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Book Lovers Will Have Plenty of Tempting Choices This Month


Columbus Day and Halloween are celebrated in October. And the Cuban missile crisis, the anthrax mailings and the battle of el Alamein occurred in October. No surprise, then, that each of these happenings is featured in a nonfiction book that is also coming out this month.

Meanwhile, fiction fans can choose from among new hardcover novels by Joyce Carol Oates, Milan Kundera, Fern Michaels, Dave Barry and others.

We learn early in life that Christopher Columbus first came to America in 1492--but what else do we know about him? In "Columbus in the Americas" (Wiley), William Least Heat-Moon examines his strengths and weaknesses as navigator and leader. Drawing from Columbus' logs and other firsthand accounts, the book reveals how Columbus refused to believe that he had not landed in the Far East. It also reveals his harsh plan for the New World natives.

In "Death Makes a Holiday" (Bloomsbury), David J. Skal has scared up a cultural history of Halloween, which has evolved from a small-scale celebration into a huge seasonal marketing event. The book discusses the origin of trick-or-treating and jack-o'-lanterns, and the role the Irish potato famine played in bringing Halloween to America. Skal examines current customs, Halloween in movies, urban legends, witches, masks, costumes and haunted houses.

In October 1962, the Cuban missile crisis made the Cold War hotter than it had ever been. The discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba prompted a U.S. naval blockade of the island. An officer on one of those ships was Peter Huchthausen, author of "October Fury" (Wiley). In his book, he shares his experience and offers accounts of Soviet and U.S. officers and sailors during those tense times.

The anthrax mailings of October 2001 were the first major bioterrorism event in U.S. history and the second-largest FBI investigation. In "The Demon in the Freezer" (Random House), Richard Preston reports on the government's response to the anthrax letters and on the FBI's investigation. Also, he explores the threat of a future super virus, and the near certainty that hostile nations have stockpiled illegal smallpox batches.

The October 1942 battle at el Alamein ended a two-year desert campaign that began when Italy invaded Egypt. The Allied victory was a crucial point in the war, marking Germany's first defeat in a ground war and boosting the Allies' morale. This episode of World War II is chronicled "The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II" (Viking) by John Bierman and Colin Smith; and "Alamein" (Harvard) by Jon Latimer.

In her novel, "I'll Take You There" (Ecco), Oates tells the story of a young woman whose college years alter the way she perceives herself and her family. The bright, obsessive and nameless student attends a university in upstate New York during the 1960s. In this era before the rise of the civil-rights and women's movements, she becomes romantically obsessed with an elusive black grad student.

Two exiles return to the Czech Republic after the Soviet collapse in Kundera's "Ignorance" (HarperCollins). Irena and Josef meet en route to Prague. Once there, they realize they no longer feel connected to their hometown. As their relationship develops, they learn a lesson on the reliability of memory and how a shared experience can affect people in different ways.

The third and final novel in Michaels' "Kentucky" series, "Kentucky Sunrise" (Kensington) finds series character Nealy Coleman Diamond taking the reins to save the farm's reputation and to prove she can still train a horse capable of winning the Kentucky Derby.

Barry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated humor columnist, offers his second novel, "Tricky Business" (Putnam). It's about a cruise ship in South Florida that takes gamblers past the three-mile limit for some games of chance and salt-air breezes. But this ship is more crooked than any passenger realizes: Its captain and crew are involved in a drug smuggling scheme, which goes awry one night during Hurricane Hector.

Other new fiction:

In "Alexandria" (Chronicle), "Griffin and Sabine" creator Nick Bantock tells the story through colorful handwritten postcards and removable letters that two lovers--an archeologist in Egypt and a student in Paris--send each other.

The first lady is tried for murdering the philandering president with a historic spittoon in "No Way to Treat a First Lady" (Random House) by Christopher Buckley. Little girls figure prominently in "Then Came Christmas" (Forge) by Randy Lee Eickhoff, about a 12-year-old in 1950s South Dakota who tries to help the family of a slain Indian ranch hand, and in "The Story of Lucy Gault" (Viking), William Trevor's tale of 1920s Ireland and of a girl who runs away from home hoping to dissuade her parents from moving when their house is threatened by arson.

In Umberto Eco's "Baudolino" (Harcourt), 13th century Constantinople is the setting as the title character narrates the story of his life, from peasant birth in Italy to adventures in a mythical land.

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