Books Too Good To Put Down: Miscellaneous Fiction

Book Bytes

by Marylaine Block

note: if you want to get your hands on any of these books, and they're out of print, click here

General Appeal----"Women's Novels"

General Appeal

David Ambrose. Mother of God. Tessa is working on an AI program that passes every Turing test. But while she is at a conference, a serial killer who uses the net to find victims and conceal his traces hacks into the program and releases it onto the net, where its knowledge and power increase exponentially. Sensing that Tessa wants to capture it and shackle it, the program uses its enormous databank of computerized knowledge to try to kill her. She uses another copy of the program to stalk both the released program and the serial killer, who also wants to kill her.

Patrick Anderson. Busy Bodies. Washington DC gosspi columnist Tom Tullis becomes aware of a number of unfortunate secrets about a presidential candidate he admires and supports and is torn between political loyalty and the fact that his job is telling secrets. He is also reporting about a prominent TV anchorman who has dumped his wife for a sweet young thing, and about the corrupting influence of a Japanese lobbyist. He turns out to know way too much for his own good. Quite amusing.

Kevin Baker. Paradise Alley. The story of the draft riots of 1863, told through the eyes of Ruth Dove (an Irish woman married to Billy, a black man who works at the colored orphanage), her proper sister-in-law, Deirdre, who has insisted that her husband Tom enlist in the army, the journalist Herbert Willis Robinson, Maddy, his mistress, and dangerous Johnny Dolan, who rescued Ruth from the starvation in Ireland and subsequently abused her until Ruth's friends shanghaied him and shipped him off to San Francisco. The grievances of the Irish, the travails of the freed blacks living in fear of slavecatchers and lynchings, and the ruthlessness of the mobs, both male and female are thoroughly depicted.

Dave Barry. Tricky Business. A Miami based gambling ship owner is not content with the money he makes from that; he has to smuggle drugs as well, which means that he sends the boat out in a hurricane because an exchange of drugs for money is planned for that night. But the lower-echelon smugglers have decided to help themselves to the proceeds, and once they start killing people, they just keep right on. Meanwhile, entangled in all this are two escapees from a retirement home, a cocktail waitress who's really a Coast Guard cop after the smugglers, the owner, dressed as a conch shell, a not terribly good band called Johnny and the Contusions, and the tall beautiful farting dealer who's pursuing one of the band members.

Christopher Buckley. Thank You for Smoking. A very funny political novel, about the lobbyists for death--the tobacco, gun and liquor folks. Nick Naylor becomes a hero to the cigarette companies after he demolishes an anti-smoking activist on TV. But he also becomes a target for the anti-smoking people, who kidnap him and plaster his body with nicotine patches. The FBI doesn't believe him, though, and he's made to look both foolish and evil. So, aided by his fellow lobbyists, he carries out a wonderfully funny scheme to restore his reputation and job security. A wickedly funny novel. Also see his novel Little Green Men. A John McLaughlin look-alike, pompous, impressed with his own importance, a man who snubs presidents, is used by a little known agency of the government which 50 years ago planted stories of UFOs and alien autopsies and Air Force coverups in order to keep the budgets rolling for defense and eventually NASA. They stage an alien abduction of this man, John Oliver Banion, after which he at first denies it happened; when they stage a second one, however, he is a convert, and starts using his public stage to talk about aliens and demand government funding for research. At first he is laughed at, falls off the A-list for Washington parties. Eventually, though, he starts gathering followers and the president uses a NASA rocket launch to garner some campaign publicity; when the rocket explodes when he pushes the ignition button, a whole lot of hell breaks loose. Mostly, though, this is a great excuse to comment snidely on a whole host of prominent Washingtonians, and a lot of the fun of reading it is figuring out who is being skewered. Also, No Way To Treat a First Lady. The president is a philandering jerk and his wife, Beth MacMann, popularly known as Lady BethMac, is known for throwing things at him when she catches him in flagrante. When he's found dead in his bed with the mark of an heirloom silver spittoon engraved on his head, she is arrested for assassination. The famous defense lawyer popularly known as "Shameless" Boyce, who she jilted years before, takes her case, which goes dreadfully awry when she insists on testifying. His desperate shenanigans get him expelled from the court, arrested, and threatened with disbarment, but he keeps on investigating and discovers what really killed the president. And in Florence of Arabia, Buckley shows the disastrous consequences of idealism. State Dept. employee Florence Farfaletti proposes to create mid-east stability by starting a TV station aimed at female liberation. The State Department hates the idea, but an unidentified agency takes her up on the idea, providing ample capital for setting up the station in Wasabia's neighboring country, Matar, and placing the sheik's wife in charge. The programming, which makes fun of the mullahs, is an instant hit, but has unintended consequences.

Joe DeMers. The Return. Jesus has apparently reappeared on earth, performing a few highly visible miracles (fully covered by the media), and assembling disciples to spread his word. He appears to have a serious dislike of the Catholic Church, which asks Brian Sheridan to conduct an investigation. Could this in fact be an extraordinarily ingenious and elaborate fraud? Indeed it could, and people who could testify to that start turning up missing or dead.

Anne O. Faulk. Holding Out. About a woman who finds herself leading a "Lysistrata strike" because Congress has refused to impeach a wife-beating judge whose wife has committed suicide because she can't stand being a punching bag anymore. The writing is great, the dialogue witty, and the characters, male and female, well and sympathetically drawn. The heroine is depriving herself because she has the hots for a really neat guy, who warns her what's going to be done to her, but she doesn't quite believe him until all the conservative nuts start setting her up, one of the important witnesses in the reopened impeachment hearings is beaten within an inch of her life, and the other one disappears (presumably murdered). He also warns her that a whole lot of men feel just as disempowered as women do, and that they won't like being made victims, punished for somebody else's crimes, which is borne out.

Paul Fleischman. Whirligig. When a teenage boy, trying desperately to fit in, has been humiliated at a party, he lets his car drift across the road, thinking to kill himself. Instead he kills a vital, loving, joyous young girl. When he meets with the girl's mother, she asks him to go to the four corners of the country and in each of those states, make and plant a whirligig, to bring unexpected joy into people's lives, as her daughter would have continued to do. She gives him an infinite Greyhound pass, and asks him to send pictures of the whirligig. That's a lovely idea in and of itself, and the young man learns a good deal about himself in the process. But each of those whirligigs ends up touching someone else's life, so this is really the story about the young girl, the boy, and four people he would never meet whose lives were changed forever. It's a wonderful little book.

Jeff Greenfield. The People's Choice. The president-elect dies 2 days after he is elected. It is assumed that the electors will of course vote to have the vice-president-elect assume the office, but he is a dolt, and Dorothy, stalwart Republican party worker though she is, cannot bring herself as an elector to vote for him. She begins a campaign among the other electors to come up with a better solution, to the astonishment and chagrin of the party elders. Very amusing.

