by Clive Cussler

The ever-daring Dirk Pitt has unearthed Incan gold and tracked down Cleopatra's barge, but there's one thing the debonair hero of Cussler's blockbuster bestsellers just can't seem to do: take a vacation. In his latest escapade, Pitt heads to Washington State's Orion Lake in search of a little fishing and relaxation. What he finds instead is a ruthless shipping magnate who's smuggling Chinese immigrants into the U.S. and plotting an economic and ecological disaster that will bring the country to its knees. Naturally, Pitt and his band of merry mariners from the National Underwater and Marine Agency step in to stop him.

Cussler's screeds against rising immigration rates will grate on some, but thankfully the author never takes himself or his stories too seriously. Packed with meticulous research and wonderfully quirky characters, the novel rolls along at a leisurely pace and is as fun as it is formulaic. There are no surprises here, but for pure entertainment, Flood Tide proves as reliable as Pitt's trusty Colt .45. (Simon & Schuster, $26)

by Linda Lear

Considered a prophet by naturalists and an alarmist by the chemical industry, the late Rachel Carson is best known for writing Silent Spring, the 1962 bestseller that raised awareness of the peril of pesticides.

In this impressively researched and eminently readable biography, George Washington University professor Linda Lear depicts Carson as a dedicated woman who successfully combined the two loves of her life, nature and writing, despite efforts to dismiss her as a frustrated spinster.

Carson spent 16 years working for the Fish and Wildlife Service, a job she kept largely to support her widowed mother, sickly niece and the niece's son (whom she adopted when the niece died). During that time she managed to write The Sea Around Us and two other popular books about ocean life, becoming that rare writer who made science accessible, beautiful and exciting to lay readers.

In the more than 50 years since Carson issued her first warnings about society's abuse of nature, many of her prophecies have come true. It is an ominous subtext that makes Lear's book compelling, not just for Carson devotees but for anyone concerned about the environment. (Holt, $35)

by Mark Leyner

The Esquire columnist and humorous author (Et Tu, Babe) has penned a gonzo parody of a wannabe writer's coming-of-age. A 13-year-old character named Mark Leyner is taken to a New Jersey prison to witness his father's execution by lethal injection. But the drugs don't work; Dad is released, and Mark gets high and hits the sack with the female warden...and so on. Leyner's manic, free-form plot—a mélange of autobiography, screenplay and movie review—is intended as a wicked commentary on society's compulsion to make private lives public. It's also a forum for Leyner to show off his knowledge of history, literature and pop culture—there are references to everything from the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire and Ezra Pound's Cantos to Dior Cellulite Control Complex and Special K (the drug, not the cereal). The book is also filled with what Leyner says are "the basic things that a 13-year-old boy does—talk on the phone, surf the Net, watch TV, listen to music and masturbate." There is much of the latter. Maybe you have to be a guy—or 13—to appreciate it. Tetherballs may give you a few chuckles, but it gets tiresome very quickly. (Crown, $22)

by Rick Bass

In three lovely novellas, Bass gently persuades us to relax rigid thinking about loaded opposites like man and nature, male and female, prey and predator, life and death. The most exotic of the three—more fairy tale than wilderness adventure—is "The Myth of Bears." In it, Judith, the runaway wife of a trapper, becomes a creature of the Yukon forest. She wishes we wouldn't "spend our silly lives crossing back and forth over that river...rather than swimming in it." Bass would have us jump right into his metaphorical river and feel the wholly connected current of being on the planet. "Where the Sea Used to Be" is a whimsical love story about a wildcat oilman in northern Alabama. And the title novella tells of a woman "sculpted by the land"—her family's 10,000-acre ranch, a cattle-free oasis of wilderness in overgrazed West Texas.

Bass writes beautifully about nature and about those who fully inhabit it. His keen-eyed prose makes even a devoted urbanite regret that the cities' neon washes out the stars and outcompetes the fireflies. (Houghton Mifflin, $23)

by Richard Noll

Long revered as one of the founding fathers of psychoanalysis and the mystical godfather of New Age spirituality, Carl Jung appears—in Richard Noll's fascinating new biography—as a bit of a dangerous crackpot who could have used some professional help.

