Title: "Hill Towns"Author: Anne Rivers SiddonsPublisher...

BOOK BRIEFS

January 02, 1994|By EILEEN POWER | EILEEN POWER,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Title: "Hill Towns"

Author: Anne Rivers Siddons

Publisher: HarperCollins

Length, price: 356 pages, $22

Catherine (Cat) Gaillard was 5 years old when, in a freak accident, a speeding truck killed her parents. The event claimed third victim of sorts -- Cat. The tragedy took place in the small college town of Montview, in the mountains of Tennessee, which becomes Catherine's self-imposed jail.

Thirty years later, Cat has married Joe, a professor at the college. He understands Cat's reluctance to leave the mountain and insulates her from the outside world. When two friends get married in Italy, Cat and Joe leave their beloved mountain home to attend the wedding. As Cat tentatively leaves her isolation, she begins to discover a vitality and enthusiasm she never knew existed. Suddenly, Joe's control becomes suffocating. Then an American painter takes an interest in Cat.

Anne Rivers Siddons' best-selling novels ("Peachtree Road," "Outer Banks") deal with wounded people living in the New South. "Hill Towns" is a departure in that a good bit of the action is in Italy, but a change of locale cannot save this heavily padded work. It's got a convoluted plot and none of the characters are sympathetic or even interesting. Title: "The Cereal Murders"

Author: Diane Mott Davidson

Publisher: Bantam

Length, price: 303 pages, $19.95

Diane Mott Davidson has served up a winner with "The Cereal Murders," the third and best of her culinary mysteries starring caterer Goldy Bear. After supplying the food for a college prep dinner for the senior class at an exclusive private school, Goldy finds the corpse of the valedictorian.

The dead young man, who was something of a nerd, reminds her of her own son, Arch. Naturally, she wants to get involved and help her boyfriend, homicide detective Tom Schulz, find the killer.

Goldy focuses her suspicion on the other high school seniors and their parents, who would do almost anything to make sure their offspring get into prestigious colleges. It appears that the murdered boy had been working on an expose of the school for the local newspaper. Did someone kill him to stop him from doing damage to the school's reputation, or was he targeted so that another student could move up in the class rankings?

The whodunit is cleverly constructed, and the personal obstacles that Goldy faces -- her struggles as a single mom and businesswoman -- make her an immensely likable, sympathetic heroine. Along the way, she shares 11 of her recipes; I baked a batch of her chewy "cereal killer cookies," which won raves from everyone who tried them.

Still, most of her dishes rely heavily on such high-fat ingredients as butter and cheese, making them not exactly heart-healthy. If the bad guys don't do Goldy in, high cholesterol just might.

SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE

Title: "Take the Long Way Home: Memoirs of a Survivor"

Author: Susan Gordon Lydon

Publisher: Harper San Francisco

Length, price: 290 pages, $22

It's possible to isolate the exact moment when Susan Gordon Lydon's memoir, "Take the Long Way Home," is transformed from a generic testimonial to a work of enormous power and grace. In the middle of page 108, Ms. Lydon, an educated, articulate, free-lance journalist, starts to do drugs on a consistent basis. At that point, "Take the Long Way Home" begins to chronicle her slide downward through shooting galleries, prostitution and failed attempts at "kicking."

"So I ended up driving around, with no license, in the car I had taken from my mother, with my [crack] pipe in my mouth and the needle in my hand, trying to find a vein, while the car was moving. I was totally insane." After she goes to live at Women Inc., a Boston recovery house that's the mental equivalent of boot camp, the tone changes yet again to encompass a profound spiritual and psychological healing that could, in the hands of a less skilled writer, seem indulgent. But that's not Ms. Lydon. In spite of an uneven first 100 pages, this is an extremely brave and moving book.

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