Julia Gunnigan was desperate. The former Irish nun was approaching 40 and falling for Bill Lanchester, an international banker who wanted a large family.

Julia feared that if Bill knew her age, he would break off their relationship. So she stole her sister Dilly’s identity and instantly became nine years younger. She and Bill married, lived around the world and had one son, John. The quiet yet shattering repercussions of this deception are the basis of the son’s memoir, “Family Romance” (Penguin, 368 pages, $15).

After his parents’ deaths, John Lanchester sifted through his mother’s papers and letters to try to reconstruct the frame of a falsehood she took to her grave. The events were easier to discern than the emotions.

“All through the story of my family, the things that were felt most strongly are precisely the things that were never said,” Lanchester writes.

In uncovering the story of his origins, Lanchester has written a beautiful, sometimes elegiac love note to his parents.

• “The Sunne in Splendour,” by Sharon Kay Penman; St. Martin’s Griffin; 931 pages; $17.95

Penman has given the vilified monarch Richard III a makeover in this doorstopper of a historical novel. The Richard of this story is loyal to a fault as he fights on behalf of his brother, King Edward IV, and emerges as a sympathetic figure unfairly maligned. Critics praised Penman’s ability to shine a new light on the king’s character, as well as her attention to the details of 15th-century English life.

• “Speaking of Faith,” by Krista Tippett; Penguin; 232 pages; $14

The host of the popular public radio series of the same name speaks across religions to address issues of faith, science and ethics. Tippett outlines her own spiritual and intellectual growth, beginning with the influence of her Southern Baptist grandfather in Oklahoma, and draws on interviews with contemporary figures such as Elie Wiesel and Karen Armstrong to explore the ways faith intersects with the secular world.

• “Maxed Out,” by James D. Scurlock; Scribner; 246 pages; $14

Subtitled “Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit,” this finger-wagging book by documentary filmmaker Scurlock rails against financial institutions and government policies (or lack of them) that encourage irresponsible fiscal behavior. Students, the poor, the weak and the ill-informed, too, are chided for being sucked into a life of debt. New York magazine called it “bone-chilling, bloodcurdling, hair-raising.”

• “The Dead Fathers Club,” by Matt Haig; Penguin, 328 pages; $14

Haig’s well-received novel reverberates with Hamlet-like angst, as 11-year-old Philip Nobel is commanded by the ghost of his murdered father to take revenge against a shady family member. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly said the British “Haig does an enviable job of leavening a sad premise through the words and actions of a charming, resilient young man.”

• “The Power of Play,” by David Elkind, Ph.D.; Da Capo; 218 pages; $14.95

Child development specialist Elkind warns against over-programming our kids with organized activities, arguing that spontaneous, unstructured, imaginative play is essential. Not surprisingly, the author recommends toys that are low-tech and promote open-ended play, such as puppets and blocks. Both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal gave the book starred reviews.


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