CONTENT A doting father with a past suffers as his 14-year-old daughter begins to pull away. Her secret life leads to a charge of rape against a high-school hockey star. Meanwhile the mother, a professor who teaches Dante's Inferno, has an affair with a student.
GIST This novel has all the elements of a USA movie: date rape, teen sex, drugs and alcohol, cutting, adultery, alienation, and suicide. It is also a moving story of a family whose secrets have deadly consequences. A parallel story told in graphic novel format shows a father searching Dante's circles of hell to rescue his lost daughter.
CAUTION Sex and bad language.
CONTENT Beta male Charlie Asher barely has time to celebrate the birth of his first child before his wife dies in the maternity ward and he is enlisted as one of Death's helpers.
GIST Mr. Moore is identified as a "cult-author," which makes sense because this occasionally funny novel is very weird. It won't make sense to those without the sensibility to appreciate bizarre San Francisco characters and battles between creatures from the underworld and death merchants tasked with delivering souls of the recently departed to their next destination.
CAUTION Bad language.
CONTENT Cate Fonte, rookie district court judge, makes a controversial ruling in an intellectual property case that pits a Hollywood producer against the attorney from whom he stole an idea. An apparent murder/suicide results, along with the release of information about Cate's seamy private life.
GIST Ms. Scottoline's page-turning thrillers raise questions about law and ethics. Here she also asks what happens when someone's sordid, secret self becomes public. A Christian character sticks with Cate when her double life becomes fodder for gossip and perhaps a TV show.
CAUTION Sex and bad language.
CONTENT Opal Mehta's affluent immigrant parents have their heart set on Harvard. They've developed a plan HOWGIH (How Opal Will Get Into Harvard), but its elements -perfect grades, stellar test scores, and extracurriculars-aren't enough. Harvard wants proof that she has a life. So she and her parents embark on HOWGAL (How Opal Will Get a Life).
GIST This first novel by a Harvard sophomore never veers far from its formulaic chick-lit roots. It's distressing (and sometimes funny) to watch the lengths to which Opal's parents will go-including hosting a drinking party-to transform Opal into a "popular" girl.
In March feminist Naomi Wolfe made waves when she critiqued in The New York Times several series of books intended for teen girls, including the "Gossip Girls" and "A-List" novels. "The problem is a value system in which meanness rules, parents check out, conformity is everything and stressed-out adult values are presumed to be meaningful to teenagers." Ms. Wolfe was right. The series are poorly written and cynically exploit the teen desire to be cool.
The first Gossip Girl book has characters who drink and smoke pot in order to get through the day, and they plot out sexual exploits as if they're scripting a movie. The characters can't change because that would threaten the premise of the series: that shopping and partying on the Upper East Side of New York is the apex of human achievement. The A-List novels take the same premise and transfer it to Beverly Hills. In contrast, Opal Mehta may become a shallow fashionista and reject her old friends and values, but she gets her comeuppance in the end. And that's how it should be.