Author

Emily Mead

With nary a mention of tired ’70s emblems like shag carpet or bell-bottoms, Elizabeth Poliner’s quiet, assured debut summons the innocence and isolation of a world that predates Internet access and cable TV. Carolyn and Hannah Kahn, daughters of the only Jewish family in their small Connecticut town, grow up in the shadow of their parents’slowly deteriorating marriage.

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A stranger named Raoul Meridian invites spoiled beauty Nadine and her shiftless fiancé, Albert, to spend a weekend at his ”ponderous…and truly alien” mansion in the desert. It’s pretty clear that no good can come of this odd, unhappy gathering. Sure enough, within hours of their arrival, Nadine has fallen under the spell of the harsh California landscape and her loathsome but intriguing host. Albert, coming completely unhinged, rides off into a nearby canyon in pursuit of a mysterious child named Destina.

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Anna Cypra Oliver was 5 when her cocaine-addled, failed-architect father killed himself in Assembling My Father. And she spent most of her young life moving from a primitive New Mexico cabin to a near-by commune to a Hawaii beach and back again. Her hippie-turned-Christian-fundamentalist mother’s entourage included her adopted brother, her mother’s rabble-rousing boyfriend, and, following the boyfriend’s death, her control-freak stepdad. At 25, though, she set out with nothing but a trunk full of photographs to discover her late dad.

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In the decade leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, Romanian emigre Farro Fescu stands sentry in the hushed marble lobby of Manhattan’s Echo Terrace apartment building, tending to his diverse flock: the entomologist’s widow who fills her rooms with exotic animals, the Belgian-Egyptian plastic surgeon who’s nearly shot by an angry gender-reassignment patient, the beautiful 19-year-old cleaner who decides to keep the baby fathered by her rapist, and the Iraqi spice merchant who befriends the world-famous quilter downstairs.

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How does a casual narcissist with no discernible talent rise to the pinnacle of the celebrity-industrial complex without meaning to? In O’Farrell’s trite-and-true second novel, all it takes is a small ego problem, a brush with a megawatt star, and an ”epic teenage fantasy.” At 35, Jimmy Conway divides his time in a dingy English seaside town between a part-time teaching job and putting off work on his screenplay. But when a seemingly harmless lie gets him an invite to the funeral of Britain’s biggest TV star, his meteoric rise to faux fame is launched.

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At first glance, two teenage girls on a commune in the 1980s wouldn’t appear to have much in common with two down-and-out frontiersmen scurrying around the woods in the 1820s. But in this subtle portrait of friendship and loss, these unlikely pairs of misfits are intricately bound by living on the same rich, mulchy land along the banks of Oregon’s Columbia River.

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In an emotionally astute portrait of South Africa infused with touches of magic realism, Mda reimagines the 1971 case of the ”Excelsior 19” – 14 black women and 5 white men whose trial for breaking anti-miscegenation laws sparked a national debate about apartheid. Niki, a black woman humiliated one too many times by her Afrikaner boss, seduces the boss’ husband.

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Maxine Swann, Serious Girls

Maxine Swann’s promising debut, Serious Girls, is a delicate, clear-eyed distillation of teenage girls’ greatest concerns: identity, authenticity, and sexual power. Maya and Roe, 16-year-old oddballs in their first year at a Northeastern boarding school, spend most of their time together browsing in a local thrift store and wondering ”What makes a person a person?” They waver between preternatural poise and crippling self-doubt as narrator Maya takes illicit weekend trips to New York City to be with a man twice her age and Roe gets entangled with a violent-tempered local kid.

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This hefty greatest-hits collection solidifies Bausch’s rep as a master of compact, closely observed vignettes of yearning and dislocation. Even windfalls – like sudden wealth or a new lover – can’t relieve the queasy sense of impending disaster that lurks in everyday exchanges between intimates. In ”Riches,” a young man’s lottery jackpot becomes a catalyst for personal and familial unraveling, while in ”Valor,” a drunk’s heroic rescue of children trapped in a burning school bus doesn’t prevent his wife from moving out later the same morning.

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Get tomorrow's hottest books today, via the U.K.

Double Vision, The Full Cupboard of Life, ...

Say what you will about globalization, but it does offer major perks for Anglo-bibliophiles in the form of Amazon.co.uk, the British version of the online book retailer. You can pick up the U.K. edition of, say, ”Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” ($13.75). Or become the first on your block to read Martin Amis’ ”Yellow Dog” ($19) and P.D. James’ ”The Murder Room” ($14.50), which don’t hit U.S. stores until November.

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