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Another Life

Andrew Vachss

Pantheon, $24.95/hardcover

You wouldn't want to make this your first Andrew Vachss novel, given that it's the 18th installment in his signature series about Burke, a New York City vigilante on a mission to wipe out child abuse one (or more) predator at a time. If you already know Vachss' work, then just the existence of a new novel will probably get you to the bookstore. But even devotees may find fault with this Burke chapter. The writing is as sharply intelligent and viscerally compelling as ever, but the second half loses momentum, the dialogue becoming unnecessarily elliptical and even convoluted. In deference to the author's track record as a novelist (interestingly enough, Vachss is also a child abuse lawyer), I'm still inclined to give this a second read. Newcomers, meanwhile, should check out 2006's Two Trains Running, for a safe and self-contained introduction to your next favorite author. Bill Forman


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The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica

Viking, $25.95/hardcover

There's a trend in the book trade toward nonfiction studies of abstract yet commonplace topics. For instance, Malcolm Gladwell's bestselling Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking explored the notion of the gut reaction. The Element is similar. Here, Ken Robinson gives us his take on matching your passion with your career. Really, though: 260 pages to say, "Find your passion?" Robinson says it best at the end of the first page of the introduction, and that's all you need to read. The following chapters of success stories fail to offer any extra insight. (Sadly, I couldn't relate to a billiards champion or a nuclear physicist who'd found their passions.) If you should need a little guidance, nothing tops all those old adages Mom used to extol. In this case, "Don't doubt yourself," "Know thyself" and "Get a life." Edie Adelstein


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The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

Tiffany Baker

Grand Central Publishing, $24.99/hardcover

First-time novelist Tiffany Baker brings a fresh voice to the new year with The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. Her debut follows the evolution of Truly Plaice, whose extraordinary size leads to her mother's death in childbirth and as she continues to grow at a seemingly impossible rate makes fitting in difficult in her tiny New York town. Truly's unusual proportions are made even more conspicuous by her sister's remarkable beauty. As the supporting characters spin around Truly, like planets around the sun, Baker portrays their interactions and inner lives with vividness and luscious, metaphor-packed prose that's a treat to behold. The book's few flaws a few odd decisions by characters and a first-person omniscient voice that reveals things the narrator could never know are outweighed by the sheer beauty of Baker's words. Jill Thomas

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