For the Ladies in your life:
Scrapbooks: An American History
By Jessica Helfand
Yale; 190 pages; $45
This visually stunning coffee-table sized book, comprised of 475 color illustrations and photographs, elevates what is today seen as a frivolous women’s craft hobby to the invaluable historical documents scrapbooks are and will become. Noted graphic designer Helfand unearths 100 years of scrapbooking by both men and women–including books by Zelda Fitzgerald and Anne Sexton–placing quirky and highly individual expressions in a series so that readers can see a new historical angle and fresh perspective of American before the modern age. At the same time, the book provides a beautiful way to experience the voyeuristic joy of peering into private diaries of the past.
The Painter from Shanghai
By Jennifer Cody Epstein
W.W. Norton; 416 pages; $14.95
What is known about the life of 20th Century Shanghai painter Pan Yuliang seems the stuff of fiction, so it’s unsurprising that the plot of Epstein’s debut novel about Yuliang’s life is utterly engrossing. The book’s spellbinding intimacy is rooted not in the romance of this courtesan era but Epstein’s true achievement in resurrecting such a passionate woman who pursued a life of her own despite intrinsic barriers.
What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage: Lessons for People from Animals and Their Trainers
By Amy Sutherland
Random House; 168 pages; $12
While researching an article on exotic animal trainers, journalist Amy Sutherland started using their targeted techniques to transform her husband into a more live-with-able cage mate, a life-altering experience detailed in her new book (an expansion of her hit 2006 New York Times article). The results of her experiment were so remarkable, at first Sutherland didn’t realize she was also training herself—to be more patient and accepting, of everyone. The anti-self help book, “Shamu” is a fresh, candid story about changing our outlook for the better.
What Rhymes with Bastard?
By Linda Robertson
MacAdam/Cage; 251 pages; $24
In her new memoir “What Rhymes with Bastard?,” Robertson not only writes songs about her crazy, sex-obsessed, drunk, sweet, mean, and unforgettable husband Jack (like an entertaining ditty about the discomforts of outdoor sex) and life after moving from England to San Francisco (like one about their pervert landlord), but also brutally and hilariously details all that women learn about men during their first real relationship. Far from standard chick-lit and never a victim’s account of a dysfunctional marriage and sex life, this book is a brave, unvarnished, sometimes repulsive and often moving tale of how her own voice and independence (along with winning accordion playing) sprung from the humor and sadness of a decaying relationship.
The Fidelity Files
By Jessica Brody
St. Martin’s; 422 pages; $13.95
In Brody’s debut novel, beautiful but chronically single Jennifer Hunter secretly becomes Ashlyn, a fidelity inspector battling cheating men who all look alike on the inside—unfaithful. As Ashlyn morphs into each man’s fantasy, she tests them for the intention to cheat, ensuring that her client’s mate does all the propositioning until it’s clear he would’ve had sex with her, escaping before things go all the way. The plot remains irresistible as a succession of men fail (frighteningly common) or pass (dumbfoundingly rare), and the titillating tension only increases as Jennifer struggles to keep her identity a secret. It’s one superpower every girl wants, and every girl needs.
Cancer Is a Bitch: (Or, I’d Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis)
By Gail Konop Baker
Da Capo; 261 pages; $22
Of all the things you sweat each day, none compare to what happened to Gail Konop Baker right before Valentine’s Day at age 46, when at a her annual mammogram she heard something every woman dreads: “I think we should biopsy.” Unflinchingly intimate, never whiney, often hilarious and always authentic, Gail’s memoir “Cancer is a Bitch” details her struggle with breast cancer and shows it to be frighteningly relevant to us all. But somehow, by revealing how she brought her life back into balance, she makes it seem less scary and a little more bearable. And your small stuff a lot less sweaty.
The Tsarina’s Daughter
By Carolly Erickson
St. Martin’s; 321 pages; $24.95
The romance of the Romanov era pervades Carolly Erickson’s latest historical novel, centered on the evolution the life of Tania, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. Evoking her privileged world of splendor, courtship, and dancing lessons only to rip them away once war and revolution wax onward, Erickson’s entertaining novel is nonetheless a comfortable ride of suspense leading from and back to Tania’s safe new life in Saskatchewan in 1989. It’s perfect snowed-in (or rained-in) holiday escape.