Dear Mr. You

By Mary-Louise Parker. (Scribner, 228 pages, $25.)

In the imaginative and evocative "Dear Mr. You," sexy "Weeds" actress Mary-Louise Parker hints at her compelling life story through a series of love letters to key men in her life.

Each letter is a chapter, addressed to figures she mostly names only as Yacqui Indian Boy, Blue, Big Feet, Little Owl and the like. (You may find yourself googling her to try to suss out details.) As she explains in the titular first chapter, she's writing "to you who can fix my screen door, my attitude, and open most jars; to you who codifies, slams a puck, builds a decent cabinet or the perfect sandwich."

She thanks her gay best friend, her accountant, her helpful neighbor. She relates disturbing relationship details (but doesn't name names) in the cleverly titled "Dear Cerberus," which she dedicates to the three former lovers who "were the worst of those I called darling." "Dear Mr. Cabdriver" bares the raw pain she felt at being abandoned by her longtime boyfriend while pregnant.

Some of the most moving chapters relate to her beloved father, who died shortly after she procured a treat for him from "Dear Mr. Oyster Picker." She promised her father that she would keep writing, and we can be glad she did.

Marci Schmitt, multiplatform editor

The North Water

By Ian McGuire. (Henry Holt, 255 pages, $27.)

This novel by Ian McGuire is a combination high-seas adventure and murder mystery told with a literary flair that makes it thoroughly engrossing. "The North Water" depicts the harsh, often brutal world of mid-19th-century whaling.

The novel is told through the eyes of Patrick Sumner, a former army surgeon in colonial India with a narcotics habit. Nearly broke, he signs up to serve on the Volunteer, a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. The crew includes Henry Drax, a harpooner and criminal.

Drax is a dangerous party to the voyage's secret purpose. Imperiled and shipwrecked, the surgeon becomes a detective to confront treachery and murder.

David Shaffer, news reporter