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Books in brief

>SUSPENSE

Promises in Death by J.D. Robb; G.P. Putnam's Sons ($26.95)

In a beloved series that only gets better with age, "Promises in Death" is perhaps the best of the 28 books about Eve and Roarke. And that will probably last until the 29th book is released.

The "In Death" books have everything a romance suspense fan could want: A gritty and gutsy heroine, with just a tad of vulnerability known only to her true love; an unbelievably charismatic and gorgeous hero who happens to be the richest man in the universe and always knows the right thing to say and do.

And their complete and total devotion to each other.

These books have wit, humor and a support cast of intriguing, beguiling and lovable characters that reach through the pages and bring you right in there with them.

The books are set in the future -- we're up to 2060 in this one. While the stories are in no way science fiction, it does allow J.D. Robb -- aka Nora Roberts -- to have a bit of fun with futuristic devices.

And "Promises in Death" is definitely a fun read. And much more.

-- McClatchy Newspapers

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>CHILDREN'S

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (illustrations by Dave McKean, HarperCollins, $17.99, 368 pages). Ages 10 and up.

This year's Newbery Medal-winning book opens with a killer in a house at night, wiping blood off a knife, a knife so sharp that "if it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately." His parents and sister have already been murdered, but a very small boy has toddled out of the house and up the road to a graveyard, where he ends up adopted by ghosts of the dead and named "Nobody Owens," or "Bod" for short. This unusual but fascinating choice for the year's best children's book comes from horror-meister Neil Gaiman, author of "Coraline" now playing at movie theaters. Inspired by "The Jungle Book" about a boy raised by animals, this beautifully crafted story offers a fascinating parade of ghosts from the ages, including the kindly cabinetmaker Master and Mrs. Owens; mysterious Silas, who lives on the borderland between two worlds and becomes the boy's guardian; the old Roman Caius Pompeius; and most poignant, the witchgirl Liza Hempstock. Gaiman constructs a fascinating netherworld of kindly ghosts along with a terrifying underworld of ghouls (where one might find Victor Hugo, the 33rd president or the emperor of China remarking: "Plague pits is good eatin'") and an equally terrifying look at evil among the living in Bod's experience with middle-school bullying, corrupt cops and a greedy pawnbroker. There's white-knuckle suspense in the dramatic finale but most memorable is the coming-of-age tale of Bod and the kindly spirits who guided his road to adulthood.

-- Jean Westmoore

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>ROMANCE

Love Stories, edited by Diana Secker Tesdell; Everyman's Pocket Classics/Knopf ($15)

A more cynical celebration than Valentine's Day, which exists chiefly to sell greeting cards and get absent-minded men into trouble, is hard to imagine. Fortunately, Diana Secker Tesdell and Everyman's Pocket Classics offer an antidote to this coarsening of human emotion. "Love Stories," a collection of tales by notable authors past and present, shows yet again the capacity of literature -- in the form of clear-sighted sensibility and the application of mildly elevated language -- to renew the weariest heart.

That's not to say these stories are hard to read, though they do demand a bit more concentration than, say, the latest opus from Candace Bushnell or Helen Fielding. For example, "Here We Are," by Dorothy Parker, reads like a scene from a particularly well-wrought '30s romantic comedy. The dialogue zings, as a newly married couple on a train falls into senseless bickering that actually masks the sexual tension of honeymooners who have never slept together.

Parker, a wordsmith extraordinaire, also delivers the single best line in the book, when she describes the young bride: "She looked as new as a peeled egg."

-- McClatchy Newspapers

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>BIOGRAPHY

An American in Gandhi's India: The Biography of Satyanand Stokes by Asha Sharma, foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Indiana University Press ($21.95)

Philadelphia officials and university leaders say it's important that more of Philadelphia's talented young people stay here as they begin their working lives. The city, we're told, needs their youth, their energy, their idealism.

True enough. But sometimes the greatest gift a city can offer the world is a young person, formed in its finest traditions and beliefs, who ventures off and brings the glow of unquestioned integrity, the fire of altruism, to those who need it even more.

Satyanand Stokes (1882-1946), nee Samuel Evans Stokes Jr., was such a native son. His astonishing life story, first published in India in 1999, now happily arrives home in a handsome U.S. edition.

You've probably never heard of Stokes, but Mohandas K. Gandhi did. And it's not every day that the Dalai Lama writes a foreword to a book. Satyanand Stokes attracts those sorts of admirers.

-- McClatchy Newspapers

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