Amy Scribner

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If you’re one of the millions of Americans who are (still) hooked on the groundbreaking reality TV series “Survivor,” the intriguing debut novel from memoirist and long-distance dog-sledder Blair Braverman will feel familiar—at first. In Small Game, five strangers are dropped off in a forest, where they must live off the land and work together to claim the prize money, and it’s all filmed for a new show called “Civilization.”

Protagonist Mara is an employee at a survival school. She can identify edible plants and build a fire. After a childhood shaped by paranoia—her off-the-grid conspiracy theorist parents worried their phones were being tapped and believed her mother’s miscarriages were due to a government conspiracy to control the population—Mara finds the “Civilization” cameras almost soothing. “She didn’t have to consider the surreality of dark figures spying, or cameras in the trees,” Braverman writes. “There was nothing to research, to doubt or to believe. The cameras were real, and everyone knew it. The eyes were always there.”

The other contestants include Kyle, an eager 19-year-old Eagle Scout from Indiana and a bit of a know-it-all; Bullfrog, a quiet and weathered carpenter who spends his time building a shelter, seemingly to avoid the others; and Ashley, a “magazine-gorgeous” competitive swimmer who’s using this opportunity as a springboard to fame. The fifth competitor, James, drops out almost immediately, sensing that something is deeply awry. 

Turns out, James’ prescience might have saved him. Within weeks, the “Civilization” production crew disappears, leaving the four remaining cast members stranded with few resources and virtually no information. They don’t know where they are, where the crew has gone and if they will return. After a grisly accident, the group sets out to find help. 

As a harrowing account of smoky, itchy, bloody wilderness survival, Small Game is extremely enjoyable. On a deeper level, it’s also a deeply satisfying exploration of how humans persevere and adapt in the era of constant intrusion, whether from cameras or social media. And ultimately, it’s a hopeful read, because even in the face of almost certain disaster, Braverman’s characters still find moments of connection and joy.

As a harrowing account of smoky, itchy, bloody wilderness survival, Small Game is extremely enjoyable. On a deeper level, it’s also a deeply satisfying exploration of how humans persevere and adapt in the era of constant intrusion.
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Many books have been written about the pressure cooker effect of working in the White House. But as chief speechwriter during some of the most pivotal days of President Barack Obama’s time in office, Cody Keenan has a unique story to tell. In Grace: President Obama and Ten Days in the Battle for America, Keenan recalls an unimaginably intense week and a half during which the Supreme Court issued decisions on same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act and a white supremacist murdered nine Black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Keenan’s job was to help craft remarks that met the moment. What could President Obama say on gun violence that he hadn’t said after Sandy Hook, Aurora and so many other mass shootings? How would he frame a historic court decision that either affirmed or denied LGBTQ+ individuals’ right to marry their partners? And how would he respond to the result of yet another challenge to his signature health care legislation?

Keenan divides his story into chapters, one for each day. It’s an extremely effective approach that adds tension to an already powerful story. Along the way, readers get a fascinating backstage pass to Keenan’s easy writing partnership with President Obama, an unparalleled writer and communicator in his own right who made every first draft better. Keenan also vividly describes daily life in the West Wing: a blur of meetings, emails and deadlines that started early and sometimes ended well after midnight. In particular, we spend a lot of time with Keenan as he hunches over his computer in his windowless office, where the light was “permanently neglected—a jaundiced fluorescence that never varied a wavelength.” (Most West Wing offices are anything but glamorous, as it turns out, and White House doctors actually supplied Keenan and his team with vitamin D pills to counteract the gloom of what he called “the Speechcave.”)

It’s no spoiler to say that the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the Affordable Care Act and affirmed the right to marry. (Who can forget the White House lit up in rainbow colors that night?) And of course, President Obama’s speech at the Charleston memorial will long be remembered for his impromptu performance of “Amazing Grace.” What’s fresh here is Keenan’s wry, occasionally self-deprecating recollection of his role in these historic events. No matter your political persuasion, Grace is a generous, lively and worthwhile read.

Chief speechwriter for the Obama administration Cody Keenan offers a unique perspective on 10 unimaginably intense days that shaped his boss’ legacy.
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In Frances Mayes’ sparkling new collection of essays, she ponders the meaning of home. It’s a subject about which she knows plenty, having made so many homes over her lifetime. In A Place in the World, Mayes’ fans can revisit some familiar places, such as Bramasole, the villa in the Tuscan countryside that she famously renovated in Under the Tuscan Sun, and the humid and fragrant Fitzgerald, Mayes’ Georgia hometown and the subject of her memoir Under Magnolia. Readers will also visit some new locales, namely Chatwood, the North Carolina farmhouse where she and her husband, Ed, live when they’re not in Italy.