Pete Hamill. Forever. Cormac O'Connor, whose mother and father have both been killed by a careless earl, follows him to New York in 1740 to kill him. Along the way, he befriends slaves in the hold, unaware that one of them has magical powers. He helps Cormac find and kill the earl, and when Cormac dies, brings him back to life, giving him immortality until such time as he meets a woman with spirals on her body, as long as he does not leave New York. So Cormac lives through many redesigns of the city, through the building of Central Park, the reign of William Tweed (a friend), the draft riots, and, eventually, the fall of the twin towers. It's a strange kind of life, watching everyone you care about die, having to constantly change your identity because people will notice that you remain young while everybody around you ages. So he becomes, mostly, an observer, though still bound by his oath to kill the male descendants of the earl - a resolve ultimately tested when he find he likes and admires the most recent one. When he finds the woman who will grant him release from immortality, and falls in love with her, the choice of whether to die is more difficult than he had ever expected. This is in many ways a love poem to New York City by one of its great native writers.

Kristin Hannah. Magic Hour. Child psychiatrist Julia Cates was known for her uncanny ability to connect with the most damaged children, until the media tore her to pieces when one of her patients killed four of her classmates. Her sister summons her to Rain Valley, where a starving, injured feral child, terrified of humans, has emerged from the Olympic National Forest. Julia spends days on end with the child, overcoming her fear and eventually her language barriers, and even succeeds in bringing her out into the larger environment of her family and close friends while remaining the child's bedrock. But when Julia tries to adopt her, the child's father appears and demands custody. The argument between the needs of the child and the needs of the adults reminds me a lot of Barbara Kingsolver's Pigs in Heaven.

L.F. Hoffman. The Bachelor's Cat. How an artist with an unpromising career and an irritating girlfriend takes in a stray cat who helps him find love.

John Katzenbach. Day of Reckoning. Megan and Duncan thought they had successfully escaped their past, in which they were part of a revolutionary group's bank robbery plan gone dreadfully wrong, leaving two of them dead. Bank guards also died, so though Megan and Duncan fled the scene, the ones that were captured, including the charismatic leader, Olivia, have gone to jail. But Olivia has gotten out and has found them; now she wants revenge. She captures their son Tommy and Megan's father Tom and holds them hostage, demanding that Duncan rob the bank which he is president of. But Olivia underestimates them and their determination to save their Tommies.

Glenn Kleier. The Last Day. As the year 2000 begins, and millenialist groups gather in Jerusalem, awaiting the return of the messiah, a beautiful young woman, product of an experiment in human cloning and performance enhancement, escapes from the laboratory and appears in Jerusalem, convinced she is the daughter of God. She has miraculous powers, and preaches a religion of kindness; she despises the churches that have built up wealth in her name, and does much to bring them down, just as they fight to prove her a fraud. An interesting commentary on groups that long for the second coming, but not just now, please, because it would put them out of business.

Peter D. Kramer. Spectacular Happiness. Chip Samuels is a community college teacher and handyman in the small Massachusetts seaside town he grew up in. Married to a woman who agreed with his anarchist views, he watches her not only abandon them but become the very person she had railed against. She takes their son and moves away, and denies him all contact with the boy. So here, he writes a journal explaining to his son how he became the chief suspect in a series of bombings of monstrous houses imposed on a fragile shoreline by rich people who bribe their way past the environmental laws. He is, in fact, guilty, and the book is an explanation of anarchism for aesthetic reasons, anarchism as a tool for forcing thought.

Robert MacNeil. Breaking News. An aging news anchor tries desperately to hold onto the standards of journalism against the economics of entertainment journalism. The final threat is a Diane Sawyerish woman who hosts a newsmagazine and is negotiating for a daily newsmagazine that will share the news hour-10 minutes of hard news as leadin, and everything else as hers. Meanwhile a Time reporter is talking to all the anchor's friends and relations to get the inside view of who he really is and why, while a subplot involves youthful sexy pictures of the femme MC and various people who think they can use them profitably.

Doug Marlette. The Bridge. The first novel by political cartoonist Marlette is a winner. Cartoonist Pick Cantrell goes too far, first with a cartoon that offends Catholics, then by punching out the publisher. Out of a job, he and his wife move back home to North Carolina, where she gets a job and he restores the house and takes care of their son. He's always hated his grandmother because she was mean to his mentally troubled mother, but she drags him into her life, and through her, he learns about her part in the nearly forgotten story of the textile workers strikes of the 1930s.

John Nance. Phoenix Rising. Elizabeth Sterling is invited to become chief financial officer of the new Pan Am, whose financing she herself has arranged. On her first day on the job, she learns that somebody has destroyed the financing arrangement she had set up, sold all the planes, and got the company deeply in debt. Not content with destroying the company financially, somebody is also trying to sabotage the airplanes themselves--only brilliant piloting prevents two intended crashes. With loan deadlines approaching, Elizabeth has to figure out who is doing this to save the company from bankruptcy. (Nance, incidentally, is a pilot and expert on airline safety issues.) If you liked this, you'll also like his more recent airline thriller, Pandora's Clock, about an orphaned airplane that no airport in the world wants to take in, because a dead passenger aboard it could have been carrying a fatal and incredibly infectious disease.

Audrey Niffenegger. The Time Traveler's Wife. Fascinating story about a man with "chrono-displacement disorder," who meets his future wife when she is 6 and he is 36 - 8 years after they have married when he was 28 and she was 20. Funny and sad - you know this is not going to end well - and beautifully written.

James Patterson. Miracle on the 17th Green. While this is primarily a fairy tale for middle aged men, anyone can enjoy the story of a middle-aged man who has a shot a his dream of playing professional golf and makes the most of it, while learning the value of the life he already has.

Marge Piercy. Sex Wars. Tackles how issues of sex and gender became political in 1869 and the years following, following the careers of a young Jewish widow supporting her family by making condoms, Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin (and their deplorable family), Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and Anthony Comstock, who singlemindedly brings ruin to all of them and many others. As well done as her other historical novel, Gone To Soldiers, about America's home front during World War II.

Caryl Rivers. Camelot. The year 1963, as seen by a young male news photographer from a small town Maryland newspaper, from his young female colleague, and from a talented young black writer who has worked down south with the freedom riders, and is writing a book about his experiences (with interjections from the thoughts of JFK himself). They find themselves part of the story as their small town decides to urban renew the homes of black people in the central city, evicting them without providing any alternative affordable place for them to live, in effect driving them out of town legally. The young black man is part of the protests, the reporter and photographer, who are falling in love, are his friends and supporters, as well as the people who tell the story and help convict the young white boys who set a house on fire, killing a black woman and a baby.

