One of the most controversial books of 2011, Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, started an uproar when an excerpt portraying her structured approach to parenting ran in the Wall Street Journal. Recounting the story of how she raised her daughters to be super-achievers, Chua juxtaposes two different types of child-rearing—the strict Chinese approach and the more laissez-faire Western way. Chua, the child of Chinese immigrants, subscribes to the former, scheduling her daughters’ days down to the minute. There’s not much time left for fun, and Chua’s whip-cracking style often backfires (Lulu cuts off her hair in rebellion, while Sophia literally chews on the family’s piano). Chua, meanwhile, insists that her parenting methods are worth it thanks to the girls’ achievements, which are indeed impressive. This is a compelling book that should elicit impassioned discussion among moms and dads of every parenting style.

In Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses, journalist Claire Dederer uses the ancient discipline as a lens for viewing her own life—and that of her parents. Raised in 1970s Seattle, a city she still calls home, Dederer turns to yoga after the birth of her children. The activity proves metaphorical as well as therapeutic, and yoga is used as a point of departure for reflections on work, family and motherhood. Dederer’s solid marriage stands in stark contrast to that of her parents, who separated when her mother fell for a hippie but didn’t divorce for decades. Musing on the current yoga craze, the trendiness of her hometown and the challenges of parenting, Dederer covers a lot of territory in this expertly crafted memoir, but the journey is wonderfully satisfying. Her perceptive reflections on how the past influences the present and the ways in which family history repeats itself will resonate with readers. Memoirs are a dime a dozen these days, but Dederer’s is a standout.

Deborah Harkness’ hypnotic debut novel about vampires and witches draws on familiar themes yet feels fresh and authentic. A Yale academic who is the daughter of two witches, Diana Bishop is conducting research at Oxford when she discovers a most unusual volume. The book—150 years old and much coveted by witches and demons—contains supernatural secrets, and possession of it changes Diana’s life forever. Protecting her from those who would kill for the book is Matthew Clairmont, a 1,500-year-old vampire-scholar. As Diana’s alliance with Matthew blossoms into romance, she finds herself in an unforgettable battle with the forces of evil. Harkness moves among exotic locales—Paris, New York, Oxford—with the skill of a seasoned novelist, and the plot she spins is nothing less than mesmerizing.

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