by Barbara Taylor Bradford

In this outing, romantic novelist Bradford taps into the Zeitgeist. Her beautiful protagonist Meredith Stratton is a successful international hotelier who enlists the help of a therapist after experiencing recurring nightmares and spells of nausea that have no apparent medical explanation. Together patient and doctor "recover" long-buried childhood memories of a scary abandonment and a long sea journey from England to Australia.

In the real world, of course, this kind of therapy is controversial—experts say traumatic events are hard to forget completely. But here Bradford uses the questionable therapeutic technique as a clever plot device that fires up what would otherwise be a routine story of love and loss.

And unlike many tales of so-called recovered memories, Meredith's discoveries don't involve sexual abuse, so the emotional peace she longs for is possible after seeking out important people from her past. Indeed, in a highly charged scene near the book's end, she is reunited with the one person she believed she would never see again. All in all, Her Own Rules is a satisfying fairy tale, with a '90s twist. (HarperCollins, $24)

by Robert D. Kaplan

Shunning destinations favored by Fodor's, journalist Robert Kaplan journeyed 12,000 miles to lands where the air was dirty, the food poor and the hardship of life never hidden. He traveled with only a knapsack, a notebook and the goal of discovering what life in the 21st century will be like. His impressions laid out in The Ends of the Earth are completely enthralling.

Starting in West Africa and heading east to Cambodia, Kaplan examined the disastrous effect high birthrates and diminishing resources have had in some of the poorest and richest countries in the third world. His guides—diplomats, students, businessmen and their wives—help him weave a fascinating blend of travelogue and political commentary. In Iran he examines the consequences of the 1979 revolution and finds a surprisingly progressive, even conciliatory society, where moderates argue with radicals in attempts to spur economic reform. In Central Asia he sees crime and drunkenness filling the vacuum left by the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Kaplan's images are mesmerizing, beautiful and sad. His conclusions, grounded in the grit of life, are never highbrow or abstract. The world he brings home in The Ends of the Earth demands our attention. As borders and distinctions between countries rapidly disappear, the lives—and deaths—of strangers, no matter how foreign or far away, have urgent implications for us all. Overpopulation, disease and environmental degradation travel quickly and without passports. (Random House, $27.50)

by Peter Mayle

Leave it to the author of two valentines to the French countryside—A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence—to write a savory novel in which a briefcase being desperately pursued across southern France contains not drugs, jewels or cash but a secret formula for cultivating those rare, hideously expensive knobs of glorified fungus called truffles. Mayle's hero, Bennett, is a transplanted Englishman in his mid-30s who needs work, so he takes out a job-wanted ad promising "anything considered."

The plea leads Bennett to sleek, amiably ruthless millionaire Julian Poe, who enlists him in a little tax dodge that requires Bennett to pose as Poe and live sumptuously in Monaco for six months. Bennett eagerly agrees—and soon discovers his patron's real agenda when a mysterious delivery goes awry.

The ensuing chase is riddled with clichés, including a luscious female sidekick, an enormous yacht and a swarthy bad guy. But Mayle's connoisseurship of the good and simple country life is amply in evidence, even though his characters are so cardboard they're corrugated and the plot has holes bigger than Lascaux. If you don't mind a fast-food story told with a gourmet's verve, bon appétit. (Knopf, $23)

by Flora Fraser

Once upon a time there was a Princess of Wales whose marriage was preapproved by her husband's mistress, whose embraces were soon spurned for someone else's and who embarked upon dalliances of her own so that her prince began to press for a divorce. Familiar? Of course—but it happened 200 years ago, and the princess's name was Caroline, wife of the self-indulgent profligate who became George IV.

George loathed Caroline on sight—hygiene was not her long suit—and he spent the night of their prearranged marriage lying in a fireplace in a drunken stupor. Their sexual conjugations were few, and Caroline left Britain to wander across the Continent for several years with a lover, a former valet. Though the marriage was never dissolved, George tried to bribe Caroline to stay abroad after he succeeded to the throne, but she refused. Perhaps the crowning moment in her colorful life was her uncrowning: She showed up for George's 1821 coronation at Westminster Abbey and was turned away.