Jim Silver. Assumption of Risk. Luther Sitasy is in charge of large claim settlements in an insurance company. A new computer program reveals an unusually large number of deaths among the heavily insured. When he investigates, he finds that many of the deceased's lawyers have also met sudden death. His interest piqued, he pursues the evidence to find an ingenious insurance scam conducted by people who have come to enjoy the killing at least as much as the money.

Ray Sipherd. The Christmas Store. A series of stories centering around a department store at Christmas, told by, as it turns out, a mannequin come to life, who wanders the store by day, and by night writes his reflections about the people he sees. Including: 5 temporary Christmas employees in the china and silver dept. who befriend each other and agree on a Christmas dinner party which is endangered by the fire that smokes up their host's apartment; a romance that blooms when a woman is accidentally sprayed with eau de noel: the man who presides over Lost and Found who builds a new life around a found appointment calendar: the 3 girl singers who combine with a rap group to sing their Christmas carols outside the store; the personal shopper who helps a man buy the 12 gifts of Christmas, the man who haunts the book section, who the clerks eventually realize needs urgently to learn to read, and more.

Susan R. Sloan. Act of God. The Seattle Family Service Center performs many community functions, one of which is performing an occasional abortion, but that's enough to make it a target for a bomb that goes off during office hours, killing hundreds of men, women and children. Dana McAuliffe takes on the defense of the young man who's been accused, and increasingly comes to believe this young upright naval officer could not have committed this crime, even though he was upset that his wife had had an abortion there. She presents a case about a rush to judgment by a police force under pressure to come up with a suspect fast. The story is about the trial, the life-changing social pressures on everyone involved in it, the jury's deliberations - and the truth, which was never revealed in court.

Richard Martin Stern. The Big Bridge. Like so many of Stern's books (The Tower, Flood, Tsunami, Wildfire, etc.), this is a book about men who take enormous risks and use power daringly and wisely. Here, engineer Sam Taylor is dubious about the bridge his boss has contracted to build over the Tama Gorge - it has the makings of a killer, too high, too incredibly windy, with too much politics involved, because the bridge will open up a whole wild part of New Mexico to development. When his boss has a stroke, Sam has no choice but to take over, directing all the projects of his firm all over the world. Eventually he has to learn to choose good men and let them do their jobs and offer his help and advice from the sidelines - but not before a tornado places the bridge and his men in jeopardy.

Virginia Swift. Brown-Eyed Girl. Swift, is a history professor at the University of New Mexico, which shows in this novel which has a generous mix of academic politics, gender wars, Wyoming good old boys, country music, and goofy rich guys who fund their own militias. The heroine is an ex-country and western singer, turned reputable professor of history who has been named chair of American Women's History at the University of Wyoming, a recently bestowed gift, with the stipulation that she organize the papers of, and write a biography of, Meg Dinwoodie, foreign correspondent and later UW professor. Naturally the history profs at UW are outraged about all that lovely money going for history, but not through their hands. It's unusually complex, and I thought the large cast of characters was well-handled. The real story, though, is finding out Meg's secrets as well as the treasure townspeople are convinced is hidden in her house.

John Welter. I Want To Buy a Vowel, features an illegal immigrant who comes to a small Texas town (knowing only a few English words he has learned from television), the pimply awkward would-be Satanist minister's son (who can't bring himself to sacrifice chickens, and settles for sacrificing Vienna sausages), and Eva, an 11 year old girl who prays to Ted Williams (because "no one knew what God looked like. God didn't have a face. There weren't any photographs. ..she couldn't pray to someone without a face, so because her father loved baseball and had a baseball card signed by Ted Williams, just because she knew what Ted Williams looked like, and also because she once heard her father say 'Maybe Ted Williams couldn't walk on water, but then, Jesus never hit .406.'"). Eva befriends the immigrant with some difficulty, since she doesn't speak Spanish, and his knowledge of English is pretty much limited to the knowledge that good things happen to people who buy vowels. When he is discovered hiding out in an abandoned house, the town is convinced that he is the mysterious Satanist, who they would like very much to punish if the sheriff didn't keep pointing out that Satanism isn't actually against the law. It's just as well I wasn't reading this book in public, because I was ROTFLSTC (rolling on the floor laughing, scaring the cat). But funny though the book is, it has a wonderful sense of place--you kind of sink into this small Texas town and become part of it for a while. And a nice place to visit it is. Understandably, I rushed out to buy Welter's earlier book, Night of the Avenging Blowfish: a Novel of Covert Operations, Love and Lunchmeat. No, I'm not even going to try to explain it. If that title doesn't grab you, nothing I could say would.

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"Women's Novels"

Rexane Becnel. Old Boyfriends. Which is actually about female friendships. Three California women with lives in disarray and roots in New Orleans go back home to see family and old boyfriends. MJ, the fitness queen and trophy wife whose dead husband's children are trying to strip her of everything, wants to be valued for more than her beauty; Bitsey, the overweight housewife whose marriage is drifting, wants to get in shape before attending her high school reunion; twice-divorced Cat, who has always seen herself as escaped trailer trash, sort of wants to patch things up with her no account family. They rescue Bitsey's daughter from an abusive relationship and take her along with them. The old boyfriends (and new) help to clarify a lot of things for all of them.

Amanda Brown. Family Trust. Becca Reinhardt is totally unaware how appealing she is to men, since she's a brilliant manager of investments in new companies, always on a plane to Europe or Hong Kong. Edward Kirkland, the manager of his wealthy but unpleasant family's philanthropic foundation, spends his life attending fundraising events and being stalked by Bunny, the woman his mother is determined he should marry. This unlikely couple is brought together as joint guardians for a four-year-old girl they both come to adore, and in the process, they fall in love without realizing it until Bunny pre-emptively declares her engagement to Edward. By the same woman who wrote Legally Blonde, which is also delightful.

Iris Rainier Dart. The Stork Club. The child psychologist heroine organizes a therapy group of clients who have come by their babies in unusual ways, surrogacy, insemination, etc. She is absolutely right in thinking that difficult psychological problems are presented by the circumstances of these babies' births. Likable people, interesting stories, and all the unanticipated complications of the new technologies. Also try Show Business Kills, about four old college friends who have made it in Hollywood--but after 30 years, all their careers are at risk, and at the same time, they are the target of the anger and envy of another classmate who was not so lucky. And 'Til the Real Thing Comes Along, about a 37 year old comedy writer and her unraveling life, her neat kid, and her improbably gorgeous young boyfriend.

Barbara Delinsky. Suddenly. Dr. Page Pfeiffer finds herself unexpectedly and unwillingly an adoptive mother, because her best friend, who had been expecting to adopt the child, has killed herself. Page makes the difficult but rewarding adjustment, while learning the secrets her friend had hidden. If you like this, you'll like many of her other books which, though classified as romance, often involve older women with a full complement of family relationships. I recommend especially A Woman's Place, which deals with unexpected and vicious rejection, and Shades of Grace, whose heroine has to take over the business of a much loved aunt who is beginning to be affected by Alzheimer's. And also Together Alone. Emily, Kay, and Celeste, best friends for a long time, are faced with significant change as their daughters go off to college.

