By Lacy Crawford (William Morrow, 294 pages, $25.99)

There is no way on Earth to make this book sound interesting, but I’ll try: “Early Decision” is a novel about a woman who coaches rich high school kids on writing their college-entrance essays. See? That sounds awful. But it’s actually not a bad book.

The plot itself is thin — Anne, the application coach, doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life, and her boyfriend won’t marry her. But it’s interesting nonetheless, partly because the poor-little-rich-kids that Crawford writes about are so real, and so troubled, and so vulnerable. They’re sensitive and want to do things like go to Montana to study wilderness education, or come out of the closet and study theater, or even just get into a college based on their own credentials rather than on Daddy’s name.

But you know these kids are going to be crushed by their powerful parents who want them to pursue lucrative careers at Ivy League schools, and they mostly are; and you know that Anne is going to figure things out (and dump the boyfriend), and she mostly does. Crawford worked as an application coach for several years, and she knows what she’s writing about. This is a view into a privileged and rather horrifying way of life. It’s interesting like a train wreck is interesting.

LAURIE HERTZEL, senior editor/books



By Jeff Guinn (Simon & Schuster, 495 pages, $27.50)

The Vietnam War, the Summer of Love, race riots, Haight-Ashbury, the assassination of a civil rights leader and a president: The late-’60s were a tumultuous stew of upheaval in the United States. It was the perfect time for Charles Manson. Based on new research and interviews with previously uncooperative Manson relatives, bestselling author Jeff Guinn puts Manson in the context of his times and helps explain how an ordinary delinquent became “the boogeyman” to a generation of Americans. We learn how the unemployed ex-convict recruited and controlled his mostly female acolytes, who became known as the Manson Family, how he manipulated and abused them until he was able to convince them to kill for him. In all, nine people died in the summer of 1969, including actress Sharon Tate, who was 8½ months pregnant when she was butchered. But we also learn that far from being a criminal mastermind, Manson sent a hapless crew to commit murder: They left evidence everywhere, forgot to rob the victims and did a poor job of framing the Black Panthers (Manson was hoping to launch Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic race war); and on the night of the Tate murders, at least one Manson Family member did try to halt the killings. In fact, only a badly bungled police investigation delayed the arrest of Manson and his Family. Like the best true stories, “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson” reads like fiction and leaves readers with a better understanding of Manson the man, and of the era that produced him.

COLLEEN KELLY, mobile and social media editor