By JACK FRIEDMAN Jennifer Garcia Meredith Maran and Clarissa Cruz
Updated September 12, 2011 12:00 PM

Blueprints for Building Better Girls

by Elissa Schappell |



Schappell’s 2000 novel Use Me was described by one reviewer as “so brilliant it practically gives you a suntan.” The same can be said of her new collection of linked stories, a hilarious, poignant achievement far greater than the sum of its parts. “What would I want with the Pillsbury Doughboy? The label was slut, not charity worker,” thinks a troubled, promiscuous teenage girl who’s taken up with her school’s former “fat kid.” An infertile woman envious of her more fecund friends gripes, “The plague of babies spread…birth announcements fat with glossy photos of newborns, all wispy comb-overs and padded cheeks, watery eyes and pouts pearled with drool.” When another young wife, heartbroken over her impending divorce, receives a cruelly impersonal gift from her soon-to-be ex, she reflects, “It was a small thing, small like a sliver of glass.” Schappell, a Vanity Fair contributor, has an exceptional gift for bringing a vibrant, irresistible group of characters to life, making Blueprints a positively addictive read.

Duty Free

by Moni Mohsin |



The matchmaker wears Prada in this breezy romp through a certain stratum of modern Pakistan. The unnamed heroine is tasked with finding a bride for her cousin; as she navigates the lavish weddings, gossip fests and overseas shopping trips of her circumscribed world, her frolicking is juxtaposed with a ticker tape of the often grim events affecting her native land. It’s her hilarious self-absorption and malapropisms that make the author’s American debut worth reading.

What It Is Like to Go to War

by Karl Marlantes |



The Marines taught Marlantes how to kill-but not what to do with the memories. Sent to Vietnam in ’69, he came home with medals and a howling case of PTSD. In this thoughtful, literate work of self-exorcism, Marlantes (Matterhorn) tells tales of incredible bravery as well as brutality. And he lets us in on war’s dirty little secret: “Combat is the crack cocaine of all excitement highs.”