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Dick Francis bets on meteorology in his latest novel; social snobbery and World War I; and two specialty books worth reading 

The Eye of the Storm

"Second Wind" (Putnam, $23.95), the newest excursion into danger by Dick Francis, takes the reader from the familiar setting of the racetrack to the unpredictable venue of meteorology. His principal character is Perry Stuart, an acclaimed weather forecaster employed by the BBC. He has the uncanny gift of accurately predicting the destructive potential of hurricanes and other related atmospheric disturbances. He is teamed with Kris Ironside, a pilot whose daredevil exploits border on the suicidal. They are invited to the English estate of a prominent entrepreneur, who, in turn, introduces them to a business speculator whose financial entanglements are puzzling and mysterious. Challenged by Kris to fly through the eye of a rapidly developing Caribbean hurricane, Perry soon finds that fierce weather patterns are no more lethal than the dangers of greed and manipulation.

A racehorse with a mysterious ailment, Perry's arrest on a trumped-up trespassing charge at the speculator's Florida home, a shadowy and ruthless business cartel, and an island in the hurricane's path that may conceal a secret, are all ingredients that form a fast-paced, relentless adventure. The terse writing style sprinkled with acute, wry observations of human nature triumphantly bear the Dick Francis trademark of suspense. Perry Stuart is a likable amateur hero, whose integrity is uncompromised but whose courage rises to every occasion when he is tested.

John Gardiner's "Somewhere in France" (Knopf, $24) is a perceptive, analytical novel that relentlessly strips away the veneer of social snobbery against the backdrop of World War I. The main character is Maj. William Lloyd, a renowned New York physician, who is commissioned as a volunteer doctor in Chaumont, a French village, which lies directly in the path of a massive German offensive. The major is an unyielding supervisor, consumed by an insistent perfectionism. On the home front, his wife, Emma, writhes under the domination of her status-conscious mother-in-law, while his oldest son, Willie, has developed the embarrassing convictions of pacifism. In Chaumont, Jeanne Prie, a French nurse who once worked along great scientists, is assigned to Lloyd and gradually softens his rigid nature. Unfortunately, his growing devotion to Jeanne is soon misconstrued as an obsession that threatens to shatter his relations with his family, who don't understand his changed outlook.

In "Somewhere in France," Gardiner stirs the reader with the sophisticated delicacy of his prose, expressing the beauty of personal reawakening against the war. The writing is smooth, and "Somewhere in France" is worth reading for the simple truths it shows us.

Heads-Up:
If you are a graduate of MCV/VCU's school of nursing (or if you have family who studied there), you will want to see the book VCU has published to celebrate 100 years of nursing education: "MCV/VCU School of Nursing: A Proud Heritage" ($25). The text that narrates the history is broken up by pictures that are entertaining and lively in themselves.

Knopf has published a book for truly serious ballet students: "Balanchine Technique" ($40) by Suki Schorer. It is reportedly one of the best yet written about Balanchine's techniques, and it describes in detail the methods "Mr. B" used in his classes. Schorer was one of his students and was selected by Balanchine to teach some of his
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