Title: "SchoolGirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the...

BOOK BRIEFS

October 09, 1994|By KASEY JONES | KASEY JONES,LOS ANGELES TIMES Title: "The Masters of the House" Author: Robert Barnard Publisher: Scribners -! Length, price: 214 pages, $20 "Too nice" is the last complaint one would think could be applied to a book by Robert Barnard, the irreverently witty British suspense writer. But that's precisely the problem with "The Masters of the House"; and after last year's "A Hovering of Vultures," a delightfully droll literary lampoon, the new novel seems particularly insipid. The story is told in flashback form. Matthew Heenan and his sister Annie have returned to their childhood home, where their long-time caretaker, Auntie Connie, lies on her deathbed. The two reminisce about the circumstances in which Connie entered their lives: Their mother had just died, leaving behind four children and a husband who went mad upon hearing the tragic news. Matthew and Annie decide they must manage to convince outsiders that their father is just fine. The charade actually works, until a corpse turns up in their backyard, belonging, inconveniently enough, to their father's mistress. The person who first begins to suspect that the Heenan children are, in effect, home alone happens to be the dead woman's mother-in-law. That woman, soon to be known to them as Auntie Connie, winds up moving in to take care of the children. The solution to the murder is neither surprising nor especially clever. "The Masters of the House" is subpar Barnard.SUSANNE TROWBRIDGE Title: "Hollywood Kids" Author: Jackie Collins Publisher: Simon & Schuster 0$ Length, price: 525 pages, $23.50 What is it that makes me think that Jackie Collins has a template in her word processor on which she fills in the blanks and writes books? Her latest book is "Hollywood Kids." Previous works include "Hollywood Wives" and "Hollywood Husbands." What's next -- "Hollywood Pets"? A group of (choose from template: rat pack, brat pack) friends, and several nonindustry types (detectives, journalists, lawyers, etc.) will all be linked by a common thread (murder, extortion, kidnapping, pornography, drugs) by the end of the book. Been there, done that. The story revolves around the grown children of big-time actors and directors, who are bored with shopping and partying. Each takes a stab at getting a life. Into this mix arrives a serial killer, whose quest for revenge will endanger the Hollywood Kids. What really makes this template theory likely is a recent ad in People magazine touting "Hollywood Kids." It quotes a review I wrote several years ago of one of Ms. Collins' earlier books, making it seem as if the review applies to "Hollywood Kids." Her publisher apparently feels any favorable reviews can be used interchangeably with any of her books, because, ultimately, they're all the same book.

Title: "SchoolGirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap"

Author: Peggy Orenstein

Publisher: Doubleday

-! Length, price: 335 pages, $23

In 1992, the American Association of University Women conducted a study involving more than 3,000 children between the ages of 9 and 15. It found that by the time they reach adolescence, an enormous number of girls experience a dramatic loss of self esteem.

Peggy Orenstein, a journalist and former editor of Mother Jones magazine, decided to find out more. She spent a year following a group of eighth-grade girls from two extremely different Northern California schools. The resulting book, "SchoolGirls," is an informative and sometimes tragic look at exactly what causes so many girls to warp their personalities and often their bodies in the hope of fitting into a male-dominated world.

Ms. Orenstein's writing is excellent. She knows when to end an anecdote, when to insert herself and when to give statistics. "Schoolgirls" is also well researched, although one area not examined is the inborn differences between girls and boys, differences many studies have shown actually exist. Still, "SchoolGirls" is a fascinating book.

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