Chatwood spoke to Mayes much like Bramasole did: It was instant love. “When the agent turned in at the lane leading to an upright farmhouse with book-end chimneys, a porch along the front, magnolia trees, and a meadow along a river, I was ready to sign the dotted line before I opened the car door,” she writes. “Ed agreed, this was Eden. Inside the house smelled like closed-up chapels I’ve come across in the Italian countryside. The kitchen fireplace had a swinging arm for hanging a pot over the coals. Copper sinks, bookcases everywhere, staircases that twist, many-paned windows splashed with green views—we are home. That fast.”

There are many such lovely descriptions of Mayes’ houses in A Place in the World, but this is not a book about buildings. It’s about the concept of home, that intangible thing to which countless magazines and blogs are dedicated. Mayes examines home from many angles. She devotes gorgeous chapters to the Chatwood garden, filled with tea-scented camellias, jasmine, honeysuckle and magnolia, not to mention an enormous veggie garden she put in at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also writes mouthwateringly about cucina povera, or the poor kitchen—the simple rustic Italian fare eaten during times of war—and how skills such as foraging, using every ounce of the pig and eating seasonally are learned at home. She even recalls temporary homes, rentals in Mexico and Capri that nourished her creativity.

My favorite essay might be “Home Thoughts: A Litany.” Here, in almost stream-of-consciousness prose, Mayes recalls the homes of her dear friends. “What an intimate act, to invite someone into your home,” she writes. And it’s true! She remembers in striking detail the sculptures, books, kitchens and fireplaces of her friends’ homes around the world. It’s a whirlwind home tour and homage to friendship in 10 pages.

Tempered by a dash of wistful examination as Mayes enters her 80s, A Place in the World is a beautiful, thought-provoking read.

A Place in the World is a beautiful meditation on home, tempered by a dash of wistful examination as author Frances Mayes enters her 80s.
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In spring 1943, Ava Harper is perfectly happy with her job in the Rare Book Room at the Library of Congress, where she spends her days among “fragrant, yellowed pages.” But as World War II rages on, Ava is pressed into service for a covert government operation that involves information-gathering from newspapers, magazines and other texts published in neutral territories. Eager to do her part to end the war in which her brother is fighting, Ava resolves to get to work. 

However, when she arrives in the neutral country of Portugal, Ava learns that her job entails so much more than promised. She finds Lisbon filled with refugees, “their arms laden with sacks of belongings, battered suitcases, and children. Languages from all over Europe rose from the crowd, blending French, German, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and many more into the cacophonous hum.” Desperate for passage to the United States, the refugees are all scrambling to secure visas and tickets on ships that may or may not arrive. 

Among the publications Ava gathers is an issue of Combat, a periodical printed by resistance fighters in Lyon, France. Within its pages is a coded message about a Jewish mother and son in hiding. Deeply affected by the anguish she sees in Portugal, Ava connects with the Frenchwoman responsible for printing Combat, and together they race to save the family. 

It feels strange to describe a book about the miseries of World War II as entertaining, but The Librarian Spy is a truly captivating read. Bestselling author Madeline Martin (The Last Bookshop in London) is known for her deeply researched historical fiction and romance novels, and as Ava’s story unfolds, readers can practically smell the bica, a Portuguese coffee drink, and feel the hunger, terror and cold afflicting the French as they endure the Nazi occupation. It is a delight to be carried through these experiences by Ava, an endearing, quiet bookworm who finds her purpose despite the odds.

Madeline Martin is known for her deeply researched historical fiction and romance novels, and The Librarian Spy is a delight as we follow the World War II adventures of an endearing, quiet bookworm.
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An old adage, adapted from the title of a Thomas Wolfe novel, insists that you can’t go home again. Linda Holmes’ deeply entertaining and heartfelt second novel, Flying Solo, counters with: Well, you can, but it will probably be messy and chaotic, and you’ll need some wine and a few friends.

Laurie Sassalyn’s beloved great aunt Dot has died. A journalist living in Seattle, Laurie has been tasked with going through Dot’s belongings and preparing her seaside house in Calcasset, Maine, for sale. Laurie travels to her hometown for the summer and sets to the task at hand with the help of her childhood best friend, June, and her ex-boyfriend Nick, now the town librarian.

