'm embarrassed to say I didn't feel guilty," Alford admits. But when she visited the Kennedy plot at Arlington in '09, "I felt like an intruder. I know now that was her husband, her marriage."

THE AFFAIR'S IMPACT

Though Alford doesn't regret it, "it was not a good first relationship." After JFK's death, she confessed to her fiance, who forbade her to speak of it. For years "it was like something in me froze," she says. "I felt empty." During her unhappy first marriage, she took to swimming laps, "crying underwater so no one would know how sad I was."

REACTIONS TO HER MEMOIR

"I did not write this book to hurt Caroline Kennedy," says Alford, who's heard nothing from the Kennedy family. "I had to tell my story." As for her two grown daughters, who have known her secret since Alford was exposed as a JFK mistress in 2003, "they are still taking it in," she says.

ONGOING HEALING

Now happily remarried, Alford says it took her "45 years to learn how to have a good relationship. I don't disappear anymore." Still, she looks back on her time with JFK with fondness. "I think if I was 19, and as I was, I would do it again-it's hard to say I wouldn't," she says. "He was magnetic."

Courteney Cox

"I'm reading this book called Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life [by Abigail Trafford]. Yes, seriously."

KATHIE LEE GIFFORD

"One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, a pig farmer's wife. It's about finding the awesome beauty in some of the most mundane things."

JASON DERULO

"The Jay-Z book Decoded. He's had a huge impact on music-he's much bigger than hip-hop. I wanted to get into the mind of Jay-Z."

MATT LAUER

"I'm in the middle of Steve Jobs [by Walter Isaacson]. Jobs was a kind of enigmatic figure. I'm really enjoying it-it's eye-opening."