Diana Dempsey. Falling Star. A satisfying story of comeuppance. LA TV news anchor Natalie Daniels' world, both personal and professional, is crashing down. As she gets older and more expensive, she's being undercut by the gorgeous, unprincipled girl who's after her job, and her station manager, who resents her salary. Not content with pushing her out the door, he's spreading false rumors to other stations and networks, shutting her out of other jobs. She fights back, though, with the help of those who admire her professionalism and hate what's happening to journalism.

Elizabeth Gage. Intimate. Corporate leader Jordan Lazarus has loved two women--Leslie, an appealing, wholesome, golden girl, and Jill, victim of an abusive childhood who has re-created herself in Leslie's image, but remains a sick, desperate, manipulative woman.

Patricia Gaffney. Flight Lessons. Anna used to love her Aunt Rose until she discovered, as her mother was dying of cancer, that Rose and her father were in love. Now, though she forgave her father before he died, her resentment of Rose is a rigid foundation for her life, even as she returns to her hometown to help Rose with the family restaurant, Bella Sorellas, that is in serious decline. Rose can't pay full attention to it because the man she loves is dying from a Parkinson's like condition. Anna reorganizes things as she becomes involved in the lives of the restaurant team. She also finds a new man, Mason, a lawyer who, recovering from desperate injuries, decided he preferred to be a bird photographer. They're good for each other, but Anna refuses commitment, throws her temporariness in everyone's face, until a fire and a death and a photo album change her understanding. Also, Circle of Three, which follows the story of 3 generations of women: Dana, who fled a family of coarse and violent men into a marriage with a passionless professor, her daughter Carrie, who married a man just like her father without realizing it until an unsatisfactory marriage ended in his death by heart attack, and their daughter Ruth, 15, rebellious, unable to sort our her feelings about her unsatisfactory father and Jess, the man she loves but doesn't want her mother to love. Also, Saving Graces, one of the best books I've read that celebrates the power of female friendship. And maybe the best of all, The Goodbye Summer, in which Caddie Winger, 32 and still living with her grandmother, is pushed gently into building a life of her own when her Nana moves into an assisted living home. Caddie becomes involved with the lives of invalids and elderly people in the home, writing down their stories for them and caring about them. Though she does, as her grandmother hoped, find a man, he's not a good one. But unbeknownst to her, Caddie's casual acts of kindness have endeared her to a much better, kinder man.

Jan Gleiter. Lie Down with Dogs. Cooper is lost, but wouldn't dream of asking directions, and therefore runs out of gas on a dirt road in rural Wisconsin. Walking down the road, he finds a terrified little boy running for his life. Since the child is pursued by gunshots, Cooper believes him and helps him hide. The boy's protector, Lisa, escapes from the villains and joins them in their flight. They need to figure out who the bad guys are and why they want to harm the boy in order to keep him alive.

Gloria Goldreich. The Year of Our War. In 1944, 15 year old Sharon Grossberg loses her mother. Since her father is a soldier, she is taken in by her mother's family, where she does her growing up while sharing in their secrets and their sorriws, as their men are wounded or killed, and as the terrible fate of relatives in Eastern Europe becomes known to them.

Olivia Goldsmith. The First Wives' Club. Even better than the movie. Their husbands have used these women, taken advantage of their brains and talent and money, and then discarded them when they made it big. The men assume the women are negligible, and find to their dismay that they do in fact have power and friends and a malicious pleasure in getting revenge. Also try Goldsmith's Marrying Mom, in which Phyllis Geronymous, a widow in her sixties terrifies her children with the promise that she will move back to New York and help them straighten out their lives. Anything is better than that, so the siblings team up to fix mom up with a man who will keep her too busy and happy to mess with their lives. In the process, though, they start fixing up their lives and becoming friends, while Phyllis does in fact find love. And also, The Bestseller. Publishing has gone to hell. Nobody wants to publish literature, they just want to make lots of money. It tells the stories of the five authors who are hoping Davis and Dash will make their books bestsellers. A good story of scandal and injustice and revenge. As in all of Goldsmith's books, the good guys win, the bad guys get squashed. Lots of fun.

Carol Goodman. The Seduction of Water. Iris Greenfeder decides to carry on where her mother left off, writing a memoir about her mother, who never finished the third volume of a trilogy based on the legend of the selkie. But next to nothing is known about her mother, who appeared one day to begin work at a hotel in the Catskills, began writing, and married the manager. Iris starts asking questions and realizes that her mother was telling the story of her own life in disguise, and of the man she loved who was betrayed, and her best friend, who was murdered. The hotel is dying, but is bought by the owner of a world-class hotel chain, and Iris spends the summer working there while hunting for clues.The killer doesn't want those clues to be found, however. Beautifully told.

Beth Gutcheon. Five Fortunes. Five women meet at a spa, and their lives are linked thereafter-the daughter and wife of politicians, widowed too young, who eventually is induced to run for office herself, the grande dame who decides to become john Beresford Tipton when her husband kills himself rather than drift into the total mindlessness of Alzheimer's, the daughter who, having been raped, protects herself inside a cocoon of fat, and her mother who, betrayed by her husband, flees to Montana to help her friend run for office, and the private detective who becomes an adoptive mother who eventually has to give up the little girl.

Kristin Hannah. Angel Falls. Mikaela Campbell has been thrown from her horse and is in a long-term coma. Her husband, Liam, a doctor, who has always loved her more than she loved him, always known that her heart was still engaged with the man she was first married to, finds that the only things that seems to evoke response from her during her coma is her first husband's name, so he goes to California to convince the man, a famous movie star, to come to Washington to try to revive Mikaela. And he succeeds, though at first when she comes to, she has lost the last 17 years of her memory (which terrifies her children, who she does not recognize). As her memory returns, she finally comes to terms with the fact that she has treated her husband shabbily, and that he is the one who deserves her love. Also, On Mystic Lake. When Annie Colwater's daughter leaves for England, and her husband tells her he wants a divorce, she's not just shattered - she realizes that she has allowed herself to disappear in order to be a more perfect wife and mother. She goes back home to Washington state, to her father and her home town, where she finds her former best friend has killed herself, leaving a needy child and a father who drinks to blot out his pain. She rescues the child and falls in love, again, with the man she and her friend used to be best friends with. Her husband comes to his senses and wants her back, and because she learns she's at long last pregnant, she returns, but he and she cannot be regain their original love and marriage; with relief, she returns to Mystic Lake and to a life she gets to choose. Between Sisters is another good read. Meghan Dontess is a divorce lawyer, cynical about men and love both by profession and personal experience - she's the daughter of a feckless actress who abandoned her and her sister, who she raised. Her sister Claire flourished when Meghann located her real father and he took them in, and she has fallen in love with his life, tending the small resort they run. Meghann felt pushed out by Claire's father, though. Now, at 35, Claire, a single mother, has fallen in love and is getting married, and Meghann offers to plan her wedding. The two of them slowly rebuild a relationship, while Meghann also learns about the joys and difficulties of taking care of a six-year old.

