LOVE.Selected by Ed Stackler.St...

FOREVER YOURS:LETTERS OF

February 10, 1991|By LYNN WILLIAMS CIRCLE OF FRIENDS. Maeve Binchy. Delacorte. 565 pages. $19.95.

FOREVER YOURS:

LETTERS OF LOVE.

Selected by Ed Stackler.

St. Martin's.

70 pages. $9.95. Small, exquisite books with ribbon bookmarks and romantithemes turn up with some regularity at this time of year, and the dust jacket of "Forever Yours" more than suggests the reason: "This lavishly produced anthology of love letters is . . . the perfect gift for the one you love." A heart-shaped box of candy, a single rose and a slim volume of prose . . . ah, February 14th!

Whatever the publisher's intentions, though, "Forever Yours" is much more effective as a historical document -- an irresistible private glimpse into very public lives -- than as a Valentine bonbon. Slipped between the honeyed words of Ludwig van Beethoven (to his "immortal beloved") and Robert Browning (to Elizabeth, of course) is more subversive stuff. Henry VIII's letter to "myne awne Sweetheart" is followed by a plaintive missive from the "sweetheart," Anne Boleyn, as she awaits her execution. Ben Franklin wittily makes a case for infidelity. Letters from and to Victor Hugo express heartfelt adoration -- but two different ladies are involved. The letters in this collection are moments frozen in time, and seem less about love's enduring qualities than about its evanescence -- not exactly the message you want to send with the chocolates and champagne.

Quietly and without pretension, Maeve Binchy has earned splendid reputation as a serious novelist who tackles tough themes. In such prior marvels as "Light a Penny Candle," "Echoes" and "Silver Wedding," Ms. Binchy has written about 20th century Ireland. The characters are beautifully drawn and Ireland's rich culture and mores keenly observed. In her latest novel, all the trademarks are present and the results are equally triumphant.

"Circle of Friends" revolves around three friends from disparate backgrounds -- Benny, Eve and Nan. Benny, the daughter of overly protective parents, met the orphaned Eve in childhood. Benny, known as "Big Ben" because of her heaviness, spent her life trying to overcome her looks and gain a measure of self-respect. Abandoned by her mother's family, Eve must battle her own demons. In college, they meet the beautiful but narcissistic Nan.

"Circle's" strength lies in the author's power of observation and understanding of the human condition. This is a sweet novel that has respect not only for its characters but the reader. If you have not had the pleasure of reading a novel by Maeve Binchy, "Circle of Friends" would be a wonderful place to start.

EILEEN POWER

SHATTERED VOWS.

Rebecca York.

Harlequin Intrigue.

252 pages. $2.50 (paperback).

Private investigator Jo O'Malley thought she was in enougdanger when Eddie Cahill, a drug dealer whom she helped put behind bars, escaped from the Maryland Penitentiary. But when she begins receiving obscene phone calls from an eerie, electronically distorted voice, Jo really gets scared. Her telephone tormentor seems to know so much about her, down to the name of her favorite shade of lipstick.

Jo tries to keep her mind on her duties as maid of honor at her

friend Abby's forthcoming wedding, but the high-tech harassment keeps getting worse. Best man and brilliant inventor Cameron Randolph vows to help. But before long, Jo makes a discovery about Cam's past that causes her to wonder just how fully she can trust him.

"Shattered Vows" is the second book in the "43 Light Street" series of romantic suspense novels by local authors Ruth Glick and Eileen Buckholtz (a.k.a. Rebecca York). The writing is sharp and snappy, a cut above the usual "icy fingers of fear" genre cliches, and the hometown locales -- from Dundalk to Roland Park and Hunt Valley -- will delight Baltimore readers.

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

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