From sunny Provence to the depths of despair, these two new books suit any mood. 

Pleasure and Pain

Peter Mayle has probably done more to boost tourism in Provence than any campaign ever mounted by the French government. With 1989's wonderfully evocative "A Year in Provence," Mayle introduced readers to the South of France as he recounted the foibles, follies and discoveries of his first year in the Lubéron. He followed in 1991 with "Toujours Provence," another gently humorous look at the peculiarities — and pleasures — of living in Provence.

Apparently the attention, both on the region and on the Mayles themselves, got to the couple, and they left their beloved home to escape curious tourists and journalists. But after spending four years in America, they missed Provence. The newly published "Encore Provence" (Knopf, $23), is the account of the couple's homecoming.

Although I dove into this book with the gusto of a gourmand tucking into a feast of foie gras, I left the table with a bit of indigestion. "Encore Provence" lacks much of the magic of Mayle's other works. It is no more than a pastiche of essays that covers little new ground.

Some, like "New York Times Restaurant Critic Makes Astonishing Discovery: Provence Never Existed," in which Mayle refutes an article by former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, are well-written and informative. Mayle's lists of the region's best markets, restaurants and hotels should be a great resource for tourists. Other essays, such as "Eight Ways to Spend a Summer Afternoon" and "Curious Reasons for Liking Provence," are self-indulgent filler, and in many cases, topics Mayle has (more skillfully) covered before.

If you are a fan of Mayle's work you will probably find something to enjoy in this book. However, you may be better off putting the money into your French vacation fund.

— Jessica Ronky Haddad

f you want a book to read by the pool or you are looking for a happy story, stay away from "Promise You Won't Tell Nobody," by Kimberly T. Matthews (Kissed, paper, $11). But if you are interested in hearing a stunning new writer tell of an abused and discouraging childhood (possibly her own), and if you can stand a story that is brutal and graphic — be sure to listen to this narrative and its cry of pain.

Told in what seems to be the authentic language of her community, the story of Matthews' main character, Tasha, lived a childhood that was a melange of siblings whom she loved, a mother whom she wanted desperately to be loved by, but who swore at her and beat her with a cord. Her father, who often beat the children until they were bloody, used Tasha for sexual gratification.

It is difficult to read the story of this child, and it is difficult to understand how the author — who quite clearly has had many of the experiences she describes — rose above her troubles to find herself an accomplished adult with a child, an education and a strong belief in God.

The writing is uneven and the language sometimes is repetitive, but that is the way the words no doubt were spoken, and this adds to the picture of poverty. If this novel is a one-time effort to help raise our consciousness about child abuse, it is a fine contribution. If it is the first gift to us from a talented writer, we can be pleased.

Matthews is multitalented. She also designed the handsome cover. She lives in Hampton.

— Rozanne Epps

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