As Laurie sorts through 90 years’ worth of photos, letters, books and memorabilia, she comes across a handcarved, beautifully painted duck tucked deep inside a chest. Intrigued, Laurie begins researching this mysterious duck and why Dot had hidden it so carefully. The more Laurie learns, the more she is convinced there is a secret attached to this simple wooden duck.

NPR pop culture reporter Linda Holmes’ first novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, which was also set in Calcasset, is beloved by readers and critics alike. Flying Solo is another absolute winner. It’s hilarious and insightful, with vivid characters who act and speak in utterly human and believable ways.

Holmes describes Calcasset with such precision and love that it becomes an additional character. In particular, the local library features prominently in the story: “A small parking lot, a bike rack, and a book drop bin sat in front of the big stone building, more like a church than the kind of brutalist block big cities had, or the office-park splat of a structure that too many suburbs got stuck with in the 1970s. This building had been here since 1898 and was on the National Register of Historic Places. This was a proper library.”

Flying Solo has it all: a mystery, shady con artists, a fabulously funny and supportive friend group and even a steamy romance. In the end, though, it’s a deeply felt examination of the choices we make and the many ways we define family.

Linda Holmes’ second novel has it all: a mystery, shady con artists, a fabulously funny and supportive friend group and even a steamy romance.
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The Cabrelli family has lived on the Italian coast for generations as local jewelers and pillars of their community. On her 80th birthday, family matriarch Matelda is grappling with her slowly failing health and unresolved family traumas. As Matelda takes stock of her life during a series of visits with her granddaughter Anina, she reflects on the great love stories woven through her family history and the bitter losses the Cabrellis have endured.

In 1939, Matelda’s mother, Domenica, is sent from her home in Viareggio, Italy, to work in a French hospital alongside other young women from around the world. Domenica’s initial homesickness quickly subsides as she and the other nurses go to pubs and dance on the pier. When anti-Italian sentiment sweeps through much of Europe, the hospital nuns move her to a convent in Scotland. There, Domenica meets the first love of her life. But after tragedy befalls their young family, Domenica brings 5-year-old Matelda back to the family home in Viareggio, where Domenica finds a second chance at love with a childhood friend, and Matelda begins her new life in a strange country.

Adriana Trigiani is the author of many beloved books, including Big Stone Gap and The Shoemaker’s Wife. The Good Left Undone is deliciously told, with fully explored characters, mouthwatering descriptions of Italian food and charming yet quirky towns. What’s exceptional about The Good Left Undone is how seamlessly Trigiani knits together different stories from many places and times, bringing it all together in one poignant and satisfying book.

This is a gorgeously written story about intergenerational love and heartbreak, the futility of regret and the power of a life well lived. It’s also a love letter to Italy and its beautiful and painful history. As a character in the novel says, “This is the place where the worst happened, my deepest pain and highest dream. Both reside in me, but I’ve learned that the love is greater than any hurt.”

Adriana Trigiani’s The Good Left Undone is a gorgeously written story about intergenerational love and trauma and the power of a life well lived.
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Edgar Smith is not one of the names that comes to mind when one thinks of storied American killers, but according to the superb crime writer and journalist Sarah Weinman, he was at one point “perhaps the most famous convict in America.” Convicted for the brutal 1957 murder of 15-year-old Vickie Zielinski in New Jersey, Smith spent years on death row claiming he was innocent. His story caught the eye of conservative millionaire William F. Buckley Jr., who befriended Smith and helped him publish his story in a bestselling book. After years of legal wrangling, Smith was released from prison and became a passionate advocate for prison reform.

But then? Smith was caught attempting to abduct a woman in California in 1976. After he stabbed and beat her, the woman managed to escape. He confessed to killing Zielinski while being tried for his second crime, and ultimately died in prison in 2017. Scoundrel is the electric story of a man who managed to fool everyone around him: his wife, his mother, the famous neoconservative who founded the National Review and even the legal system.

The most interesting detail Weinman uncovered during her research for Scoundrel is that Smith had an affair with his editor, Sophie Wilkins—or at least as much of an affair as one can have from the confines of prison. Weinman found a trove of correspondence from Smith to Wilkins, some of which are love letters and others of which are more sexually graphic. “Those long letters, exceeding twenty single-spaced pages, weren’t sent through the Trenton State prison system, lest snooping censors create problems and revoke the privileges of its increasingly famous Death House inmate,” Weinman writes. Instead, Smith gave the letters to his lawyers, who passed them along to Wilkins. Wilkins would later claim she was only using Smith’s affection to produce the best book possible, but the letters suggest a more complicated and sincere relationship between the pair.

