Authors go West for their latest books

Sunday, June 12, 2005

When it came to choosing a topic for their new books, three popular authors seemed to agree -- the West is best.

The American West, Old or New, is the setting in the latest books by Larry McMurtry, Robert B. Parker and Janet Dailey. Theirs are among new hardcovers that include novels by Nick Hornby, Amanda Quick and Umberto Eco; and nonfiction that take readers back to the American Revolution, on a tour of Istanbul, and into the Clinton White House.

McMurtry visits the Old West in "The Colonel and Little Missie," a dual biography of "America's first superstars" -- Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley. As performers in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show during the late 1800s, they achieved international fame and fortune. A part of their story is how their lives contributed to the enduring image of the legendary American West, one of cowboys and Indians, brave sheriffs and ruthless outlaws.

The Old West is the stage also in Parker's novel "Appaloosa." The creator of private-eye Spenser tells the story of two lawmen, a marshal and his deputy, who come to the lawless and dusty town of Appaloosa to corral a rogue rancher who has terrorized the territory and killed the former marshal and deputy in the process.

In "A Long Way Down," Hornby offers the alternating narratives of four characters -- an aspiring rock star, a disgraced former TV talk-show host, a middle-aged mother and a teenage girl. They're strangers who have met on the roof of a London apartment building for the same purpose -- to end their lives -- and each tells the story behind his tragic decision.

Quick, aka Jayne Ann Krentz, offers romantic suspense Victorian-style in "Lie by Moonlight." Its heroine is a teacher in her late 20s whose students are four orphaned heiresses living in a remote, rundown castle. When evidence indicates a plot is afoot to sell her charges as courtesans, she escapes with the girls and meets a stranger who agrees to help.

"The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana" is Eco's illustrated novel about a 60-ish bookseller in Milan, Italy, who suddenly and inexplicably can't recall his name, recognize his family or remember his childhood. In an effort to refresh his memory, he digs out old newspapers, diaries and photo albums, through which he relives the story of his generation, from Mussolini to Mandrake the Magician.

Readers are taken to the vast plains of modern-day Texas in "Lone Calder Star," Dailey's latest novel in the family saga that began in 1981 with "This Calder Sky." The Cee Bar Ranch, run by the Calders for a century, is being threatened by a ruthless rival rancher. In an attempt to save the property, Quint Echohawk -- a lawman and a Calder -- rides into town from Montana posing as a ranch hand looking for work.

David McCullough's "1776" chronicles America's fight for independence through its key figures: the men of various backgrounds and occupations who fought under Gen. George Washington's leadership, and the highly disciplined Redcoats, the British soldiers led by William Howe. Also told are the stories of other men and women -- mercenaries, politicians, clergy and spies -- affected by the war.

Novelist Orham Pamuk offers a memoir of his hometown in "Istanbul: Memories and the City," including a history of the Turkish capital and his observations on its people, places, art and architecture. Istanbul is observed as it is transformed from the seat of the fallen Ottoman Empire into a modern capital where East meets West.

Other new fiction

In "Blinding Light" by Paul Theroux, an author acquires a drug from Ecuador's jungle that cures his writer's block but has unexpected side effects; and in late 19th-century Mexico, a little girl born to an impoverished, illiterate mother grows up to become a nationally known faith healer in "The Hummingbird's Daughter."

"The Starter Wife" is Gigi Levangie Grazer's comic tale of a woman whose husband of nine years, a Hollywood studio executive, unexpectedly dumps her for a starlet.

Regency England is the setting for "Marriage Most Scandalous," Johanna Lindsey's historical romance about a woman seeking help from a man whose accidental murder of a friend has caused him to exile himself on the Continent and become estranged from his family.

Other new nonfiction

Tales of war are told in "The Boys of Pointe du Hoc," Douglas Brinkley's history of the U.S. Army 2nd Rangers on D-Day and of President Reagan's commemorative speech in Normandy 40 years later; and in "First In," CIA agent Gary C. Schroen's firsthand account of the agency's role in the war on terror in Afghanistan.

New biographies include "Sinatra: The Life"by Anthony Summers with Robbyn Swan, which delves into the singer's romantic encounters and alleged ties to organized crime; and "Fantastic," Laurence Leamer's profile of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In "Camp," Walt Disney Co. CEO Michael D. Eisner offers childhood memories of a Vermont summer camp; and in "Big Shoes," Al Roker and 38 friends -- including Vijay Singh, Donald Trump and Bonnie Raitt -- celebrate their dads and fatherhood.

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