by Danielle Steel

Whoever said "Love is all you need" never met Kate Jamison and Joe All-bright, the soulmates at the center of Steel's latest romance. From their first meeting in 1940, when Kate is just 17 and Joe is a 29-year-old flying ace, the pair just can't seem to get things right—despite their inextinguishable passion. Kate gets pregnant out of wedlock. Joe gets shot down over Nazi Germany. And between Kate's fear of abandonment and Joe's terror at the thought of being tied down, the two break each other's hearts again and again.

The novel is brightly paced, and the World War II setting provides plenty of contextual drama. But the characters' endless self-absorption (She: "Don't leave me!" He: "Don't ask me to give up my freedom!") gets tiresome. (Delacorte, $26.95)

Bottom Line: Medium-gauge Steel

by Anne Tyler

Page-turner of the week

At 53, Rebecca "Beck" Davitch has a full life—but not the one she expected. A widow, she's considering a new liaison with her college swain; no longer a shy history student, she hosts parties for a living—when she's not mothering her four grown daughters. "How," she muses, "did I ever become this person who's not really me?"

Nearly every woman has asked herself the same question, and no one is better suited to answer it than Tyler, whose domestic meditations (Breathing Lessons, The Accidental Tourist) deftly find the magic in the humdrum. Tyler's eye and ear for familial give and take is unerring, her humanity irresistible. You'll want to turn back to the first chapter the moment you finish the last. (Knopf, $25)

Bottom Line: A wonderful life makes for a wonderful novel

by Richard Russo

Like many a Richard Russo (Nobody's Fool) hero, Miles Roby is on a permanent losing streak, ever hopeful his luck will turn but old enough to know better. A former altar boy one semester shy of a B.A., Miles never thought he'd still be living in his depressed home town of Empire Falls, Maine, at 42. But his wife of 20 years has left him for the local aerobics instructor, the diner he runs barely shows a profit, and everyone takes advantage of his generosity. He shows little fight when his father, Max, a big-drinking, small-time con man, keeps pinching beer money.

When the senile Father Tom—who has begun revealing his parishioners' confessions—calls Miles's mother a whore, Miles uncovers some long-held secrets. As usual, Russo's affection for his flawed protagonists brings the uniquely American story to life. (Knopf, $25.95)

Bottom Line: Absorbing blue-collar Babylon

by Melinda Haynes

It's back to the backwoods for Oprah's Book Club author Haynes (Mother of Pearl), whose second novel is full of '50s Mississippi stereotypes. None-too-bright 16-year-old Hezekiah Sheehand, toting his disabled 5-year-old brother Yellababy on his back, plays hooky from school and sets off for the community of the title, whose eccentric residents have taken to communicating by writing on chalkboards on their porches since the unsolved murder of a woman there six years earlier. The crime is more interesting than the dysfunctional Sheehands; it seems Haynes has read too much of the southern gothic writing of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. (Theia, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Tired try at Mississippi blues

by Stanley Williams and Fen Montaigne

by Victoria Bruce

Who would have thought that dueling geological histories could be so fascinating? But these two books, both about the fatal eruption of the volcano Galeras in Colombia in January 1993, are bubbling over with vivid personalities and drama.

Williams, a geology professor at Arizona State University, was leading an expedition to the volcano's crater at the moment Galeras erupted. Six fellow foreign scientists were killed by flying rocks, as were three local Colombians who picked the wrong place to hike. Williams suffered a nearly severed leg.

Bruce, a science journalist, seems intent on demonizing Williams, claiming he should have known the eruption was coming. In his book, Williams acknowledges his "not inconsiderable ego." His is better written, with first-person urgency; Bruce more thoroughly depicts the other participants. (Bruce: HarperCollins, $26; Williams: Houghton Mifflin, $25)

Bottom Line: Two enlightening looks into the mouth of a disaster

>THE ROSE CITY David Ebershoff Pasadena, home of the Rose Parade, is the setting for seven perceptive short stories that demolish any notions that life there is all sun and roses. (Viking, $23.95)

TELL ME A STORY Don Hewitt The executive producer of 60 Minutes has subtitled his memoir Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television, and he shares juicy inside stories about TV news. (Public Affairs, $26)

GABRIEL'S STORY David Anthony Durham There are more than a few good, bad and ugly moments to savor in this bold debut novel about a 15-year-old black Easterner's coming of age among the cowboys and homesteaders of the American West in the 1870s. (Doubleday, $23.95)

>Victoria Principal

Victoria Principal is happy to talk about her age. "I'm 51," says the former queen of Dallas. After all, she adds, if she's candid about her years, "maybe actresses coming up after me will feel more comfortable about saying how old they are."

But plastic surgery is another story. Although she is married to Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon Dr. Harry Glassman, 57, Principal won't discuss whether she has been a client. "If I wanted to have surgery, would I choose my husband? Yes. Will I share it with everybody? I doubt it." What she is sharing—in her fourth book, Living Principal: Looking and Feeling Your Best at Every Age (Villard, $24.95)—is her routine for what she calls "youthful maturity." Instead of laying down the law, Principal emphasizes enjoying life, even when you're worried that everyone is eyeing ever)' little morsel you eat. Last winter, she says, she ate a chocolate-chip cookie on a crosscountry flight, and "the pilot announces over the intercom, 'Victoria Principal has eaten her cookie, so you should too.' "

  • Contributors:
  • Cynthia Sanz,
  • Linnea Lannon,
  • Erica Sanders,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Debby Seibel.