Despite his crimes happening more than 60 years ago, Weinman paints a complete portrait of Smith in all his complexity, with an unsettling ending that left me breathless. A chilling and deeply satisfying read, Scoundrel injects life into a story nearly forgotten by time.

Scoundrel is the electric story of a killer who managed to fool everyone around him, as told by the superb crime writer Sarah Weinman.
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You know you’re in for a wild ride with the shockingly inventive collection Shit Cassandra Saw when one of the first stories is a piercing tale of women in New York acquiring supernatural powers that allow them to move through the city without fear of sexual assault. This is followed by a story that’s a one-star Yelp review written by Gary F., ostensibly about a Maryland restaurant called Jerry’s Crab Shack, but really about the man’s deeply dysfunctional relationship with his wife.

Other standout entries include a poignant look at a high school softball team that is reeling from a recent school shooting, and the tale of a woman who is having an affair and being judged by the priggish Colonial ghost who lives in her neighborhood.

So it goes, in dazzling story after story in this debut book from Gwen E. Kirby, a creative writing instructor and associate director at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference at the University of the South. Through humor, ferocity and sometimes a healthy dash of surrealism, Kirby meditates on the fears, joys and pains of being a woman throughout the centuries. Every story feels unique, yet they’re tied together by Kirby’s mind-bendingly confident writing and her clear fascination with strong yet vulnerable women.

And boy, does she know how to create a sense of place so strong you can feel and smell it. In “We Handle It,” for example, we meet teenage girls who are “at a summer music camp, our fingertips sore from strings, our backs sticky with sweat, and when we reach the lake we shed our summer dresses and leap from a boulder into the water, which is deep and clean. Around the lake are tall pines and the heavy hum of Southern bug life.”

Shit Cassandra Saw is pure pleasure with something for everyone, especially readers interested in thinking deeply about womanhood from every possible angle. Kirby’s characters are sometimes sinners and never saints, as complex as the real-life women we know and love.

The female characters in Gwen E. Kirby’s collection are sometimes sinners and never saints, as complex as the real-life women we know and love.
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When we think of women’s contributions to World War II, what often comes to mind are bandanna-headed Rosie the Riveter types taking over factory work while the men were away. However, women journalists also reported on the war, facing challenges that male journalists did not, and their contributions are frequently overlooked.

Biographer Judith Mackrell’s wonderful new book, The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II, examines the war through the eyes of six reporters from this time. Mackrell posits that, though these women had a harder time accessing the front lines or the important political and military figures of the day, creative workarounds led to more nuanced and interesting coverage. “Over and over again,” Mackrell writes, “it was the restrictions imposed on women which, ironically, led to their finding more interestingly alternative views of the war.”

The six women Mackrell focuses on are Virginia Cowles, an American correspondent who started her career as a New York City society reporter; Sigrid Schultz, a brilliant and brave Berlin-based reporter whom readers may remember from Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts; Clare Hollingworth, an ambitious and idealistic young Brit; Helen Kirkpatrick, whose college internship in Geneva led to a lifelong love of covering international relations; Virginia Cowles, an upper-class Bostonian who covered the war while remaining “disconcertingly glamorous in lipstick and high heels”; and Martha Gellhorn, a dazzling writer whom history primarily, and unfairly, remembers as Ernest Hemingway’s third wife.

Mackrell effortlessly weaves together the personal and professional stories of these six journalists, producing a hearty biography that feels almost like a novel with its rich details. She brings each woman to life, tracing her childhood and entry into journalism, as well as her work and romantic life, against the backdrop of a simmering conflict that boiled over into a disastrous war. Although these women covered hard news, delivering scoops about impending military moves, they also wrote human stories that almost certainly would have been underreported had the war been left entirely to male correspondents.

For example, Martha Gellhorn, one of the first reporters to bear witness to the Dachau concentration camp, wrote about one Polish inmate in the camp infirmary who was so wasted that his jawbone “seemed to be cutting into his skin.” After that experience, she wrote, “I know I have never again felt that lovely easy lively hope in life which I knew before, not in life, not in our species, not in our future on earth.”

Judith Mackrell’s biography of six female journalists during World War II feels almost like a novel with its rich details.
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The holidays mean different things to different people. Whether Christmas triggers your inner Grinch or inspires you to do something good for your fellow man, read on and find just the book for you.

