Secrets; Follow the Money 

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New York Times Style reporter Alex Witchel makes a striking debut in the sharp, smart, bracingly funny novel "Me Times Three" (Knopf, $22). It is set in the backbiting world of women's magazines and Witchel's main character, Sandra Berlin, is on the fast track to a storybook New York life. She is climbing the editorial ladder at ultra-chic fashion magazine Jolie!, and she's just become engaged to her high-school sweetheart Bucky Ross (descendant of American flag icon Betsy). The problem, she soon discovers, is that two other women have the same claim to Bucky.

Sandra's journey through the unfamiliar world of heartbreak and betrayal includes the most excruciating blind dates in the history of singledom. As she tries to piece her life back together, she relies on the common sense and compassion of her best friend, Paul — a rising young film agent, gorgeous, gay and moneyed — to keep her sane. But even Paul has his secrets, and soon Sandra is forced, on her own, to reexamine her past and, more important, what she wants for the future.

"Me Times Three" is comic and tender, outrageous and wise — a shrewd, dead-on portrait of a certain slice of New York life. It explores the age-old conflicts of wished-for ideals versus hard realities, and about being who you are versus the desire to fit in. Readers will find this book a fun, fluffy romp. (A good beach read in the middle of winter!). — Lee Hall

Follow the Money

Brad Meltzer has ventured in a different direction with his latest novel in the area of financial suspense. The plot in "The Millionaires" (Warner Books, $25.95) centers on an unexpected windfall of riches. Oliver and Charlie Caruso work in an exclusive bank in Manhattan, where each client has a minimum of $2 million in their account. Both brothers live for the chance when they can channel their creative potential into occupational fulfillment.

Opportunity presents itself when Oliver, in the course of his work, uncovers an inactive account of $3 million. An attempt to get in touch with the account holder, Martin Duckworth, reveals that he has been deceased for six months. It is then that Oliver, Charlie and a former Secret Service agent hatch a plan to appropriate this money. They launder the money into secret island accounts through dubious channels and nonexistent businesses. When a routine check on their account turns up a balance of $300 million, the brothers and their friend are dumfounded. Their collective fortunes take a dangerous turn when two Secret Service operatives begin to harass them and their family, and their friend is murdered in the process. Trying to escape a similar fate, the brothers begin to probe the history of their benefactor, a reclusive inventor and former marketer for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. By altering their appearance and making contact with the dead man's daughter, the brothers are drawn closer to uncovering a financial process which could revolutionize global economic power if used for impure motives.

"The Millionaires" is Brad Meltzer's most original novel. The brothers' intention to gloat over the wealthy class ventures along a more lethal avenue of murder and graft. The tense dialogue and surprising ingenuity in this excursion will grant this author a readership eager to welcome such originality — Bruce Simon


It's only February so it's not too late to enjoy the 2002 calendar "Crowns, Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats," by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry (Algonquin Books, $10.95). The photographs of the elegant and large! hats are worth a long look. — Rozanne Epps


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