Kathryn Harvey. Stars. Set in a plush resort in the mountains near Hollywood, this is a comfortable blend of mystery, romance, and scandal among the rich and famous. Two very successful women, twin sisters, separated at birth, find each other here. If you like this you will also want to read Harvey's Butterfly, about a woman's rise to the top and her revenge on the man who betrayed her.

Jane Heller. Infernal Affairs. With her husband leaving her, her real estate career in shambles, her body porking out, and her self-confidence in tatters, Barbara Chessner begs God or somebody to fix things for her. And lo and behold, the next day, she wakes up in a new improved body, and sells an expensive house to a gorgeous hunk who falls for her. But it doesn't seem real to her, and indeed, it turns out it wasn't actually God who arranged it. In fact, the devil wants Barbara to produce his children, as a return on his investment. All Barbara wants is her old life back, with a few modest improvements that she herself was responsible for. Also, her book Sis Boom Bah. Deborah Peltz, soap opera writer, has never gotten along with her sister, Sharon, a wedding planner in Florida, who automatically falls into attack mode whenever she sees Deborah; Deb automatically returns fire. But when their mother, now living in Florida, suffers a heart attack, she demands that the two of them stop sniping at each other because it'' bad for her heart. This is difficult, but they try, even though they are both attracted to their mother'' doctor. Unfortunately, when Deborah finds him in his home, murdered. At first she is a suspect, so she takes everything she knows about life from soap operas and starts trying to figure out who might have wanted to murder him, and keeps supplying the detectives with a stream of evidence and supposition about motives. Meanwhile, Deb's soap opera has dumped her, so she has taken a caretaking job for a historic home near her mother, and has fallen for the contractor who is responsible for repairing it, while Sharon has fallen for a man Deb ultimately decides has to be the doctor's killer.

Judith Ryan Hendricks. Bread Alone. Wynter Morrison can't believe it when her husband announces he's divorcing her, and after years as a corporate wife, the only skill she has is entertaining, and most of her friends are in name only. But when she visits her lifelong friend in Seattle, she realizes that the art of bread baking she learned in France could earn her a living and provide satisfaction in itself. She's not an easy heroine to like, prickly and in denial, but eventually she makes a life for herself and wins you over. Her story continues in The Baker's Apprentice.

Laura Kalpakian. The Memoir Club. Six women from a canceled memoir-writing class become friends and continue meeting on their own as they continue to work through their life stories through their memoir-writing: Dr. Caryn Henley, who feels it's her own fault that he ex-husband and two children were in a plane that crashed with no survivors; Nell, her good friend and medical assistant who dragged her into the memoir project; Rusty Meadows, who wants to write a memoir for the daughter she was forced to surrender at birth; Francine, who wants to commemorate her dead husband's brilliance and instead discovers he was never the man she thought he was; Sarah Jane Perkins, an elderly free spirit who has never forgiven her mother for the way she stomped on her artistic husband's spirit; and Korean-born Jill McDougall who wants to understand who she is. Their mysterious teacher drives them to a ruthless honesty of self-examination. Also, Steps and Exes, about free spirit Celia Henry who has raised the children from a series of relationships. But when one of her daughters publicly (and wrongly) accuses one of Celia's lovers of molestation, and Celia herself of abetting, and accuses a step-brother as well, everybody's life changes. When this self-centered, morally ignorant daughter realizes she's told a pack of lies, she thinks everything can go back to the way it was before, but she's mistaken.

Jillian Karr. Something Borrowed, Something Blue. Monique is editor of a brides' magazine, with a slipping hold on her position. She needs to mount a best-selling edition, and plans a spectacular June issue, with detailed coverage of 4 weddings--her own, a model's, an actress's, and an ordinary girl chosen from the studio audience of a daytime TV program. But each brings her own troubled history to the dream honeymoon in Hawaii--the model is stalked by an obsessed fan, the actress by a blackmailer, and the sweet unknown girl has, because of the publicity, been found by her original lover. Schmaltzy, schlocky and impossible to put down.

Lorna Landvik. Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons. The story of the five women (and eventually, one gay man) of Freesia Court who meet regularly to celebrate books, babies, and life, and nurse each other through their troubles. These people are very flawed, very lovable, and very real.

Sara Lewis. But I Love You Anyway. Mimi and her sister Eve run a mail and parcel business that is on the verge of going under, which is problem enough without the mess their personal lives are in. Mimi, divorced, and then widowed, tries to be the best mother she can for her two kids, and Eve has just married a man who has lots of money but is suspected of robbing the restaurant he ran. Mimi doesn't trust Eve's husband, but eventually realizes that his skills as a baker are the key to saving their business and she comes to trust him after all, even when money starts disappearing from the business. She has become involved with a man 11 years younger than she is, much against her better judgment, and when he runs off to the Netherlands, she falls into a deep depression, and is only bailed out by her ex-husband. Mostly this is about working out sticky relationships. Fun.

Debbie Macomber. Thursdays at Eight. Four women who met in a journal writing class become good friends and agree to meet every Thursday morning at eight for breakfast. They help each other through crises in their lives: Claire, who's bitter over her husband divorcing her to marry a sweet young thing; Elizabeth, a hospital administrator whose husband of 30 years has died; Karen, who has to decide whether to keep on struggling to build an acting career or have a real life and love; and Julia, who, having raised her children to their teens has just started a business, only to discover that she's pregnant again. Also, Three Brides, No Groom. Three old friends meet again at their class reunion and tell each other about the weddings that didn't happen, and how different their lives turned out from what they had expected at graduation: Gretchen, who dumped her hotshot lawyer fiancÚ on the eve of the wedding when she found out how long he'd been cheating on her (and how unrepentant he was), Carol, the cheerleader, whose football hero boyfriend dumped her when he was signed by the NFL, and outrageous Maddie, whose affair with a math professor led not to marriage but to him stealing her work. Love and marriage comes to all of them in ways they never expected.

