by Joan Lunden and Laura Morton

Don't be fooled by the bland title; this is one lively cookbook. Lunden, the cohost of ABC's Good Morning America since 1980, doesn't even get to her first recipe until page 79, devoting the first third of her book to a frank telling of her "five-year journey to fitness," a period in which she dumped 50 pounds, a closetful of "camouflage" clothes and a husband.

Lunden, 45, doesn't dwell on her 1993 divorce from Michael Krauss (he isn't even named in the book), but she does admit that her unhappy marriage led her to "use food for comfort" and balloon up to 180 pounds (having three kids and getting up at 4 a.m. most days didn't help her eating habits either). Spurred by GMA's Spencer Christian, she transformed herself from a stressed-out size 14 who never exercised to a thrill-seeking size 8 who likes to go ice climbing.

The fact that Lunden's delight with her newfound vitality is so palpable helps build interest in the 100-plus recipes in Healthy Cooking (cowritten by Morton, who also produced Lunden's recent exercise video). Appetizing dishes like Spinach Frittata with Spicy Tomato Sauce draw their flavor from seasoning, not fat, reflecting Lunden's "antidiet, antideprivation" philosophy. Delivered from the heart, this "cookbook" amounts to a blueprint for anyone determined to reinvent themselves, as Lunden so rousingly has. (Little, Brown, $24.95)

by Stephen McCauley

For most of this mainly droll but sometimes just quippish novel, a meditation on the modern American family, a father-and-son reunion seems only a page away. Clyde, a fallen academic who now teaches self-improving singles at the Learning Place in Cambridge, Mass., inches toward reconciliation with his distant, elderly dad. His friend Ben, the wise adolescent son of a rootless novelist, waits for a family friend to admit he is Ben's father. Blindly, the reader waits for the few words of acknowledgment needed to tap the flow of warmth and coziness we connect with family ties.

But McCauley's moving novel is more about blockages than breakthroughs. In the style of a standup comic who masks pain with rapid-fire wit, he presents a cast of clever underachievers who struggle to unravel the true reasons from the mere excuses that have kept them from finishing their dissertations, surviving bad love affairs or just settling down. Some of them figure it out, but it's the painful conclusions Clyde and Ben reach about a father's grudging stamp of approval that make this read more bitter than sweet. (Simon & Schuster, $22)

by Jay McInerney

Poor Jay McInerney—cursed with the stupendous success of his first novel. Since his 1984 debut with a timely portrait of '80s-style alienation, Bright Lights, Big City (made into a screen flop starring Michael J. Fox), McInerney has produced three other books. None showed nearly the wattage of Bright Lights. But this latest offering, while no cultural event, is competent and fun to read.

This time, McInerney visits F. Scott Fitzgerald territory. Protagonist Patrick Keane is a poor boy at a rich man's prep school. His assigned roommate is Will Savage, the son of a southern gentleman farmer. Savage despises his wealthy roots and rebels against the system that Patrick dearly wants to join. The two become close friends, and the book follows them from the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s.

McInerney skillfully draws two poignant portraits in this novel. Savage emerges as an angry, self-destructive but ultimately admirable figure who shows his friend the range of life's possibilities. Keane discovers that life in the WASP establishment has its disappointments, but that breaking out of society's mold may be impossible for all but the bravest.

McInerney's reputation may never again be as bright and big as it was when he first started, but as he convincingly demonstrates here, he is an accomplished writer—and that's gotta be some consolation (Knopf, $24)

by Faith Middleton

Beware of the guilt pangs that may accompany reading this book. You know you're supposed to warm to these fables of everyday virtue, which were culled by Middleton, host of her own public radio call-in show, from stories listeners recounted on the air. But just a few of them come to life.

The story of a mother's courage in wartime Germany sings, but that's because Middleton runs verbatim a compelling letter from the German immigrant who has this tale to tell. The book might have had more emotional punch when it was told on live radio. Middleton's retelling, however, has reduced most of the stories to dry, unremarkable incidents. (Crown, $23)

by John Mortimer

What does "She Who Must Be Obeyed" (the long-suffering Mrs. Hilda Rumpole) have to say about her difficult mate? For the first time in 10 collections of stories about the Old Bailey curmudgeonly defender of the downtrodden, Hilda gets her turn at the bar of domestic woe. In five of Death's six tales, which are among Mortimer's finest to date, Horace Rumpole trumpets wittily as usual.

However, Hilda, writing to her old school chum Dodo Mackintosh, a spinster water-colorist, toots her own horn while revealing aspects of Rumpole's character that the learned counsel would never want us know. In court, for instance, Rumpole may act like a rebel with a cause, but at home, Hilda notes, he often plays the part "of a free spirit imprisoned, through no fault of his own, in marriage."