Noll charts Jung's youthful flirtations with spiritualism and the growth of his faith in the therapeutic value of polygamy, sun worship, Teutonic mythology and intense communion with one's pure-blooded Aryan ancestors. After an ugly break with Freud, several love affairs with his own patients and (in an episode long suppressed from Jung's memoirs and biographies) a series of visions in which he saw himself as an ancient lion-headed god, Jung convinced himself that his school of psychiatry was a messianic religious cult with valid proto-Nazi, anti-Semitic, neopagan overtones—and he was the Aryan Christ at its center.

Destined to be controversial, Noll's thoughtful and lucidly written study may make its readers think twice before joining a New Age Jungian healing circle. (Random House, $25.95)

by Joan Collins

Yes, a jury of her peers concluded last year that Joan Collins, 64, is a perfectly adequate writer—a decision it reached after Random House tried to retrieve a big advance for a Collins novel it deemed unpublishable. Now, with that legal feather in her designer hat, Collins delivers a follow-up to her 1984 memoir Past Imperfect. The verdict? Second Act confirms her literary adequacy—but just barely.

Best known as the scheming meanie Alexis on Dynasty, Collins the Writer is up to the demands of the genre in question, which, fortunately for her, is Self-Serving, Selectively Candid Celebrity Memoirs. She takes readers on a by-the-numbers tour through her life's high and lowlights—a privileged upbringing in romantic war-torn London; four failed marriages; her years as America's favorite bitch-goddess. To keep things moving she avoids interesting details (barely a mention of her affair with Warren Beatty) and skimps on meaningful introspection.

About the only time Collins does that jury proud—and proves that writing well is the best revenge—is in an entertaining, pull-no-punches chapter on the Random House trial, in which she calls her former editor Joni Evans "a bottle blonde" with "leathery orange skin." Meow! (St. Martin's, $24.95)

by Joe R. Lansdale

Page-Turner of the Week

Leonard Pine are not the sort to let rabid squirrels lie. Especially not when there seem to be so many other strange occurrences in their patch of East Texas, including two murders, a gay-bashing ring and a slimy scheme cooked up by a fast-food baron. The amateur sleuths are dying to get to the bottom of it all—that is, if their curiosity doesn't get them killed first—in this zesty, down-home thriller.

The salt-and-pepper duo's latest misadventures begin when Leonard's boyfriend Raul dumps him for a biker. Meanwhile, after his run-in with a rabid rodent, Hap lands in the hospital, where he has the bite put on him by an amorous nurse. Then Raul's new beau turns up as roadkill. Through the funny, four-fisted action that ensues, Lansdale demonstrates just why he has become a cult figure in every genre from horror to humor. Like 10-alarm chili, the author is pretty strong stuff—but if you've got the stomach, he packs one heck of a wallop. (Mysterious Press, $22)

>A selection of the fall season's best bets in books for kids 12 and under:

BUNNY MONEY by Rosemary Wells

When Ruby and Max shop for Grandma's birthday, they come home with plastic vampire teeth—and a new feel for how far a dollar goes. (Dial, $14.99)

ALLIGATOR BABY by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko Every kid who ever cursed baby brother for not being a pet instead will delight in this tale of mistaken identity (Scholastic, $10.95)

FLOATING HOME by David Getz, illustrated by Michael Rex An 8-year-old's fantasies blast her into orbit as the world's youngest astronaut. (Holt, $15.95)

MORDANT'S WISH by Valerie Coursen Serendipity, and the power of longing, win a friend for an adorable mole. (Holt, $15.95)

COLOR SURPRISES by Chuck Murphy The chartreuse snake alone is worth the price of a pop-up master's latest. (Simon & Schuster, $12.95)

THE CINDER-EYED CATS by Eric Rohmann A small boy journeys to a surreal creature kingdom where felines and fish frolic the night away. (Crown, $17)

LULLABIES: AN ILLUSTRATED SONGBOOK Edited by Carolyn Vaughan Aptly chosen paintings from New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art enhance this anthology to dream by. (Gulliver/Harcourt Brace, $23)

BURNT TOAST ON DAVENPORT STREET by Tim Egan What happens when a housefly grants you three wishes? Arthur Crandall and his wife, Stella, find out the hard way. (Houghton Mifflin, $14.95)

OVER THE MOON: AN ADOPTION TALE by Karen Katz For the adoptive parents in this brightly illustrated, reassuring story, meeting their new daughter is the stuff of dreams. (Holt, $15.95)

  • Contributors:
  • Cynthia Sanz,
  • Deborah J. Waldman,
  • Paula Chin,
  • Adam Begley,
  • Francine Prose,
  • Pam Lambert,
  • Kim Hubbard.