Jo-Ann Mapson. Blue Rodeo. Newly-divorced Margaret has come to Blue Dog, New Mexico because her teenage son, who has lost his hearing after severe meningitis, wants to attend a residential school for the deaf in New Mexico that only accepts New Mexico residents. Removed from everything she knows, she starts painting again. Meanwhile, she befriends and eventually falls in love with a cowboy who's never forgiven himself for killing a man in a barfight, who has changed his name and run from the law. Her son is having a rocky time accepting the fact that his deafness changes his entire way of life, and he's striking out at everybody, including his mother, at least until the cowboy forces him to mind his manners. They all eventually come to terms with their lives. The Wilder Sisters is also a pleasure to read. Two sisters born in Floralee New Mexico have reached turning points in their lives. Rose, widowed by a man who was betraying her, is struggling to get by; her children are grown and disappointing, but she's still supporting a house and a horse. She works for a veterinarian she's in love with, but he's a drunk and can't get over his sexy slutty wife. Lily has made it big as a biomedical specialist who instructs doctors in the use of specialized surgical equipment, but she's watched one too many patients die at the hands of incompetent surgeons. She comes back to Floralee where she and Rose make up after a 5 year Quarrel, and where she finds her first love also returned to Floralee, and also soul-searching. Also, try the saga that begins with Bad Girl Creek. Phoebe deThomas, crippled from birth, inherits her aunt Sadie's flower farm, but the money that would enable her to run it goes to her brother James. Good luck brings her first housemate/flower farm assistant into her life, Ness, a tall black woman with AIDS and a stolen horse. Deliberate planning brings the next two, Nance, a photographer with a dog, and Beryl, owner of a foul-mouthed parrot, who's finished serving her time for accidentally stabbing her husband to death. Together, they form their own family and make the flower farm thrive, while also forming new relationships. Along Came Mary follows up on the story and adds a new character.

D.F. Mills. Free Fall. Ariel Storm is found in a snowstorm, her car wrecked, her memory gone. She is claimed by Serena Todd, owner of Harmony House where, she says, Ariel used to work for her and depend on her guidance. But without her memory, Ariel is also free of awe of Serena, and she atarts asking questions, which brings her under attack from Serena's other disciples. When she learns that she had been engaged, and her lover had mysteriously disappeared, Ariel goes to find him, and to figure out how she came to be lost in that snowbank.

Mary Alice Monroe. The Four Seasons. Three of the four redheaded Season sisters reunite when the fourth one, fragile, damaged Merry, dies. All share a sense of guilt about the accident that left Merry retarded, but only Rose has stayed to care for her. Jillian, shamed and angered by being sent to a home for unwed mothers and having her child taken from her before she could even hold her, has fled to Paris, a now declining acting career, and a succession of bad marriages. Birdie, obsessed with being the perfect doctor, perfect wife, and perfect mother, has become a nagging controlling bitch. Rose, now freed to seek a different life, is dreaming of the trucker she's been chatting with on the internet. Now Merry's wish that the sisters find Jillian's daughter sets them off on a quest in which they find not only her, but each other, and themselves. Also, The Beach House. Caretta Rutledge, fired from her advertising job, is at loose ends just as her mother asks her to come spend some time with her at the beach house on a barrier island off the coast of Charleston. Long estranged, she has no intention of staying, but she eventually realizes her mother is dying, and settles in to take care of her, and of the land, and the baby turtles, her mother has dedicated her life to preserving - literally, come hell or high water. And also, Sweetgrass. The Blakeley family was already in danger of losing the last of the property that's been in their family since colonial days, even before the family patriarch suffered a stroke. His wife, Mary June, is resolved that only he should make the decision to sell, and devotes herself to restoring his mental and physical functioning so he can make that decision. Along the way, a lot of family wounds are brought out into the open and healed.

Gloria Nagy. Looking for Leo. Lindy Lampi needs to find her ex-husband Leo, the only possible source for a bone marrow donation to save her daughter's life. Aided by her best friend Willa, who had also been married to Leo, they set out to find him. Along the way they encounter yet two other wives of Leo. These are all interesting, plucky, resourceful women who undervalue themselves, and they form a wonderful relationship. We see Leo through their eyes--the feckless, charming man who, for all his many faults, made them for the first time in their lives think well of themselves. But we also see the story from Leo's eyes, and sense what it is like to be irresistible to women, stalked by them, and then asked to fit into a responsible middle-class pattern of life he is totally unfit for. Also try Nagy's Marriage. Annie and Mickey have been together since they were six, going from best friends to mates by the time they were 20. Now, just turned 45, Annie is full of vague dissatisfactions, just as Mick is worried about his acting career and what he's missed by being so long with somebody to whom he is never new, never something to be discovered. He begins an affair, which Annie discovers, and she is devastated, but to some extent understands because she herself has experienced a sudden passion for a man she met once, who has asked her to meet him in London in the new year. Meanwhile, their family is undergoing other changes, including the disappearance of their accountant with all their savings. You end up caring a great deal about these people and hoping they can work it out.

Patricia O'Brien. Ladies Lunch. Five women, all important players on the Washington scene, meet regularly for lunch. They believe themselves to be good and supportive friends, until one of them, Faith, the President's secretary, drowns herself (or perhsps is murdered), and they realize they have no idea why. The others set out to find out what happened--Sara, the judge nominated for the Supreme Court, Maggie, the writer who desperately needs money and can make a bundle if she writes a tell-all book about her friends, Leona, the big-time interior decorator and hostess, and Carol, the Congresswoman. Lots of realistic detail about the Washington scene, as these women learn not only about their friend's life and death, but about how to be better friends to each other. Also, her book Good Intentions. Rachel Snow, radio talk show host, has an over-full life. Newly divorced, she has little connection with her 16 year old daughter who's been in private school, and still cherishes resentments against her mother for her father's suicide. She hasn't got enough money, but she buys the family's old house anyway and brings her daughter home, hoping she'll go to public school instead of the pricy private school she's been at. The daughter comes home with a snotty young man who makes her behave badly. Into this mix comes Rachel's mother, whose investments have failed and left her on a marginal income, and a caller to her radio show who claims to be a serial killer. In spite of everything, Rachel forges new bonds with her daughter and mother, though all of them are in peril from a deranged stalker.

Caroline Preston. Lucy Crocker 2.0. About people who once did love their work and lost everything they cherished about it when they succeeded and became corporatized. Lucy is a former children's librarian and artist whose husband talks her into inventing a computer game which salvages his company, but she can't produce to schedule on a new version of it -- she's sad from her miscarriages, and from the distance growing between herself and her husband. When she finds out he's carrying on with one of his assistants, she takes the kids and flees to the wilds of Wisconsin, where she stashes them in the same camp she went to as a kid, and herself goes off to the cabin where she spent summers with her grandfather. The way they all work their way out of their problems is reflected in the new version of her computer game, which they create together. Very good story

Neil Ravin. Mere Mortals. A love story, about an idealistic doctor, Brendan O'brien, and a dedicated nurse, Caroline Bates. They meet in a hospital for the doomed, a cancer hospital where Brendan is rotating on his residency, and she is head nurse. She keeps on loving her patients and giving out of an infinite reservoir, never giving up on hope for them. But when she is injured in a car crash, she gives up on herself-she understands she's going to die, when Brendan can't possibly accept it. But she hates the thought that she won't see her children grow up, that she's walking out halfway through Gone with the Wind, and that her kids won't even remember her. A two-hanky story.