Chronicling this chapter in the sorry saga of this dysfunctional dynasty biographer Fraser—her mother is Antonia Fraser, her grandmother Elizabeth Longford—finds a happy balance between gossip and scholarship that will make The Unruly Queen appeal to collectors of historical tittle-tattle as well as to serious students of Regency Britain. (Knopf, $35)

by Will Self

It would be interesting to see the peculiar geography of Will Self's gray matter and what folds and fissures might account for his hyperactive vocabulary, his obsession with phlegm, phalluses and bodily fluids, his compulsive and perversely clever wit. All of the above characterize this collection of nine short stories that gleefully savage contemporary Britain.

In "Chest," a cancerous fog enveloping the countryside does nothing to blur class boundaries: The rich shoot pheasant with the aid of radar and scuba tanks, while the poor wheeze and hack under flimsy masks. "Inclusion" exposes the disastrous secret testing of a new antidepressant (the pills come in paisley and Stuart tartan) that promises to help people fully engage in daily life and the affairs of the world.

And in the title story, an office drone is so numbed by the daily grind, she hardly notices that events have been eerily repeating themselves for weeks. Self's tales are all nightmares. But rarely are bad dreams this wickedly entertaining. (Atlantic Monthly, $21)

by Martin Cruz Smith

In this engrossing novel of 19th-century England, Jonathan Blair is a famous mining engineer-adventurer who has been run out of Africa for allegedly stealing from a missionary Bible fund. Blair is anxious to get back to the Gold Coast. But he lacks the means until his sometime patron Bishop Hannay offers to foot an expedition. All Blair has to do in return is go up to Wigan in the Lancashire coal-mining country and find John Maypole, the young curate who is engaged to the bishop's daughter Charlotte and who has mysteriously disappeared.

upper crust. He spars, in particular, with the acid-tongued Charlotte, who, like everyone else, seeks to impede his search for the curate. He also plunges into a hellish subterranean world of cave-ins and testosterone-driven miners who have dark deeds to hide and are eager to see him dead. In the process of tracing Maypole's steps, Blair falls for a pit girl—the same girl, it appears, who enchanted the curate. A sooty vixen who sorts coal in the mines, she proves to be, like everything else in this smart and brisk novel, an intriguing mystery. (Random House, $25)

by Philip Kerr

Beach Book of the Week

THANK YOUR LUCKY MICROCHIPS THAT you're at the shore instead of in the office. In this tale of ego and electronics run riot, an oddly shaped office tower in L.A. leaves its inhabitants fuming—at least those who are still alive. The creation of megalomaniac architect Ray Richardson for a Chinese high-tech firm, the building—shaped like a football goalpost attached to a tent (Grid is for gridiron)—is monitored by a very pushy computer named Abraham that controls everything from corporate data to emergency services.

Abraham has another nasty habit: It seeks to dominate its world. So it begins to get rid of what it refers to as human players by freezing them in elevators, drowning them in washroom cleaning cycles and gassing them in boardrooms. It's left to architect's aide Mitch Bryan and detective Frank Curtis to outwit Abraham before he completes his deadly takeover. And you think your workstation is a hotbed of intrigue. (Warner, $21.95)

>From The Portable Best Friend: Wit and Wisdom to Get You Through Life's Rough Spots (Warner, $6.99). Dreamed up and written by freelance writer Sandy Weinstein, with her best friend, PEOPLE deputy managing editor Carol Wallace, this paginated pal offers Q&A solace for almost any minicrisis:

Obsessed with Wrinkles: Whose face is this, anyway? I'm sagging, wrinkling, and drooping—and the worst is yet to come! I just can't accept the aging process.

Portable Best Friend: Get in honey. Just because you think could land in the lines around your mouth, it doesn't mean the rest of the world does. Put down the magnifying glass and dim the bathroom lights. Why look for trouble?

  • Contributors:
  • Clare McHugh,
  • Thomas Curwen,
  • Mark Lasswell,
  • Ben Harte,
  • Paula Chin,
  • William Plummer,
  • J.D. Reed.