Picks and Pans Main: Books

updated 04/18/2011 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/18/2011 AT 01:00 AM EDT

People PICK

This Life Is in Your Hands

by Melissa Coleman |

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REVIEWED BY ELLEN SHAPIRO

MEMOIR

In 1968 Coleman's parents bought 60 acres near the Maine coast and turned the clock back to the 19th century. Occupying a cabin without electricity or plumbing, they realized their dream of stripped-down self-sufficiency, shielded from the corruptions of the modern world. Coleman spent her first nine years on Greenwood Farm, and her memoir evokes the inevitable complexities of the simple life. Her father's backbreaking labor produced a miraculous organic farm-where Melissa and her sister roamed blissfully naked-but also compromised his health, and wholesome living could not prevent her mother's depressions. In the end a tragedy finished off her parents' marriage-and their utopian aspirations. But Coleman's moving recounting never loses hope of redemption. "Looking back, you can see a pattern in the threads of life," she writes, "and within that pattern lies the knowledge I'm seeking-the secret of how to live."

The Bond

by Wayne Pacelle |

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REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

NON-FICTION

When it comes to animals, "never before have we known" so much and "been so callous," writes Humane Society president Pacelle. In his call to arms, Pacelle explores the human-animal bond and the way we've thwarted it with puppy mills, inhumane treatment of livestock and caged shoots. Some reasons for hope: refuges like the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch for abused animals and new anticruelty legislation. Pacelle lists 50 ways to help, including fostering animals. Change is "a matter of choice," he writes, "and it begins with...us."

Gone With a Handsomer Man

by Michael Lee West |

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MYSTERY

Fluffy as a buttermilk biscuit, novelist West's debut mystery features Teeny Templeton, a Charleston baker whose life crumbles after she catches her fiance, Bing, and two "skanks" playing nude badminton. Teeny throws an unripe peach at Bing's "nether region" (who wouldn't?), then becomes the prime suspect when he's found murdered days later. While trying to prove her innocence, she rekindles an old flame, bakes dozens of red velvet cakes and fantasizes about offing people with poisoned desserts. Snappy dialogue adds zing, and Teeny's endearing vulnerability keeps this charming treat from sugar overload.

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