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An Irish Rover's Life on Sea, Stage

April 16, 1998

Will Millar, known for singing about a unicorn, has come out with his first book, "Messing About in Boats: The Nautical Confessions of an Unsinkable Irishman" (Whitecap Books, 1998).

For years the lead singer of the Irish Rovers, Millar gives a refreshing look into a celebrity's life offstage. It's a funny autobiography in nautical disguise. Millar is not afraid to make fun of himself while taking his Irish dignity out for a few public dunkings. His tyro's sailor skills give a whole new meaning to the phrase "bottoms up."

Boats, in this book, are a nifty metaphor for Millar's foibles, on and off the briny, his pleasures and his successes. The wreckage described floating in the wake of his boats illustrates a bittersweet life. The book details his career in music and on the sea from the East Coast of Canada to the West Coast of the United States, then as a world traveler. Not bad for a kid who came to America in steerage.

Millar had the courage to gamble his youth on two things, music and the sea. He became a star in recordings and television and sailed a flotilla of small boats. Now he cranks up a third talent and writes a first-rate book.

BOB STANE

Pasadena

*

In "Clay's Ark" by Octavia E. Butler (Warner Books), a family of the future is carjacked and believes the attackers are criminal road warriors. But it turns out the group of perpetrators is infected with a disease that was brought here from another planet when one of Earth's spacecraft returned from a mission and crashed. Everyone assumed all aboard were dead. But one survived, and the alien virus he carries compels him to spread it.

The kidnapped family is needed for the colony to continue to grow. As the disease transforms the family members, they notice their sense of sight, smell and hearing have increased to a remarkable degree. They are stronger, and they have desires that are quite unnatural, and they are OK with this new reality. Babies are born with the disease.

The babies are not human.

DENISE HENDERSON-HOLT

Van Nuys

*

Nearly 60 years ago, I was taken to see the movie "How Green Was My Valley" and along with millions of others fell in love with that story.

Recently a friend gave me the 1940 book by Richard Llewellyn, and it is only now that I am truly taken with the story of hardship, romance, frustration, camaraderie and unionism, which, when I was a child, did not register.

This beautifully written work has such heart and soul that I would recommend that anyone who has never read it do so now, and to those who have, to reread it. It is such a wonderful depiction of the lives of the coal mining community in Wales, the Welch miners, their faith, their ability to sing during their darkest hours and to try overcoming the lives they were caught up in. Truly a remarkable piece of literature that holds up as well today as it did then.

IRIS PINSKY

Los Angeles

*

I'm reading, with sheer delight, the historical novel by Helen Heightsman Gordon "Voice of the Vanquished: The Story of the Slave Marina and Harnan Cortes."

Don~a Marina, the slave who rose to become an interpreter in three languages and the most powerful woman in 16th century Mexico, has been demonized by artists and folklorists for 400 years as La Malinche--the traitress--but this history shows her as a strong and gifted woman, intelligent, gracious, modest and courageous. She undergoes being sold into slavery, endures the hardships of battle and becomes an interpreter for Cortes. Winning his love and admiration, she bears Cortes a son; then she forgives the family members who betrayed her.

Gordon's ability to blend history with exciting fiction gives me the sense of being immersed in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations. Her extensive research adds credence and substance to the tale, but the story line keeps me turning pages. I am particularly enjoying the love stories and the subplots about parental love and sacrifice.

KAREN W. ELLIS

Granada Hills

* What's that book on your night stand? Is it any good? Send us a review! We're especially interested in hearing about fiction that you don't find reviewed in The Times, but feel free to send us your opinion of whatever it is you are reading. Keep the review short (200 words, tops) and send it (with your phone number, please) to Readers Reviews, Life & Style, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053, or fax it to (213) 237-0732. We'll print the most interesting ones every month. Sorry, but no submissions can be returned.

Next week: Kevin Baxter reviews books for children and young adults.

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