“What to Talk About: On a Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator With Your Boss’s Boss” by Chris Colin and Rob Baedecker. Chronicle Books, 2014. $14.95.

Have you ever found yourself at company get-together or in a drive-by conversation with a stranger and tried to start a conversation and then mumbled something incoherent?

Authors Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker take us through several “case studies” and offer up options to take your small talk in a new direction.

The content is very tongue-in-cheek and laced with humor. This isn’t a full- on self-help book, but a fun way of rethinking our daily conversations. It will definitely give you some ideas on how to change up your small talk and would be fun to read aloud at a party.

— Anna Guerra, Denham Springs

“All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood” by Jennifer Senior. Ecco, 2014. $26.99.

Using a vast array of social science studies, Senior examines how the role of children in families has changed over the last century, and how each childhood stage influences parents’ lives today.

Senior describes parents’ new “full-time saturation involvement” — think of parent and child sitting side-by-side doing school projects or parents spending the entire weekend at a child’s sports tournament. Mothers who do not work outside the home are now called stay-at-home mothers rather than housewives.

This is not a how-to parent book, nor is it advocating a childless life as Senior believes that children “strain our everyday lives, but also deepen them.” Overall, an interesting study on how and why children have become the center of parents’ lives and why “parenting” only recently became a verb.

— Laura Acosta, Baton Rouge

“What is Visible” by Kimberly Elkins. Twelve Books, 2014. $25.

Before Helen Keller, there was Laura Bridgman, who lost all but the sense of touch to a bout with scarlet fever.

No sight, no sound, no smell and no taste.

She was removed to the Perkins Institute in Boston, where Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe taught her how to communicate and, also, used her as a bit of an experiement.

Elkins’ moving book explores Bridgman’s state of mind as she navigated through the world with only the thrum of human activity to guide her through her increasingly complicated relationships with fame, Howe, her fellow students and luminaries who come to witness her miracle.

This is a tender book, sometimes difficult, but engrossing nonetheless.

— Beth Colvin, bcolvin@theadvocate.com