By Elizabeth Berg (Random House, 260 pages, $25)
If you must be a widow, you might hope to be a widow like Helen Ames, who mourns the death of her beloved husband and their very happy marriage, but is left in comfortable circumstances -- enough money to live on and an incredible house her husband secretly had built for her, to all of her exact requirements. Helen is also attractive enough to draw the attention of handsome, well-to-do men, should she be interested. OK, that's a good start for one's solitary 60s, I'd say. But this does not mean that her life is without problems: What to do with the house, which is on the other side of the country? What to do about her lack of drive? (She is a writer, and grief is giving her writers' block.) And what to do about her daughter, whom she loves, but is clearly driving crazy? Elizabeth Berg's novels are comforting, fast reads, more than mind candy, but quickly forgettable. You can read this on a nice July afternoon and then, maybe, in August, you can read it again.
LAURIE HERTZEL, BOOKS EDITOR
The Whiskey Rebels
By David Liss (Ballantine Books, 500 pages, $15)
In "The Whiskey Rebels," just released in paperback, novelist David Liss returns to the historical themes of his early books -- financial manipulation, treachery and murder. Like his debut bestseller, "A Conspiracy of Paper," set in London's stock market, this new novel is a tale of money and power in the 18th century, but in this novel, the action takes place on another continent. A new mix of vile, downtrodden and genteel characters converge in the postrevolutionary United States, mainly in Philadelphia and the brutal western Pennsylvania frontier. The plot weaves together the young nation's revolt over whiskey taxes and Alexander Hamilton's controversial backing of a national bank. Not to be missed.
DAVID SHAFFER, NEWS REPORTER