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Decision Points

by George W. Bush |

REVIEWED BY SANDRA SOBIERAJ WESTFALL

MEMOIR

Bush won in 2000 partly, pollsters say, because he was the candidate Americans wanted to have a beer with. Curling up with these 14 chapters on key decisions of his life feels a bit like sitting down with the 43rd President for an O’Doul’s.

The book, which opens with Bush’s decision to quit drinking at age 40, employs a voice that’s authentically his-emotional but spare. Hear his “heh-heh” recalling boyhood French lessons from Mother: “I can still picture us riding through the desert with me repeating ferme la bouche…. If only Jacques Chirac could have seen me then.” Relive the horror of 9/11 and feel him leaning in, eyes squinty: “We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.” But Bush’s disdain for “navel-gazing” introspection can be frustrating, as in the much buzzed-about scene where, as a teen, he drove his mom to the hospital with a jar containing the fetus she’d just miscarried. How did that bond mother and son? “It was a big deal for me.” Still, this is an engaging, self-deprecating look inside the most consequential decisions of our lifetime, so crack open that beer.

The Distant Hours

by Kate Morton |

REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT

NOVEL

This gothic-tinged mystery by the author of The Forgotten Garden begins with the delivery of a long-lost letter. Sent by Juniper Blythe to Meredith Burchill, the London evacuee Juniper and her sisters hosted during WWII, the letter upends the lives of Meredith, now elderly, and her daughter Edie. Edie soon finds herself at Milderhurst Castle, where one of the sisters asks her to write a new introduction to their father’s masterpiece The True History of the Mud Man. But there are troubling questions: Is Mud Man based on a real tragedy? What happened to the fiance who jilted Juniper? And what role did Edie’s mother play in all this? A nuanced exploration of family secrets and betrayal, Morton’s latest is captivating.

Foreign Bodies

by Cynthia Ozick |

NOVEL

Who would dare rewrite Henry James? Ozick proves up to the task, recasting The Ambassadors with Jewish Americans in postwar Paris-a city of displaced, battered souls. Asked by her brother to retrieve his errant son Julian from France, divorcee Beatrice acquiesces and becomes entangled in a web of deceptions. She’s like King Midas in reverse: All she touches turns to ash. A profound sadness lies just beneath the polished prose of this affecting tale.

Louisa May Alcott

by Susan Cheever |

REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

BIOGRAPHY

Cheever brings her characteristic lyricism to this loving, incisive portrait. Born into the difficult “circumstance” of being ambitious, talented and female in pre-Civil War America, Alcott wrote her way out-creating the Little Women who would redefine possibility for future generations of girls. A must-read for fans.

Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?

COOKBOOK ROUNDUP

by Ina Garten

It’s always reassuring to have a Barefoot Contessa book by your side in the kitchen. You can feel confident you’ll produce a flawless, top-quality meal-and have fun doing it. Garten’s seventh book, which focuses on quick dishes, doesn’t disappoint. (Think ultimate grilled-cheese sandwiches, easy Parmesan “risotto” and rum raisin tiramisu!) For the uninitiated, there’s also a new box-set collection-which includes three Garten classics. A good chance to see what all the fuss is about.