New books should activate your imagination

  • By Ron Berthel / Associated Press
  • Saturday, June 12, 2004 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Among new books out this month, Helen Fielding, creator of the Bridget Jones novels, unveils a new heroine in “Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination.”

Among other new hardcover books are novels by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Peter Mayle; and nonfiction, including Tim Russert’s memoir of his father, essays by David Sedaris, John Keegan’s chronicle of the war in Iraq, and revelations about the feud between Robert F. Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis.

In Fielding’s “Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination”, Olivia, a London newspaper reporter, goes to Miami to cover the launch of a cosmetic created by Hollywood producer Pierre Ferramo. She falls for Ferramo, but when she becomes convinced that he’s a terrorist – or is it just her overactive imagination? – Olivia embarks on a quest for the truth that becomes a globe-trotting adventure.

The heroine of Jhabvala’s “My Nine Lives” is Jhabvala herself. In this, her first novel in almost 10 years, Jhabvala offers a fictional autobiography of an imagined life and invented memories. A different cast of characters populates each of its nine chapters, which together portray a full life in settings that include Delhi, Hollywood, London and New York.

Mayle, author of “A Year in Provence” (1990), returns to the French Mediterranean in “A Good Year”. When Londoner Max Skinner visits Provence to see the vineyard he recently inherited, he finds the area quite appealing – which, alas, isn’t true for the vile vino his vines produce. Other downsides develop, including the caretaker’s eagerness to acquire the property and the arrival of a woman from California who might have a legitimate claim to the estate.

In “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim”, Sedaris offers a collection of essays that reveal the absurdities hiding just below the surface of seemingly ordinary aspects of life. To provide examples, Sedaris mops a floor, directs a lost traveler, attends his brother’s wedding, and eats – of all things! – a hamburger.

War historian Keegan turns his attention to the world’s most recent conflict – and an ongoing one – in “The Iraq War.” Interviews with Gen. Tommy Franks and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld help Keegan explain the war’s causes and consequences, the reason for the invasion and the strategy for conquering Baghdad. He also analyzes U.S. and British intelligence that contributed to the decision to invade Iraq.

Russert, host of television’s “Meet the Press” since 1991, offers his version of “Life With Father” in “Big Russ &Me.” “The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get,” he writes in this tribute to Big Russ and to the other fathers of the senior Russert’s generation. The author celebrates his bond with his father and the values of loyalty, self-discipline and respect his father taught him.

The dust jacket of Peter Evans’ “Nemesis” resembles a supermarket tabloid – and fittingly so for a book with plenty of juicy tidbits about alleged scandalous behavior by Onassis and the Kennedys. Among Evans’ claims is that Onassis financed Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 assassination, the result of a long-running feud that began when Kennedy tried to have Onassis arrested for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government.

Other fiction

“Song of Susannah” is the sixth installment – with one to go – of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” fantasy series.

“Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy,” edited by Al Sarrantonio, contains 29 new stories by Orson Scott Card, Joyce Carol Oates, Harry Turtledove and others.

“Resistance” by Barry Lopez offers nine short stories about men and women who have “resisted the mainstream,” including a carpenter in India and a young woman in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In Mexico, a woman becomes the target of hired killers after trouble befalls her drug-smuggling boyfriend in “The Queen of the South” by Arturo Perez-Reverte.

The adventures of a London-schooled artist include fleeing to 1950s Cuba with an eccentric female painter in “Port Mungo” by Patrick McCabe.

An English physician accompanies his daughter, an aspiring actress, to Hollywood in Geoff Nicholson’s comic novel “The Hollywood Dodo.”

Regency England is the setting for “Slightly Dangerous,” the last installment in Mary Balogh’s saga about the Bedwyn family.

“Sarah” is the first in Marek Halter’s planned trilogy about New Testament women.

Two women, best friends, help each other face the challenges of the arrival of middle age in “The Botox Diaries” by Janice Kaplan and Lynn Schnumberger.

Other nonfiction

James Bamford tells how U.S. intelligence failures led to the Sept. 11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq in “A Pretext for War.” In “Peace Kills,” satirist P.J. O’Rourke speculates on why Americans hate foreign policy (it’s because Americans “hate foreigners because Americans are foreigners”) and tells why it should matter.

In “The Mother Knot,” Kathryn Harrison describes dealing with painful feelings about her relationship with her long-dead mother. TV newsman Charles Osgood reminisces about 1942, when he was 9 and there was a war on, in “Defending Baltimore Against Enemy Attack.”

In “An Alchemy of Mind,” Diane Ackerman examines and celebrates the wonders of the human brain and its many functions – memory, emotions, dreams and thought. In “Stranger Than Fiction,” Chuck Palahniuk introduces readers to some offbeat aspects of life, including amateur wrestling and submarining.

Paul Roberts warns about the world’s dwindling oil supply and the need to develop other energy sources in “The End of Oil.” In “The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki demonstrates that there is strength in numbers, in business, government and society.

“American Taboo” by Philip Weiss investigates the case of Deborah Gardner, a Peace Corps volunteer murdered on the South Pacific island of Tonga in 1976. In “Father Joe,” Tony Hendra describes his long association with an unconventional Benedictine monk.

Nicolaus Mills tells the story of the long campaign to create the National World War II Memorial, which opened this year in Washington, D.C., in “Their Last Battle.”

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