by Michael Dahlie (W.W. Norton and Co., 281 pages, $23.95)

The world is often unkind to kindhearted people, and no one knows this better than Arthur Camden. A bumbling New York ex-millionaire, he has recently lost his family's import-export business; then his wife, a serial cheater, leaves him for a flashier model. Bereft, Arthur must figure out how to live this new life. Everywhere he turns for solace seems strained at best, or simply crumbles. Throughout his misfortunes, few of which are really his fault, he remains a gentleman as well as a gentle man -- sometimes too gentle, megamillionaire son Patrick tells him. Is it his humble outlook or fearful nature that keeps Arthur from happiness? Yet a few stalwarts -- his fishing buddy, Ken; Rixa, a free-spirited widow, and his devoted sons -- maintain genuine affection for him. As Arthur takes the reader on his rocky journey toward joy there are moments of hilarity as well as pain at his remarkable ability to screw things up. "A Gentleman's Guide to Graceful Living" is Michael Dahlie's debut novel, a tour filled with moments of grace and angst, and an overwhelming sense that compassion matters; it's a quality that's a blessing to find in others, but especially valuable to discover within oneself.



by Mary Alice Monroe. (Pocket Books, $25, 384 pages.)

When city girl Mia Landan attends a fly-fishing retreat for breast-cancer survivors, she's enthralled by the beauty of the river and the thrill of her first trout. She cuts things short and high-tails it home to Charleston, S.C., to share it all with her husband. I bet you know what happens next; I bet you guessed she finds him in bed with another woman. Which sets in motion our story: Mia returns to the mountains, moves into a decrepit log cabin, fixes it up snug and sweet, realizes her husband is a creep and their marriage shallow, discovers that her surgery-ravaged body actually is beautiful, starts painting again, and finds a stand-up guy who loves her just the way she is. Oh, and solves a 100-year-old murder mystery, too. Monroe's story moves along at a vigorous pace, but my goodness -- it's all so pat. Mia is gorgeous; her husband is materialistic; the new guy is handsome and sensitive. Characters are always seeing the light, or getting over things in an instant. I do like Monroe's theme of redemption through nature, but a little nuance would not be a bad thing.