By Stephen Lovely (Voice, 344 pages, $24.99)

When the impossible happens and Alex Voormann's beloved wife, Isabel, is struck and killed as she bicycles along an Iowa road, everything changes. Not just for Alex, but for a stranger named Janet Corcoran, who is dying miles away in Chicago. Because Isabel died, Janet will live; she will get Isabel's heart. Her feelings of gratitude and guilt are powerful, and as she recovers from the transplant she reaches out to a bitter and grieving Alex, to thank him. At the same time, the driver who killed Isabel begins reaching out, as well, looking for absolution. Author Stephen Lovely worked for seven years in an intensive-care unit, and he understands the subtleties and complications of chronic illness. This book rings true on every page. He is also a keen observer, and even though this first novel has a page-turner plot and is steeped in wisdom, some of the most admirable parts are his little asides of description: Spring. April. There's a breeze. The air is flimsy and sweet. ... A car approaches -- its headlights searing white holes that blind Alex -- and passes. Slowly, like a photograph developing, the world reappears. Like the many tiny nerves and blood vessels that bind a heart into a chest, this book gets its strength from the details.



By Tiffany Baker (Grand Central Publishing, 341 pages, $24.99)

Wow. This is one story that will stay with you. In this debut novel, Baker weaves an engrossing story of Truly Plaice, a fascinating and unique woman who happens to be extremely large. We follow her life and share her pain and humiliation and ultimate triumph as she grows both physically and emotionally. When her sister, Serena Jane, disappears early in the book, Truly goes to live with her cruel brother-in-law Robert Morgan to care for her nephew Bobbie. She keeps house and raises the boy while Robert tends to his medical practice. Soon Truly discovers an heirloom quilt that reveals medicinal potions to both heal and harm. She uses her newfound power to take revenge on some who have tormented her during her sad life, but comes to realize that revenge has a steep price. The book raises questions about who really is "family," how size and body image shape opinions about ourselves, how love is kindled and kept burning among friends and lovers. I savored this description of friendship: " ... if anyone ever knew the shape of me, it was Amelia -- and not just the outer lines of me, either, but all my innards as well. She was as necessary as the sun to me. She was the quiet heat that shimmered inside my shadow and made it live, and without her, I am a little darker." It's simply an awesome book.