FALLING INTO MANHOLES: THE MEMOIR OF A BAD/GOOD GIRL

By Wendy Merrill (Berkley, 277 pages, $15)

Wendy Merrill looks at her complicated relationship with men (and other addictions) in a sassy memoir, just out in paperback. The eldest of four daughters, Merrill grew up wanting to be perfect, instead feeling too tall and "gawkward" (gawky and awkward) and spiraling very quickly out of control after the death of her mother when she was 16. Her low self-esteem manifested itself in bulimia, alcoholism and some spectacularly bad boyfriends. Through it all, she managed to find professional success, owning her own marketing communications business. "Falling Into Manholes" occasionally wanders, as in an extraneous chapter on male urination and the author's nudophobia, but Merrill is a gifted storyteller. She lurches heartbreakingly yet entertainingly from one painful romance to the next, revealing her struggles with an appealing blend of wit and wisdom. She's the girlfriend with the colorful love life whom you envy, pity and root for all at the same time.

MARCI SCHMITT, FEATURES LAYOUT EDITOR

THE LAWS OF HARMONY

By Judith Ryan Hendricks (Harper, 496 pages, $14.99)

Lest anyone think that hippies were all about peace, love and understanding, Sunny Cooper can tell you different. Born on a commune called Armonía (Spanish for "harmony") in Taos, N.M., she couldn't wait to get away from the love-ins that devolved into brawls and the freedoms that left her family broken. At 32, she's still not suited for a 9-to-5 lifestyle, but Sunny is OK. She's supporting herself in Albuquerque by doing odd jobs and voice work and has kept dealings with her family to a minimum. When she finds a too-good-to-be-true boyfriend, guess what? He's really a heartless schemer who sets Sunny on the run again. By a quirk of fate, she ends up in a fishing village called Harmony on the northwest Pacific coast. With patience and tenderness, Hendricks makes Sunny's plight believable, her determination to follow her intuition admirable, and her gradual reconciliation with her past honorable.

KATHE CONNAIR, FEATURES COPY EDITOR