Picks and Pans Main: Books

updated 01/17/2011 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/17/2011 AT 01:00 AM EST

Clara and Mr. Tiffany

by Susan Vreeland |

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As she did for a Vermeer painting in Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland traces the secret history of an objet d'art-this time, the iconic Tiffany lamp. Her heroine is Clara Driscoll, head of the all-female glass-cutting department at Tiffany Studios, who designed many of the fanciful, nature-inspired leaded-glass lamps for which Louis Comfort Tiffany earned fame. The real extent of Driscoll's contribution became known only recently, when letters she wrote during her 17-year tenure were made public. Through Driscoll's life, Vreeland offers a fascinating look at turn-of-the-century New York City. The free-thinking Driscoll took it all in; chafing at societal restrictions (Tiffany Studios did not employ married women) while reveling in new freedoms, she rode her bicycle across Manhattan to sketch the dragonflies, wisteria and daffodils that she then reproduced in shimmering pieces of cut glass that are now on display in museums worldwide.

Dirty Secret

by Jessie Sholl |

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The tale of Sholl's battle to fix her mother, a compulsive hoarder, will leave you fascinated-and possibly queasy. After offering descriptions of the towering mess of rotted food and useless thriftstore purchases, Sholl explores the psychological reasons why being merely a disorganized pack rat can erupt into full-blown hoarding. By the end you're sympathetic to both mother and daughter and understand how a parent's obsession can become a child's.

The Lake of Dreams

by Kim Edwards |

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Like Edwards' 2005 debut The Memory Keeper's Daughter, this book concerns a long-buried secret that threatens to undo the present. A daughter returns from Japan to find a cache of artifacts that leads her to a suffragette ancestor and to solve the tragic mystery of the woman's baby girl. While it lacks Memory Keeper's emotional punch, it's a satisfying mix of compassion and intrigue.

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