As Sunset Park opens, its main character, Miles Heller, is working for a company that "trashes out" foreclosed Florida houses, getting rid of the things families leave behind in their haste to abandon what they once called home. Heller has been living in self-imposed exile from his own family in New York, but soon enough circumstances force him to return home. He takes up an offer to squat rent-free in a dilapidated house with a group of young people and is reunited with his estranged father, who has longed for his return. All this provides Paul Auster with the material for a meditation on the meaning of home and the fragility of life with, or without, a safety net.
When a blizzard strands self-made Chicago millionaire James Sparrow and his wife Joyce in Looseleaf, N.D. on a visit to a dying uncle, James retreats to an ice hut on a frozen lake for a series of mystical encounters under the Christmas moon, with ghosts from the past as well as local eccentrics. Written in the author's signature folksy style, this is a charming and uplifting holiday escape.
At first, comedian Lewis Black didn't believe it when the USO asked him to join a Christmas tour to entertain U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in his new book, I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas, he writes that it changed his life — and his views of Christmas. Black uses the book to dig into his dyspeptic view of the ever-earlier holiday schedule, but the last chapter — about his holiday tour through the Persian Gulf with Kid Rock, Robin Williams, Lance Armstrong and Adm. Mike Mullen — takes an unexpected turn. "My problem has always been with authority," he says, "and I'm sure if anybody understands that it's people in uniform."
Singer Frank Sinatra was one of a kind: talented, ambitious and ruthless. As James Kaplan demonstrates in Frank: The Voice, Sinatra's heart was not made of stone but "was divided into many chambers." He was willing to step on or over anyone in his path; disentangle himself from deep emotional, artistic and professional bonds with bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey; and use anyone, even the Mafia, "until he grasped the brass ring." Kaplan writes, "The master plan for himself was exactly that: for himself. Alone." Even for those who know the outcome, Frank — a deliciously detailed, tough but not trashy account of Sinatra's rise, his fall from celebrity (amid criticism that he was a draft-dodging Communist sympathizer) and his Oscar-winning comeback in From Here to Eternity — manages to sustain the suspense.
Jenny McCarthy has managed to establish herself as both a Playboy Playmate and an autism activist, which is no easy feat. She's made a career of the knowing comic wink, or, in her case, the burp that explodes the facade of her bombshell looks. Her new book, titled Love, Lust and Faking It, is like spending an afternoon with your best friend, a copy of Cosmo and a low-fat milkshake. McCarthy confides personal stories of heartbreak and humiliation that are truly affecting, while padding the book with Twitter surveys, pop psychology and bedroom horoscopes. The result: the publishing equivalent of Doritos.
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.