Stranger Here

by Jen Larsen |

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REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

MEMOIR

Does thin really equal happy? Jen Larsen had a job, a guy and loving friends, but her Holy Grail was being skinny. So when she tipped the scales at 308 lbs. in 2006, she opted for bariatric weight-loss surgery, which cost $56,000 and proved to be no panacea. Eating too much afterward made her violently ill, and her life (specifically her commitment-phobic boyfriend) didn't change as she'd dreamed it would. Eventually slimming down to 168 lbs., she found it easier to breathe and walk, but "the Land of Eternal Slimness where problems did not exist," she learned, is a myth: It's personality, not body type, that opens doors to fulfillment. Honest, brave and sparklingly funny, Larsen's memoir reminds us that one size doesn't-and shouldn't-fit all.

The Storyteller

by Jodi Picoult |

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REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

NOVEL

In her latest novel, Picoult takes on the Holocaust. Sage Singer, a young baker living in New Hampshire, is befriended by an old man who says he was an SS officer at Auschwitz. Wrestling with feelings of anger, revenge and forgiveness when he asks her to help him die, she begins researching his past with help from a Department of Justice lawyer and her own grandmother, a death-camp survivor. The present-day narrative, with its requisite romance, comes off as glib, but Picoult brings the horrors of the Jewish genocide alive in excruciating and affecting detail.

We Live in Water

by Jess Walter |

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REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

STORIES

This gritty, pitch-perfect collection from Walter (Beautiful Ruins) is not for the faint of heart. The first chapter, "Anything Helps," takes us inside the mind of an alcoholic panhandler determined to reconcile with his estranged son, using a Harry Potter book as bait. In "Wheelbarrow Kings" a couple of meth addicts plan a theft while devouring day-old pastries. "Them two business dudes are sitting there eating scones. And Mitch and me are eating scones. Only we didn't pay for ours. Who's the f---ing smart guys now." Using humor and insight, Walter wrings enlightenment from dark realities.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO KIM HUBBARD: bookseditor@peoplemag.com

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF US

by Aria Beth Sloss

Spanning three decades, this engaging novel explores the loves, losses and shifting friendship of two privileged Southern California girls.

AS SWEET AS HONEY

by Indira Ganesan

A young woman living on a lush island in the Indian Ocean is torn between modern ways and her elders' beliefs. Beautifully crafted.

WISE MEN

by Stuart Nadler

When Hilly Wise falls for the niece of the man who cares for his family's estate, trouble follows. A historical novel with the gusto of Gatsby.

Author Hilary Mantel posed the question in her controversial London Review of Books article about the princess's circumscribed role and perfect image (the term "plastic smile" was used). Kate's not sharing, but a clerk at a Kensington bookstore she visited in 2011 gave PEOPLE a glimpse of her tastes: "She came in looking for Philippa Gregory books, but in the end she got these two: When God Was a Rabbit, by Sarah Winman, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows." Maybe Mantel's Wolf Hall was next on her list.

In The Care and Keeping of You 2, a follow-up to the wildly popular tween health book, pediatrician Cara Natterson targets a slightly older, moodier crowd.

WHAT MAKES THESE BOOKS SUCH A HIT?

Hygiene and body changes can be an embarrassing subject, but these books are written in a way that's comfortable. And for parents, the scope is limited. No sex or drugs, just body talk. My daughter Talia, 9½, was a huge inspiration for me.

WHAT'S NEW FOR OLDER GIRLS?

Moodiness. Every girl going through puberty rides an emotional roller coaster. It's a topic that's hard to broach.

ANY TIPS FOR STUMPED PARENTS?

Try to discuss embarrassing things in the car or on a hike. Face-to-face doesn't go over very well.

-JANINE RAYFORD

WHERE THE PEACOCKS SING

by Alison Singh Gee

In her new memoir, former PEOPLE reporter Gee describes the changes that awaited her when she fell for an Indian journalist who turned out to be a prince-with a broken-down 100-room palace.