by Eugene Walter
as told to Katherine Clark

Eugene Walter, "the best-known man you never heard of," had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. A native of Mobile, Ala., Walter became a novelist, actor, poet, puppeteer and party giver, hobnobbing with Greta Garbo, William Faulkner, Federico Fellini, Judy Garland and assorted royalty before his death in 1998 at age 76. Walter's anecdotes are so frothy they ought to be served with a paper parasol over crushed ice. He recalled how Fellini, besieged by scantily clad would-be starlets lying in wait at his home, would give them walk-on parts as nuns. (Crown, $25)

Bottom Line: Life as a cabaret, old chum

by Prue Leith

Leith, a chef and TV personality who hit the U.K. bestseller lists with this first novel, cooks up a plot rich in food and sex. Jane is a London lawyer who likes to cradle her laptop more than her husband, Patrick, a 40-year-old restaurateur. He wants to make babies; she wants to make partner, thus avoiding "baby talk, boring clothes, saggy breasts and middle age." Dumping Patrick, she is soon practicing the Kama Sutra with a man she meets in India, while Patrick falls in lust with Stella, a sexy young food critic.

What follows is predictable, but Leith writes with depth, making us root for both country boy Patrick and urbane Jane. Leith is at her liveliest when her characters are ravenous—for sex or food. (St. Martin's Press, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Hits the spot

by Isabel Allende

Like her novel The House of the Spirits, Allende's new book is spun from the stuff of epic romances: eternal love, lost innocence, distant locales, revolution. In short, all the elements of a sure bestseller. Painted on a broad canvas, Portrait in Sepia chronicles the tangled family history of Aurora del Valle, a photographer in 1910 Chile who is haunted by lost childhood memories.

Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden, Allende's eloquently layered descriptions breathe life into her characters. In the author's blunt view, Aurora's grandmother Paulina—who has a taste for sweets and an eye for finance—"inspired the mixture of fascination and fear you feel when you see an iguana." One couple, Allende writes, was "joined by the enviable complicity of true scoundrels." In comparison, as the sole passive figure in a cast of eccentrics and heroes, Aurora proves an uninspiring choice for narrator. Her secret past, which frames the novel, turns out to be the least interesting (and least surprising) turn in an ambitiously plotted tale. Such flaws can be forgiven, though, in a vision so rich in tones, shadows and light. (HarperCollins, $26)

Bottom Line: Vivid Portrait

Compiled by Larry King

During the Normandy invasion, a teenager battles the Germans while carrying a talisman, a folded page bearing his baby daughter's inked footprints. On a London night of air-raid sirens, an American pilot proposes to his British love. A blind date leads to marriage for a nurse and the artillery officer who shows her his howitzers.

CNN's King presents 33 of the greatest generation's most tender moments. Unfortunately, many tales have frustrating gaps and some end sadly in death or divorce. Still, a poignant truth links each account. As one survivor puts it, "We've all got war stories. We're still living the love stories." (Crown, $25)

Bottom Line: Disarming

by Michael Collins

In a dying U.S. rust-belt town old man Lawton has gone missing—except for his severed finger. As the body hunt begins, a circus atmosphere stirs the burg for a jaded reporter. It's a chance to confront his own downward spiral and purpose can be salvaged from a life of failure.

Keepers, which was nominated for Britain's Pulitzer, the Booker Prize, is more than just a captivating murder mystery. Expertly evoking rural claustrophobia, Collins vividly makes trailer-park heat and the stench of old diner grease rise from the pages. Unfortunately, he also pushes a repetitive treatise on the deindustrialization of America, nearly derailing an otherwise haunting story. (Scribner, $13)

Bottom Line: A keeper

by Karol Jackowski

It's hard to know what to make of a Catholic nun who refers more often to "the Gods" than to the Trinity and whose liturgy includes an incantation for getting rich at the casino. Still, don't dismiss this New Age take on prayer. Sister Karol makes a valid point: The sacred is all around us. Shrines aren't found only in churches—they pop up wherever mourners leave flowers to mark a tragedy. An object becomes sacred when it's loved and passed from one generation to the next. Even skeptics may find themselves wondering if a couple of candles and a few choice words truly will make their dreams come true. (Hyperion, $17.95)

Bottom Line: Practical magic

by the Dolan Sisters

You have to cut the sisters some slack. How were they to know that after Sept. 11, a book filled with peppy tales from their childhood in Fairfield, Conn., and homegrown advice such as to designate "one day a week as 'No Carping Day' would seem a little beside the point? Even by peacetime standards, though, this joint effort by Julie, Liz, Sheila, Monica and Lian Dolan—whose popular Satellite Sisters radio show airs in about 70 markets—seems excessively navel-gazing. Want to know what model each sister's first car was? You'll find out here. You'll also learn how each of their three brothers' laughs sounds and that Julie eats tuna sandwiches every day. (Riverhead, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Sister sludge

by Anne Rice

Ancient Roman. Bisexual. Botticelli-influenced painter. And yes, a vampire. Marius has lots to talk about, and he tells all in this latest novel in Rice's Vampire Chronicles.

Marius is a "good" vampire. You can tell because he prefers to drink the blood of murderers, plus he has an admirable work ethic, carting the immobile but still conscious bodies of the king and queen of the vampires all over Europe for no pay and little thanks. Even vampires have feelings, and the long-lived Marius is fixated on his days in Renaissance Italy, when he loved two mortals, a boy and a woman, while pining for Pandora, the vampire lover he lost touch with centuries earlier.

Rice writes with her usual erotic and historically evocative flair, and there are frightening bits such as the recapitation of a beheaded vampire and Marius's slow regeneration after being burned alive--or rather, burned undead. Too often, though, Rice revisits events from her previous novels. If you loved Queen of the Damned and Pandora so much that you need to know how things looked from Marius's point of view, enjoy. (Knopf, $26.95)

Bottom Line: Rice gives more in the same vein

by James Patterson

Page-turner of the week

bgwhite    



Two California couples turn up dead, their bodies drained of blood. Are there vampires on the loose? No, just vampire wannabes: a twisted pair of blood-guzzling brothers with ersatz fangs. Sounds like a case for Mulder and Scully, but the call goes to Alex Cross, the D.C. cop, profiler and single dad portrayed by Morgan Freeman in movie versions of Patterson's Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls. Patterson—Splatterson is more like it—revels in the usual gore. "Oh, Alex, yuck," Cross's feisty female sidekick, San Francisco cop Jamilla Hughes, aptly observes after a report shows the killers gnawed their victims' bones. The blood brothers' seduction of two Hollywood actors and a vampire bash reminiscent of the orgy in Eyes Wide Shut are particularly juicy.

There are less appetizing aspects to this otherwise enjoyably spooky read. Patterson too often tells how his characters are feeling instead of demonstrating why, and chapters from the killers' point of view eliminate whodunit suspense. Long before supposed smarty-pants Cross figures it out, you'll solve one enduring mystery: J the identity of the Mastermind, the serial killer who has taunted Cross since his last outing, Roses Are Red. (Little, Brown, $27.95)

Bottom Line: Bloody good creepfest

  • Contributors:
  • Mark O'Donnell,
  • Annette Gallagher Weisman,
  • Julie K.L. Dam,
  • Vincent Peterson,
  • Sean Gannon,
  • Debby Waldman,
  • Kim Hubbard,
  • Todd Seavey,
  • Samantha Miller.