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"Big Cherry Holler" by Adriana Trigiani, "The Cat Who Smelled a Rat" by Lilian Jackson, and "Death in Holy Orders" by P.D. James. 

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Love on the Rocks
When fourth grader Etta MacChesney and her teammates lose a disastrous match on a quiz show everyone, especially her mother, Ave Maria, breathes a sigh of relief. The game is over. But little relief is in sight for the tension mounting between Ave and her husband, Jack. Following the death of their son, Joe, life goes limp for the MacChesneys and love is not enough to get them through it. Tough questions must be asked and answered. It's this match between a husband and wife that looms like a mountain in "Big Cherry Holler," (Random House, $24.95) Adriana Trigiani's follow up to "Big Stone Gap."

Trigiani reprises many of the eccentric and flawed characters who made "Big Stone Gap" such a joy to read and, quite possibly, why it has been made into a movie. In "Big Cherry Holler," we pick up eight years later with Iva Lou, Fleeta, Pearl, Spec, Otto and Worley buffing much-needed luster into a now dying mining town. But new characters, especially Karen Bell and Pete Rutledge, emerge to shake things up. Life in the Gap is about to change despite a rugged resistance.

In the midst of it all - closing of the mine, the pharmacy expansion, Etta growing up - Ave learns what it means to choose. More important, she learns she could lose everything if she doesn't let go of the misery that's eating her.

How life got this way for Ave and Jack is a problem the two must examine independently, at least for a while. Unlike the game show's end, there's no easy recovery from withered expectations.

"Big Cherry Holler" is every bit as engaging as its predecessor is and bittersweet. Trigiani fans will want more pages to turn.

— Brandon Walters

Adriana Trigiani will speak at the Junior League's Book and Author Dinner, Thursday, May 3 at 7 p.m. at the Richmond Marriott Hotel




Those Wonderful Cats AgainYou could spend a whole summer reading Lilian Jackson Braun's books.

In her latest, "The Cat Who Smelled a Rat"(Putnam, $23.95), Koko and Yum Yum and Jim Qwillerman, the rich bachelor who keeps their food dishes filled, are hunkering down for the Big One - the winter's first snow. This is serious business in Pickax, Moose County, which Braun vaguely describes as "400 miles north of everywhere." The snow gets mighty deep 400 miles north of everywhere.

As Braun's fans know well, Qwillerman is no fop. He once was a hard-bitten reporter Down Below - before fate made him heir to the v-a-s-t Klingenschoen fortune, and he still writes a much-loved column for the Moose County Something.

But the stars are the two playful — and prescient — Siamese cats. Kao K'o Kung, known to all as Koko, is still throwing mighty cat fits whenever danger looms, and Yum Yum is still hiding things that might be ... clues?

Qwillerman is alone in being in tune with his two tawny companions, and he doesn't brag about them. How would it look if his friends and readers in Pickax thought he believed his two cats were helping him solve crimes?

In "... Who Smelled a Rat" everybody in Moose County is worrying about wildfires and praying for the first snowstorm. Koko throws his first fit of feline mania when he smells a fire three miles away, on a night with no breeze, and through a closed window.

With that, the race is on to see if Qwillerman and his cats can unmask an arsonist before all of Moose County is left in smoldering ruin.

Braun has created a charming world of characters who inhabit a delightfully quirky small town somewhere up near Canada and west of Buffalo. But the cats are the hook in her stories, and she writes about them with the insight and respect of one who has long lived with and cared about them.

Braun's latest proves she hasn't lost her touch. Add it to your to-do list for this summer.

— Don Dale



Recommended:
Inspector Morse has died, but Adam Dalgliesh lives! And he lives in the absorbing if somewhat complicated "Death in Holy Orders"(Knopf $25) by P.D. James.

James has written the story of murder in a theological seminary, isolated in threatening surroundings but not without an array of imaginative and diverse characters. The report from the Concord [Mass.]Bookshop where I bought this book is that it is "flying off the shelves."

— Rozanne Epps

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