When I think holiday cheer, I think curmudgeonly comedian Lewis Black. Okay, maybe not. Still, his irreverent and poignant I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas is well worth your time this season.

Black—a regular contributor to “The Daily Show” whose Me of Little Faith hit the bestseller list in 2008—makes it obvious (often in all caps) that he abhors “the claustrophobic and cloying warmth” of the holidays. He’s kind of an angry dude, but you can’t say you weren’t warned. He starts his book thus: “This book has nothing to do with those of you for whom this holiday is one of the cornerstones you rest your life on . . . This book is really for the rest of us.”

Indeed. Black spends much of the book hilariously skewering the excess of it all, the overeating and excessive spending. And yet, given his cynical view of organized religion and holiday cheer, this book finds Black in a surprisingly reflective mood. He’s at his best when he reflects on the good in humanity, such as when he describes his recent USO tour in Iraq, or muses on the disastrous earthquake in Haiti:

“No one was worried about being a Republican or a Democrat,” Black writes. “There was no debating a budget. There were no arguments over which side had the cheapest Band-Aids. There were no words, just action.

“We are quick to help when someone’s ass is kicked or when we think someone’s ass needs to be kicked. We are great at that. We just don’t know how to take care of ourselves. We are a country where many of our people are living on the edge of catastrophe if not in the middle of it. Maybe we could turn Christmas into a holiday where we help those who are buried here in our country.”

Happy holidays to you, Lewis Black.

And now for something completely different: a new book by Joel Osteen, pastor of America’s biggest megachurch, Lakewood Church in Houston. In The Christmas Spirit, Osteen argues that instead of toys and jewelry, the best Christmas gift is the gift of our time.

Osteen posits that we spend too much time trying to create the perfect Christmas, and that sometimes it’s the imperfections that make a Christmas memorable. He tells of his brother, Paul, a young surgeon struggling to find the joy in the season. With three young children at home and a busy career, he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in years. An elderly patient who had just lost her husband listened patiently to his woes before telling him, “Dr. Paul, I would give anything to be where you are now as a young parent. I’d give anything to hear the pitter-patter of little feet, to change a diaper, or to make formula for my babies again. I miss that so much.”

“The wise woman reset Paul’s clock that Christmas,” writes Osteen. “She reminded him that he should slow down, live in the moment, enjoy and be grateful for every minute as a parent.”

Osteen’s memories may be seen by some as exactly the kind of holiday treacle Lewis Black so thoroughly excoriates (Osteen grew up in a town called Humble, Texas, for goodness’ sake). But he is so sincere, and his message so simple—spend time with the ones you love, and give to those less fortunate—that even Black might struggle to find fault with Osteen’s Christmas Spirit.

Former Washington Post investigative reporter Ted Gup knew his grandfather, Sam Stone, as a mischievous man who loved to tell jokes and could pull a quarter from young Ted’s ear. But Sam Stone was born Sam Finkelstein, a Jewish boy who immigrated from Romania to Pittsburgh, growing up in a loveless, impoverished home where the children spent hours in the attic rolling cigars to help the family make ends meet.

Sam Finkelstein eventually moved to Canton, Ohio, renaming himself Sam Stone. A successful businessman and father of three, Stone and his wife, Minna, dreamed up the idea of helping those left in dire straits by the Depression. They placed a newspaper ad as “B. Virdot,” an anonymous benefactor who offered $10 each to dozens of families one Christmas season.

After Stone died, Gup’s mother gave him the suitcase of letters sent to B. Virdot in response to his ad. Gup reached out to interview descendents of the letter-writers, and in A Secret Gift, he relays their remarkable stories of distress and recovery in Depression-era America. He opens the door on the quiet shame so many felt in asking for help:

“For many today it is difficult to understand the stigma attached to going on the dole or accepting charity,” he writes. “The shame of poverty was tolerable—so many were in distress that Christmas of 1933—but the loss of face that came of publicly applying for relief, of claiming that one’s needs were equal to or superior to another’s, of enduring the gauntlet of probing questions, of surrendering one’s dignity and privacy, for many was too much to ask.”

As affecting as the letters are, the heart of A Secret Gift is Gup’s loving and painstakingly reported account of his grandfather—an ordinary man who gave an extraordinary gift when it was needed most.

