by Edna O'Brien

In western Ireland, the setting of O'Brien's latest novel, fields mean more than fields, and land disputes are considered almost a form of sport. Her distantly related protagonists Mick Bugler and Joseph Brennan, she writes, are "warring sons of warring sons" whose families have been battling over land for generations. Bugler, newly engaged, has returned from Australia to work a farm he has inherited, and Joseph views him as an interloper out to grab everything in sight, including Breege, Joseph's younger sister. (Comic relief is provided by a raucous bunch of local eccentrics who stand ever ready to do a neighbor a bad turn.)

Although the story's ending seems foreordained, there are few writers today who can capture the beauty and harshness of Irish rural life—and at the same time plumb the nether regions of the human heart—quite the way O'Brien can. (Houghton Mifflin, $24)

Bottom Line: Wild Irish rows

by Adriana Trigiani

Book of the week

Yes, there really is a place called Big Stone Gap, Va. And yes, Elizabeth Taylor and then-husband U.S. Sen. John Warner did visit the tiny hamlet nestled in the Cumberland Mountains on a campaign trip in 1978. Everything else in this delightfully quirky novel, however, springs from the imagination of first-time author Trigiani, a television writer and producer (The Cosby Show) and documentary filmmaker. And what an imagination she has.

Bottom Line: Southern comfort

by Cybill Shepherd

Shepherd has been accused of many things—wrecking director Peter Bogdanovich's marriage, lousy performances and acting the prima donna on her TV series Cybill—but never of being human. So it's a delightful surprise to discover that the actress with the ice-princess reputation has thoroughly thawed out in her new book. Mixing irreverence with self-reflection, Shepherd (with Aimee Lee Ball) delivers not only one of the most hilarious kiss-and-tell memoirs to come out of Hollywood in years but also a moving account of her journey of self-discovery. It's vintage Cybill. Who else could own up to a wild past ("I saw, I wanted, I took") that includes Elvis Presley (no King in bed), confide her true thoughts at losing an Emmy ("Die, die, bitch") or confess that at 50 she still hasn't a clue about what makes a healthy relationship? Such unflinching honesty makes for one juicy book. (HarperCollins, $26)

Bottom Line: Wickedly candid journey

>STANDOFF Sandra Brown Is it good luck for a reporter to have a dream story fall into her lap? Tiel McCoy, heroine of this thriller by the author of The Alibi, isn't so sure anymore. (Warner, $19.95)

PURE POETRY Binnie Kirshenbaum In this humorous yet tender novel, the author charts the romances of a neurotic poet whose life comes to a crisis point on her 38th birthday. (Simon & Schuster, $22)

THE PATIENT Michael Palmer

ARTIE—Assisted Robotic Tissue Incision and Extraction—is the name given the robot surgeon and star of the ninth medical thriller by Palmer, a real-life M.D. (Bantam, $24.95)

>Spencer Johnson

When he got divorced in 1979, Spencer Johnson felt pretty cheesed off. "I thought things ought to be the way they were," he says. Then he recalled something he'd heard about mice and men: When mice lose their food source, they go off to find another. But when humans lose something, they're likely to stay put, hoping it will somehow reappear. "We weren't raised to adapt to change," he notes.

But Johnson, now 61 and remarried, made like a mouse, and after the med-school graduate built a career as a writer (cowriting the self-help bestseller The One Minute Manager in 1982), he crafted his mouse metaphor into Who Moved My Cheese?, a 94-page parable with more than a million copies in print that has reached the top of many bestseller lists. "It's a simple fable that helps people in work and life situations," says Daisy Maryles, executive editor of Publishers Weekly. "Its simplicity is part of its appeal."

Though some readers find Cheese cloying and obvious, its appeal knows few bounds. Along with the $19.95 book, Johnson currently markets half-day Cheese seminars (at $895 per head), mugs, Post-its, even an animated videotape movie for adults and kids. "The more experience I get," says Johnson, "the more I respect the simple." Eeeek!

  • Contributors:
  • Jean Reynolds,
  • Cynthia Sanz,
  • Victoria Balfour,
  • Karen Brailsford.