The decades of benign Rumpolean neglect make Hilda a willing target for slim and lubricious lawyer Danny Newcombe, who flirts with her only to discover what Rumpole has up his gravy-stained sleeve in a complex trial being heard in Belgium, at the Euro-court. Though her heart beats faster and her head is turned, Hilda soon detects the ruse—and a lot more. In the end, Rumpole even displays a grumpy streak of jealousy. To see the sensitivity behind his bluster only adds to his inescapable charm. And Hilda's. (Viking, $22.95)

by Carl Sagan

Picture a world spooked by mythical monsters, one where flying fairies snatch bodies for experiments and angels battle for human souls. It's not a medieval fantasy; it's the here and now. And we should all be concerned, says Sagan, not for our souls but for the future of rational thought.

In this sobering study debunking the paranormal, the eminent Cornell astronomer skewers everything from angels, astrology and Bigfoot to crop circles, UFO abductions and the Psychic Friends Network. Sagan believes that a worldwide spiritual malaise, brought on by bewildering technology, economic uncertainty and changing cultural values, has given rise to potent superstitions.

Sagan's remedy for our rampant gullibility: the hard blade of science. All well and good for a guy in a lab coat, but even Sagan admits that the power of myth is mighty strong. "How seductive the notion is," he writes. "Who has not pondered—just to be on the safe side, just in case we ever come upon and accidentally rub an old, squat brass oil lamp—what to ask for?" (Random House, $25)

by Sebastian Faulks

It is all too rare a pleasure to find a contemporary novel that transcends popular fiction and earns a place on a shelf with works of true literature. Faulks, named British Author of the Year for this work, clears that hurdle with superb storytelling and craftsmanship in this tale of a young man caught between the twin tragedies of lost love and World War I.

A few years before the war begins, Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman, is sent to northern France to learn the business side of the textile trade from a pompous French magnate who pays more mind to labor woes at his mill than to Isabelle, his exquisite young wife. Isabelle runs away with Wraysford, but their fiery relationship is short-lived and she returns to her husband bearing her true love's child.

From the passionate sensuality of the love affair, Faulks shifts to wartime trenches that reek of corpses and fear. But this is more than the standard gory study of "the war to end all wars." It is a tribute to the durability of the human soul. Ultimately, Faulks plucks hope from the maw of despair in a clever twist focusing on a modern-day woman whose own illicit affair reveals the healing powers of time and enduring love. (Random House $25)

>STILL TRUCKIN'

Eight months after Jerry Garcia's death, his fourth wife, Deborah Koons, and Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir scattered his ashes over the Ganges River in India, much to the chagrin of Garcia's four daughters and brother Cliff. The cult hero is gone, but his legacy in print has not faded away.

Garcia (Little, Brown, $29.95), containing interviews and articles by the editors of Rolling Stone, includes enough familiar pictures to merit a place on any Deadhead's coffee table, if Deadheads had coffee tables. The book is a noteworthy attempt to explain the enigma that was Jerry to those who may not have understood the outpouring of grief at his death.

Harrington Street (Delacorte, $22.95), an autobiography in the very loosest sense, consists of short bits of Garcian narrative and colorful drawings that tell the story of his San Francisco childhood. Garcia's tale is fascinating, though at times unbelievable. (He claims, at one point, that his grandfather invented the windshield wiper.) Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the book is his artwork, a mix of blissful visions and darker, more confusing images—a contrast embodied by the man himself.

Living with the Dead (Little, Brown, $24.95) is the memoir of Rock Scully, the group's onetime manager and a member of the Dead family for 20 years. Scully, who split with the group in 1985, follows the Dead from Haight-Ashbury on the more or less nonstop mystery tour that was their life on the road. Even casual readers will surely be interested to learn that Garcia, in his travels, had a tendency to set off smoke alarms, inadvertently drenching his hotel rooms with water.

Not Fade Away: The On-Line World Remembers Jerry Garcia (Thunder's Mouth, $14.95) offers messages that Deadheads loaded onto the Internet following the passing of their icon. Edited by David Gans, host of the syndicated radio program The Grateful Dead Hour, the book testifies to the love and affection Garcia inspired among close friends and fans but falls short of revealing the man behind the image.

  • Contributors:
  • Alex Tresniowski,
  • Patrick Rogers,
  • Clare McHugh,
  • J.D. Reed,
  • Kevin Gray,
  • Rob Howe,
  • Rossiter T. Drake.