the best of everything

By Kimberla Lawson Roby (William Morrow, 288 pages, $23.99)

The Black family returns in the newest installment of Roby's series about the Rev. Curtis Black. Only this time, it's not the good reverend causing all the drama. As the saying goes, the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree, and daughter Alicia finds herself repeating her father's mistakes. Now a young married woman, Alicia is used to and still yearns for the finer things in life -- from St. John suits to princess-cut diamond earrings. The problem is that her husband doesn't make the kind of money that buys the entire Gucci '09 spring collection. The novel follows the extravagant, spoiled and in-denial woman as she shops, shops and shops some more. Recession, who cares? The husband's upset with you, let's go shopping. Father-in-law dies, why not shop the pain away? As her marriage crumbles, Alicia hits rock bottom, though not the rock bottom that most shopaholics hit. No, Alicia's slap-on-the-wrist punishment, although it includes divorce, comes with Daddy paying her debts and giving her a hefty monthly allowance. A swift read, this book is a pleasant way to spend a snowy day, when the weather comes between you and a Nordstrom shoe sale.


Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain

by Kirsten Menger-Anderson (Algonquin, 290 pages, $22.95)

With 13 intertwined short stories, Menger-Anderson provides a fascinating look at how beliefs about medicine and New York society have changed since the arrival of Olaf Van Schuler in 1664. Hoping to cure his lunatic mother, the physician risks ostracism to study the brains of animals and, eventually, humans. In the next story, his son gives an unexpected testimony to clear from murder charges the publican who provides him with hearth and libations. Each succeeding generation pursues the latest trend, whether it be bathing in iron filings in the 1850s or augmenting breasts with silicone implants in the 1970s, typically with disastrous results. While each story is a tasty morsel, the whole seems to be lacking. There's too much focus on the brain and not enough heart.