LuAnne Rice. Cloud Nine. Sarah Talbot, recovering from surgery that removed a brain tumor, is in love with the world she never thought to see again. She hires the pilot who gave her a birthday ride when she got out of the hospital to take her for a Thanksgiving visit to the island off the coast of Maine where she grew up, where she hopes to improve her relationship with her prickly widowed father and her 17 year old son. The pilot's 15 year old daughter, suffering from the loss of her brother in a boating accident, sneaks on board the plane; once in Maine, she becomes part of the family and falls innocently in love with Sarah's son. But on the trip home, it becomes clear that Sarah's cancer has metastasized and she hasn't long to live; her pilot, who has fallen in love with her, flies her back to the island to die, but not before he marries her, and not before knowing her has made it possible for both the pilot and his daughter to finally accept the loss of their son and brother. Also, Safe Harbor. Dana Underhill is a renowned painter of seascapes, but when her sister drowns along with her husband, two young girls are orphaned and Dana has been designated as their guardian. Allie is an easy child, but Quinn is tempestuous and resistant; she wants no part of Dana's plan to take them to France with her, so Dana is forced to stay in their seaside home in Connecticut, trying to make contact with Quinn and with her art - her desire to paint has suddenly abandoned her. Sam Trevor, marine biologist, comes to her aid; he is younger than Dana, but he has adored her ever since she and her sister taught him sailing and then saved his life.

Elizabeth Richards. Every Day. Fourteen years ago, Fowler walked out on Leigh and their son Isaac. Now he wants back in her life, because he is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. She can't not help him, despite the outrage of her husband and children (including Isaac, curious though he is about the real father who abandoned him). But Fowler's charm and increasing helplessness wins them over eventually, and they take him into their home to help him with his dying.

Elisabeth Robinson. The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters. A novel told entirely in letters and e-mail messages. The heroine, a screenwriter and would-be producer, has VOICE and then some. She and her family and lovers are more real to me than many people I have known, whether they're being kind or philosophical or having screaming shit-fits. As are her struggles to get her Don Quixote movie made, to talk Hollywood power players into funding it in the first place, fight the macho types who are trying to take the movie over from her, and then herd all the cats to keep them in place (potential directors, potential stars, all with their own ideas of what the movie should be). And she has to do a fair amount of this long-distance, as she goes back and forth between Hollywood and the hospital in Wisconsin where her sister is fighting leukemia.

Barbara Samuel. No Place Like Home. Jewel Sabatino left her close-knit Italian family as a wild teenager on the back seat of a motorcycle driven by the even wilder musician, Billy, who she met at the state fair. Now, with Billy dead from drugs and his musical partner Michael dying of AIDS, Jewel brings her family back home to New Mexico. She builds a new life there, and regains her family despite losing Michael and sending her son off into the world.

Sarah Shankman. I Still Miss My Man But My Aim Is Getting Better. Shelby Tate has divorced her no-good two-timing husband Leroy and gone to Nashville to try her luck at a singing/songwriting career. Now, as her big break is coming, Leroy reappears, determined to have her back. When he hits her, she acquires a guardian, Jeff Wayne Capshaw, the cop who comes to her assistance. Leroy, in jail, falls under the spell of a conman who leads him to act on all his worst impulses once he's sprung from jail. Not only is Leroy after her, so are two women who are convinced that Shelby has stolen their men. Fortunately, Shelby is under the protection of the spirit of Patsy Cline. Requires a powerful amount of suspension of disbelief, but amusing.

Noelle Sickels. Walking West. In the spring of 1852, Alice Muller, with her husband, Henry, her children, her husband's brother and wife, her husband's sister, husband and family, a female artist, and a few additional men, begin the trek from Council Bluffs to California, protected by their ignorance of how very difficult it will be, and how much will be lost by the time they get there. There are a series of deaths, men and children, and another two men desert them to travel faster to the goldfields (though one of them is in love with Flinder, Alice's niece). Their way is unblocked by Indians, though they take with them an Indian captive and her Indian sister-in-law they meet along the way, but the harshness of the desert and mountains drives away the last remaining man but Henry, and Henry's strength is failing. Alice finds in herself undreamed of strength, that drives the party onward when Henry dies. Her diary, written whenever she can snatch time away from chores, is the foundation for the book, and the expression of a new, self-aware Alice emerging from the passive unexamined person she had been.

Susan Sloan. Guilt by Association. Karen Dern, young and pretty, wants nothing more than to be a wife and mother, until the night she is raped and savagely beaten--and disbelieved when she tells her story. She takes refuge in an artsy Greenwich village sort of career, where she forms strong friendships but no romances--she has never been able to trust a man or enjoy sex since her attack. When she learns her attacker is a strong candidate for president, she sets out to meet him and find out why he did this to her--and when she does, is astounded to learn that he doesn't even remember her. She makes sure that in future he will.

Carol Smith. Friends for Life. Five women meet in a British public hospital ward: Georgy, the American photographer in love with Gus the theatrical producer ; Beth, caterer, ex-wife to Gus, lover of Oliver; Vivienne, beautiful ignored wife of Oliver; Catherine, meek daughter of a retired opera star; and free-living Sally, the New Zealander (she says) who cheerfully wanders the globe, from kip to kip. As they become friends, the begin to change each others' lives. Mostly for the better, except that somebody is trying to kill them and very nearly succeeding.

Deborah Smith. Sweet Hush. At 16, the 5th Hush McKenna inherits the down-on-its-luck family apple orchard, home of the sweet hush apple, and is determined to restore it to its former success. But she falls for Davy Thackery, gets pregnant, and marries him. Knowing she really doesn't love him, Davy secretly carries on, while publicly being a model father and a successful racecar driver, who dies in a crash on a mountain road. Hush wants her son to keep on believing in his father's legend, but when Davis marries the president's daughter, the family becomes the target of a venomous talk show host who reveals the family secrets. Meanwhile, there's a power struggle going on between Hush and the First Lady, who has sent her husband's ex-special forces nephew to the apple farm to protect her daughter. There's a lot of reconciling to be done, but it works out.

Haywood Smith. The Red Hat Club. About 5 women who've been best friends for 30 years. When Diane discovers that her banker husband is supporting a mistress and a condo with money he's embezzled from her friends, they set out to hang him with his own rope. Like Goldsmith's The First Wives Club, this offers the dual pleasure of the female buddies novel and a story of sweet revenge. The characters you've come to enjoy are developed more fully in The Red Hat Club Rides Again.

