In her resonant and timely fifth novel, My Hollywood, Mona Simpson takes the pulse of a group of privileged Santa Monica mothers, women who expect to have careers and family (or husbands who support them in high style) but who depend upon nannies to make it all work. In her gradually unfolding, finely tuned narrative, Simpson shows how, for many women, the nanny-mom relationship grows to be more intimate than marriage. The obvious flaw in the relationship is that money changes hands. My Hollywood offers a cool vision of the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the city where dreams only occasionally come true.
Chaos reigns over Beefeater Balthazar Jones' life at the Tower of London as he watches his marriage fall apart following the death of his 11-year-old son. Balthazar's life takes an unexpected turn when he is put in charge of an assortment of animals given as gifts to the queen, including a Komodo dragon, giraffes and some naughty marmosets. Passion, desperation and romantic shenanigans abound among these and other tower denizens, and the result is a love story that's charming, witty and heartfelt — and only occasionally over the top.
Barry Eisler, a former CIA operative, is the author of two thriller series that have become international best-sellers. His latest book, Inside Out, explores issues of torture when dealing with enemy combatants, and is based on real events involving the disappearance of videotapes documenting American misdeeds. It's part of his Ben Treven series about a black ops soldier with a wicked sense of humor — though some reviewers have found Treven less compelling than Eisler's previous hero, John Rain.
We are living in the midst of a cancer epidemic, so it's shocking that a single physician has yet to approach the history of cancer as if it were not simply a disease but a character who has straddled human history. Siddartha Mukherjee pulls this off in the extraordinary The Emperor of All Maladies, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize. A cancer physician at Columbia University, he charts its evolution from 2500 B.C., when record of its ravages appear on papyrus scrolls, to the development of chemotherapy in the mid-20th century to today's frontier of research. Mukherjee weaves this clarifying thread of history between tales of his own patients and delicate analysis of the ways that cancer has emerged in public imagination, showing that the root of cancer is the same thing which gives us life, the ability to divide, multiply and grow. The vision is haunting.
By the time Bill Clegg had reached his mid-30s, he'd checked all the boxes that would allow him to be defined as a success. He was running his own literary agency. He'd come to terms with his sexuality and was in a steady relationship with another man. He was earning a good salary. But there was something else: Bill Clegg was a crack addict. And all those outward trappings of success collapsed over a period of two months in 2005, when his addiction took over his life. He recounts the story of his prolonged drug binges, extravagant spending and promiscuous sex in his new memoir, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. Having recovered his life and lived to tell about it, he says that part of his recovery is remembering the pain of his habit and sharing his story with other addicts and survivors. "In that way, I'm perpetually re-examining, re-occupying that time and the harm that I caused," he tells Guy Raz.
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.