updated 08/27/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/27/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A Young Mother's Incredible Journey
by Amy Bloom |

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In the summer of 1924, immigrant Lillian Leyb leaves Ellis Island and lands a job as a seamstress at a Yiddish theater on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The prosperous owner and his matinee-idol son both begin courting the pretty young Russian—the former because he cares for her and wants to help improve her lot, the latter to cover up his homosexuality. The arrangement, and the apartment she gets out of it, suits Lillian—until she learns that her 4-year-old daughter may have survived the pogrom that claimed the rest of her family. Giving up her comfortable new surroundings to track down the child, now said to be in Siberia, Lillian experiences extraordinary challenges: a cross-country trip by train as a stowaway, crammed into a broom closet; a beating and robbery; flight from manslaughter charges; a stint in a facility for wayward women. But her determination, not to mention a flair for self-preservation, drives her onward, into the wilds of Alaska. With her sly sense of humor and flair for precise, elegant language, acclaimed author Bloom (Come to Me; Normal) fashions a spellbinding story of courage and unwavering optimism in the face of daunting odds.

Shattered Dreams
by Irene Spencer |

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HBO's glossy polygamy series Big Love pales beside the drama of Spencer's shocking 28 years as a polygamist's wife. Now 70, Spencer was born into a secret, illegal community of Mormon fundamentalists whose members are told that in order to gain salvation, men must wed as many wives as possible, each of whom are to bear multiple children. Married at 16 to a man who spurned her bed and saddled her with grinding poverty, Spencer writes grippingly of the jealousies inherent in sharing one husband with nine other wives. An unquestioning love of religion trumps what her heart really wants, until she finally frees herself after tragedy—having born 13 of her husband's 58 children. In this brave and honest book, Spencer lays bare the secrets of her heart and of a devastating religious practice.

The Great Man
by Kate Christensen |

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Oscar Feldman, a famous (fictional) painter whose only subject was the female nude, has been dead five years when biographers start circling the women who'd been in his orbit. There's his widow, Abigail, an heiress whose fortune allowed Feldman to paint; his mistress, Teddy, who bore him twin daughters he didn't support; and his embittered sister Maxine, a painter of less renown. The biographers reopen wounds and reawaken desires—one of the liveliest scenes involves septuagenarians getting it on with the Rolling Stones playing (on a turntable, of course) in the background. As the women's recollections emerge, unlikely alliances form, a headline-worthy secret spills, and the pedestal on which the great man stood crumbles enough to allow each to step out of the long shadow he cast in their lives. Not much happens in the course of 300 pages, but what Christensen (The Epicure's Lament) lacks in plot she makes up for with her exquisitely drawn characters and the sharp, funny barbs she launches at the art world and modern life.

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