Penelope Stokes. Circle of Grace. Thirty years ago Grace and her 3 roommates made a pact to keep up with each other's lives by circulating a round-robin journal among themselves in which each would record their lives. Grace, though, is so disappointed in herself and the way her life has been going that she has made up an entirely different life for their benefit. Now that she knows she's dying of cancer, she gets the women together for a weekend at a spa to tell them the truth. Turns out the rest of them haven't been strictly truthful, either. This weekend gives them not only a chance to reconnect, but a chance to redirect their own lives.

Susan Sussman. Time Off from Good Behavior. Sarah and Asher have come to a critical moment in a long and loving marriage--he has sold the company he founded to a conglomerate, and she has been offered an opportunity to be a professional costume designer, after years of doing it as a volunteer. Now that Asher has time and money, he wants her to be available to play with him, whereas she is working 16 hour days trying to meet deadlines and become a respected professional. Meanwhile, her mother is ill, and keeps wandering off from the attendant Sarah has hired to take care of her, and she too wants what Sarah has least of--time and attention. And yet their marriage is able to survive and grow. A heartening story about decent people trying to do the right thing.

Herbert Tarr. A Woman of Spirit. Hannah Brody grows from a loving 15 year old daughter to an 80 year old loving mother and grandmother, a selfless woman always concerned about other people and about her duties to God. But when her husband dies and she learns after years of scrimping and saving that he was a wealthy man, she is outraged, and ready to treat herself to some of the little luxuries she denied herself all those years. She goes on a cruise, goes to Israel, finds a new place to live, takes up painting, and starts exploring all the aspects of her mind and soul she has never had a chance to develop.

Nancy Thayer. The Hot Flash Club. Four middle-aged women at a crisis point in their lives meet at a party, and decide to help each other out with their problems. Faye, the widow, wants to know if her son-in-law is cheating on her daughter; Shirley, the masseuse, wants to start her own clinic but has no business experience; Marilyn, the paleontologist, is worried that the beautiful woman her nerdy son is planning to marry is a gold-digger; Alice, the black executive, is worried about her place in a corporation that's just merged with another, and about a young woman who seems to be gunning for her job. Together, they manage not just to hold on to the lives they have, but to create better ones. Their story continues in The Hot Flash Club Strikes Again, Hot Flash Holidays, and The Hot Flash Club Chills Out.

Catherine Todd. Making Waves. Caroline James doesn't much like the nasty, self-centered abandoned wife of one of her husband's law firm partners, but the woman warns her that her own husband could shaft her the same way she has been shafted, and she gives Caroline a box of the papers she has stolen from her husband and the law firm. Caroline's own husband does indeed want to divorce her, but the papers are making everybody in the law firm very nervous - in fact, Caroline's house is searched several times. When the unpleasant ex-wife turns up dead, and everybody is eager to see it as a suicide, Caroline starts investigating, determined to find out what the woman knew that might have been worth killing for. Also, Secret Lives of Second Wives. 40ish immigration attorney Lynn Bartlett has uprooted herself from SanDiego to live with her new husband in San Francisco, where her husband's two adult children and his ex-wife are making things difficult for her. Not only is her husband not willing to challenge his children on their behavior, he's concealing a serious problem in his business and barely talking to her. She throws herself more into her work, and discovers that her new boss has been playing fast and loose with the rules and botching people's green cards and visas. She has a fling with a brilliant Russian who she's trying to get permission to stay in the country. When everybody turns out to have better hearts than she thought, and things start turning around, she has to decide whether she is committed to the marriage.

Cynthia Victor. Relative Sins. Kailey is an innocent young girl, married for her money, then savagely abused. She runs away with her baby, but the infant is stolen by an au pair who is herself murdered by hired killers who think she is Kailey. The story follows both Kailey and her young daughter as they travel separate roads and find each other. If you enjoy this one, try Victor's other books, especially What Matters Most, in which a successful commercial artist uproots herself in order to care for the child of her best friend, who has died with her husband from a gas leak she eventually learns was no accident.

Judith Henry Wall. Mother Love. When Karen Billingsley learns her son participated in a gang rape that led to a girl's death, she can't allow her son and husband to just dispose of the evidence and pretend it never happened. She wants her son to understand the enormity of his act. This creates tensions in the family, which were already present and manifested in her daughter's anorexia. Karen's upfrontness forces a marginally functional family to work together.

Carol McD. Wallace. The Wrong House. Frances and Hart, married 40 years, get along well enough until Hart accidentally buys them the wrong house, a ghastly ticky-tacky modern house that Frances can't bear, where she can neither put her cherished Victorian furniture nor plant her roses because of the salty ocean air. Hart loves the house anyway, while being unable to stand her continual reproach. Meanwhile their daughter is similarly close to throwing away a wonderful relationship because of pride and unwillingness to bend.

Elizabeth Webster. The Acorn Winter. Beth Halliday is bereft and aimless, having lost both her husband and her little boy within the space of two years. Stephanie Edmondson sees her on the shore, looking desperate and lost, takes her into her own family - her adventurous husband Finn and her sprite of a daughter, Chloe. When she learns Beth can teach music, she steamrolls her into taking a job at the school Chloe goes to, whose headmistress willingly takes on a number of troubled children; Stephanie thinks music therapy might get through to them. Which it does, in fact - Beth encourages them to make loud noise, and eventually shapes that into an opera the kids can shine in presenting. But Stephanie dies of the brain tumor she knew was killing her, and now Chloe is bereft. Beth and the troubled children and the wise old man known as Beech heal her - and in the process, heal Beth as well. Lovely story. Also, Escape into Light. Caroline gave up her dreams of being an artist and entered into a life of uncomplaining drudgery and service to her hypochondriac mother. When the mother dies, Caroline's sense of guilt drives her into a breakdown, which is observed by Jon, a news photographer who has gone through his own breakdown. He takes her to the care facility where he himself is recovering, where through Jon's friendship, art, and her efforts to understand how to capture pure light in painting, she begins to recover. He invites her to work with him on a photography project in Tunis to capture on film the wildlife of an endangered estuary. She falls in love with the work, and with the young boy her landlady has adopted. And with Jon, of course.

Jennifer Weiner. Little Earthquakes. About a cadre of new mothers and the woman who envies them, having lost her own infant. Rebecca is a talented chef with a successful restaurant, a husband she adores, and a mother-in-law who disapproves of and undercuts everything she does. Kelly is an event planner whose husband has been fired and shows no signs of ever wanting to work again. Ayinde Towne is a former sports reporter who married a star pro basketball player and now has to deal with the scandal of another woman having a baby by him. Lia left her husband and her acting career to return home to Philadelphia, where she meets these women who befriend her.

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Last updated August, 2006.

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