In the Dark Streets Shineth, a quietly powerful book from Pulitzer Prize–winning historian David McCullough, combines photos and text to tell the story of how President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill came together in December 1941 to encourage their nations during one of the bleakest holidays in modern history.

Adapted from McCullough’s performance at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas concert in 2009, the book includes photos from the somber 1941 holiday season and the full text of the addresses that Churchill and Roosevelt delivered from a White House balcony at the lighting of the national Christmas tree.

“This is a strange Christmas Eve,” Churchill told a crowd of 20,000 gathered on the White House lawn. “Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other. . . .

“Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us. . . .”

McCullough—best known for his biographies of presidents Harry Truman and John Adams—also meditates on how classic American Christmas carols figured during this dark time. Although the two subjects seem slightly disjointed, McCullough manages to weave them together, and there’s no denying he perfectly evokes the uncertainty and fear of the time in this beautifully designed book.

The holidays mean different things to different people. Whether Christmas triggers your inner Grinch or inspires you to do something good for your fellow man, read on and find just the book for you.

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If a heart-shaped box of chocolates just won’t cut it this Valentine’s Day, pick up one of these unique takes on finding—and keeping—love. They’re entertaining, thought-provoking and way lower on calories than a chocolate cherry cordial.

What is it about New York City romances? We love those stories about couples who happen upon each other at the top of the Statue of Liberty or wandering through Times Square. Author Ariel Sabar has a theory about why Manhattan is so conducive to coupling: It’s all by design. “If you want strangers to talk, give them something to talk about: an unusual sculpture, a mime, a juggler, a musician, a street character. . . . It takes two strangers with ostensibly nothing in common and, through a shared, immediate experience, links them, even if just for a moment.”

Sabar’s thoroughly engaging Heart of the City profiles nine couples who met at famous New York City public spaces, much like his own parents, a Kurdish Iraqi father and upper-crust American mother who met by chance in Washington Square Park. The stories span generations, from the sailor who met a lost teenage girl in Central Park in 1941, to Claire and Tom, who met in 1969 at the top of the Empire State Building (“with its setbacks, clean lines, and needle-tip mast, the building looked like some precision scientific instrument, a scalpel under operating room lights”). Sabar has teased out each of these couples’ magnificent, ordinary stories and compiled them into a sparkling love letter to the city.

Want a more practical take on love? Settle in with Spousonomics, a wry and convincing treatise from two financial journalists on why economics is the key to building a marriage that endures through good times and bad. Paula Szuchman, a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, and Jenny Anderson of the New York Times clearly explain why common marital problems can be solved by applying simple economic principles. Fights over housework are really just an issue of division of labor. Are never-ending arguments the bane of your marriage? You might be loss-averse. And sex, say Szuchman and Anderson, is a simple “function of supply and demand.”

The thing is, Spousonomics actually makes a lot of sense, and you don’t feel like you’re reading a hellish undergrad textbook. When they explain the principle of incentives (a tool to get what you want), you understand that in economics, incentives work because they entice you to buy a pair of shoes just to get a second pair half off. In a marriage, incentives work because they get your husband to finish his honey-do list. Spousonomics “doesn’t demand that you look each other in the eye until you weep tears of remorse. It doesn’t require you to keep an anger log, a courage journal, or a feelings calendar.” It is simply a common-sense, laugh-out-loud guide to a happier marriage.

Angela Balcita has already undergone one kidney transplant and needs another when her new college boyfriend Charlie O’Doyle offers his kidney—an unorthodox way to kick off a romance, to be sure. Moonface is about what happens after she says yes to this most unusual proposal.

Balcita writes with humor and dignity about her second transplant at age 28, outlining the incredibly complex, fascinating process of removing and replacing an essential part of the body. But at its core, Moonface is a not-so-simple love story. “I wanted to take all of him, not just his kidney,” Balcita writes. “I wanted us to be like one person, one brain and one body, moving through the world. It was already starting to feel this way.”

Most gratifyingly, unlike so many memoirs of illness and recovery, this one keeps going after Balcita gets better. It won’t spoil the reader’s enjoyment to reveal that she and Charlie stay together and even have a baby. With her sharp ear for dialogue and unflinching honesty, Balcita offers a sweet story of love and healing.

If a heart-shaped box of chocolates just won’t cut it this Valentine’s Day, pick up one of these unique takes on finding—and keeping—love. They’re entertaining, thought-provoking and way lower on calories than a chocolate cherry cordial. MEET ME IN MANHATTAN What is it about New York City romances? We love those stories about couples who […]

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