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Book Report: Perfect reads to have along when not fishing

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It's time to go to the lake. Worrying about that seven-day hiatus when it rains morning, noon and night, or when the fish all stop biting? 

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Don't worry. Bring some books along. Light a cozy fire in your fireplace and cuddle up with a good book and let the rain drizzle down on the roof and give the walleyes a chance to get hungry again.

Here are a bevy of books to help you through the difficult times at your lake hideaway. 

"Private Life," by Jane Smiley (Alfred Knopf, $26.95): Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley paints novels on several canvases. She took on agriculture in "Moo," family life in "A Thousand Acres," and disappearing cultures in "The Greenlanders." 

Now she's out with a historical novel set in the United States between 1880 and World War II. She centers on Margaret Mayfield and her husband, a famous naval officer and astronomer, who seems like a good catch, until it turns out he has little time for Margaret and harbors some dangerous ideas to boot.

"61 Hours," by Lee Child (Delacorte Press, $28): Child began his adult life as a director for Britain's Granada Television and worked on such mighty projects as "Brideshead Revisited" (the good version).

Then he got unlucky and was thrown out after a corporate restructuring. It turned out to be a lucky break because he sat down and created characters like Jack Reacher, an ex-army cop, a cross between John Wayne and James Bond, who has captured America's imagination. Yes, America. 

For Child doesn't write his many books about his homeland, but about the U.S. His latest novel is set in of all places South Dakota, where Child finds himself on a tour bus stranded in a terrible blizzard and a challenge to find an accomplished assassin in just 61 hours.  

"2 in the Hat," by Raffi Yessayan (Ballantine Books, $25): Yessayan is yet another retread. He served for many years as an assistant district attorney in Boston, ending up as chief of its gang unit. 

Now he's writing novels. His second, "2 in the Hat," concerns two Boston detectives, Angel Alwest and Wayne Mooney. They're busy battling a series of gang related murders when a new problem in the person of a never arrested serial killer reappears and starts bumping off people.  Robin Moore, author of "The French Connection," calls Yessayan, "The best prosecutor turned crime writer to hit the streets since George V. Higgins. No mean praise and one more indication of truth in the old saw that you should know about what you write before you write it."

"Romancing Miss Bronte," by Juliet Gael (Ballantine, $25): I never had much time for Charlotte Bronte's 1847 blockbuster "Jane Eyre," although my late mother loved it dearly. Too romantic for my taste, I guess. But I just got a bang out of a new novel based on the life of Bronte and I'll bet my mother would have as well. 

It concerns the goings on of the Bronte family, various suitors and others who come to call at Haworth Parsonage, where the Brontes live. 

It's sometimes overdone, especially the hopeless drunken brother, Bramwell Bronte. But there's sweetness, too, in the person of Charlotte's admirer, the curate Charles Nicholls.

"A Secret Affair," by Mary Balogh (Delacort Press, $24): On a less serious note, Romance novelist Balogh has written yet another episode in her Huxtable Series. It concerns Hannah Reid, money grubbing hussy who marries an old earl, who manages to live 10 years before kicking the bucket.

Now she's rich and still beautiful and frustrated that she's spent her youth nursing the old codger while enjoying a few sexual liaisons with various denizens of the "ton," wealthy gentlemen of Victorian high society. 

Now that she's footloose and fancy free, she decides to take as her lover the rakehell Constantine Huxtable, who is a real bastard, meaning he's an illegitimate scion of a famous family.

There's lots of bodice ripping and heavy breathing in this flirtation with wickedness.

And lest we forget the regional front, there's "The Missing Element: A James Becker Mystery," by John L. Betcher (available at www.johnbetcher.com): It's set in Red Wing, Minn.,, where retired U.S. spy James Becker returns to after retiring from government work.  His wife Elizabeth, a CIA code cracker settles down also, until a Minneapolis computer whiz is kidnapped and the Beckers are called upon to help.

Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 426-9554.

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