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New year, new books. After we've read those Christmas gifts, what can we expect from the publishers?

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Although all the press reports tell us that the publishers are hurting, and the increased prices for books are not helping, there still seem to be plenty of new choices for readers — especially if they like the usual best-seller titles. Here are a few books of fiction we can expect:

"Basket Case," by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf $25.95, January) —a guaranteed wild ride.

"One Door Away from Heaven" by Dean Koontz (Bantam Doubleday, $26.95, just released) — an action story with touches of sci-fi and a novel of redemption.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," by Ken Kesey (Viking, $24.95 January) — a new 40th-anniversary edition of the classic.

"Tishomingo Blues" by Elmore Leonard (Wm. Morrow, $25.95, January) — Leonard's fans, no doubt, are waiting for this one.

"The Watch," by Dennis Danvers (Wm. Morrow, $24.95, January) — a sci-fi story by Richmond's Danvers in which this city figures prominently.

"The Doctor's House," by Ann Beattie (Scribner, $24, February) — a novel by a writer who is best known for her short stories.

"Warning Signs" by Stephen White ($24.95, Delacourte Press, $24.95, February) — a thriller.

"Lie Down in Darkness," by William Styron (Book of the Month Club, part of the new 20th-century novels, $17.99) — Styron's early novel set in Virginia with scenes in Richmond and at the University of Virginia.

"From a Buick 8" by Stephen King (Scribner, $28, March) — King continues to turn out books that are always on the best-seller lists.

Meanwhile, here are several novels that are already on the shelves:

The Wheel of Fortune

What has made Alice Munro such a successful writer throughout the years is her presentation of the rich, highly textured lives of her characters. Munro's characters are so vibrant and complete that they stick to the reader long after the story is finished. Alice Munro's 10th book of short stories, "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage"(Knopf, $24), falls in line with her previous work in that it permanently burns its characters into the reader's memory. Once again, she reaffirms herself as one of the best short story writers of our time.

The stories in "Hateship" all deal with the themes of coincidence and chance. The title itself is derived from a childhood rhyme used to help girls discover the names of their husbands. The characters within the majority of this collection find their lives altered interminably by the same kind of randomness that makes up the world in which they live. In the title story, a governess' life is altered forever by the childish prank of her charge. In "Nettles" a woman is reunited with a childhood love, only to find his personal tragedy has lifted him out of her reach forever.

The theme of circumstance is most successfully realized in "Post and Beam," where a spinster cousin's visit allows for a housewife to realize the impact of chance on her life: "It was more than concern she felt, it was horror, to think of the way things could be lost, could not happen, through some casual absence or chance." While chance is something that both unifies and separates characters throughout these stories, it is skill and craftsmanship that makes Munro's latest collection of stories one of her best. — Francis Decker

A bit of navel-gazing

The easiest thing to say about "Chasing Down the Dawn" (HarperEntertainment, $14) is this: If you're already a fan of singer Jewel, you'll love her newest batch of stories from the road.

But that's too easy. A book is not the same as a song. Jewel Kilcher has a genuine gift for language, but her self-conscious style fails to consistently make the leap from lyrics to prose in this, her second book.

"Chasing Down the Dawn" is a rambling succession of vignettes from 27-year-old Jewel's life, alternating tales of growing up in an isolated Alaskan town with prose snapshots of her career.

The singer tells tales of her childhood vividly. Descriptions of cattle ranching, singing with her family, riding horses and shoplifting as a young girl are disarming and real.

But Jewel lapses into navel-gazing and melancholy reflection far too often in her more recent recollections. Interspersed with the text are journal-excerpted platitudes such as, "I hope to see people stop killing in the name of God" and "Maybe today someone will smile at me." These are accompanied by little sketched self-portraits of Jewel looking pensive. Oh, and the book includes nearly 50 — no kidding, 50 — pages of photographs of her family, Alaska, cows and horses.

The refrain "I'm just a small-town girl, I can't believe this is really happening to me," pervades the entire book. But, Jewel, after four CDs, two books and a movie, aren't you used to it by now?

As she observes, "Journal writings have become highly public commodities. Or ingredients for singles." Perhaps the material in "Chasing Down the Dawn" would have been better suited for the latter.

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