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Boulevard; When Katie Wakes; Heads Up; The Secret Life of Bees

Grimsley sets "Boulevard" in the late 1970s. Newell, an unsophisticated but dogged young man from Pastel, Ala., is determined to break free from his rough country life and learn how the larger world really works — and whether he can make himself fit into it properly. He leaves his grandmother behind and moves to New Orleans with $95 in his pocket. He finds a room upstairs at a second-hand store in the Quarter, gets a job at a pornographic bookstore and quickly discovers the attractions of New Orleans' vigorous gay-bar scene.

Newell also discovers that he is not without his own physical attractions. A harmless older man latches on to him, but Newell makes himself available instead to a drugged-out party boy and to another, far more mysterious character named Jack, whose fantasies threaten even greater danger. Newell's dream of living life to the fullest has come true. But what's next?

Grimsley writes with a vivid realism to create a poetic story with its share of both heartbreak and humor, as cognizant of life's dark side as it is of its pleasures, but he doesn't flinch from a strong moral stance. What happens when your dream comes true? he asks. What do you do then? That's as tough a question for a kid from Pastel, Ala., as it is for anybody else, and therein lies the strength of Grimsley's latest.

— Don DaleRepairing

Old Wounds

In her new book, "When Katie Wakes," (Doubleday $23.95) Connie May Fowler reveals some of the events of her life that inspired her to write "Before Women Had Wings," a novel that was adapted into a television movie for "Oprah Presents." This memoir opens windows onto Fowler's pasts both far and near as it interweaves episodes of growing up with an abused, alcoholic mother and, as an adult, living with an abusive, alcoholic lover. She hints that the lover is a former radio celebrity but never divulges his name, an omission that renders the novel a blunted spear. More than anything, this book is about overcoming her childhood so that she may gain the confidence to leave her abusive lover. For Fowler's audience at large, the man responsible for her mental and physical abuse is absolved by his anonymity. But the victory itself is undiminished as the reader watches Fowler blossom from a frightened victim into a woman resolved to escape the fate of her mother. The catalyst and companion for Fowler's journey is Katie, a black Labrador whose unconditional love nurtures Fowler's self-esteem and gives her the strength to stand up for herself.

This book is a valuable addition to the collection of memoirs that deal with issues of abuse, alcoholism and codependency. Fowler shows in her story and in her life that the cycle of abuse and fear can be broken and that in every victim is a woman deserving of love and success that is waiting to escape and blossom.

— Timothy L. Lutero


Book Sense, the publication of the independent bookstores, lists these hardcover novels as the bestsellers in independent stores:

"Atonement," by Ian McEwan, Doubleday, $26

"The Summons," by John Grisham, Doubleday, $26.95

"2nd Chance," by James Patterson, Little Brown, $26.95

"Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress," by Sijie Dai, Knopf, $18

"The Secret Life of Bees," by Sue Monk Kidd, Viking, $24.95

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