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Books in brief

>GRAPHIC NOVEL

Stitches by David Small; Norton, 344 pages ($23.95)

Illustrator Small, author of children's books, pens a stark autobiographical tale that is a breathtaking, horrific and ultimately redemptive work. The terror wrought by his abusive parents left emotional scars, literally caused cancer and forced an operation that left him almost speechless. But this amazing depiction of his heroic escape into the light of the art that saved him is inspirational without being sentimental.

-- McClatchy Newspapers

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>CHILDREN'S

The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley; Alfred A. Knopf, 240 pages ($16.99). Ages 10 and up.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley, who grew up loving Walter Farley's "Black Stallion" series, says she was inspired to write her first children's book by her editor's comment that there are "no horse books for girls anymore." The first in a series, this marvelous book tells the story of Abby Lovitt, the only daughter of a fundamentalist Christian father who ekes out a living selling horses in California in the 1960s. The mares are all named Jewel, the geldings are all George, so nobody will get too attached to any particular horse. Smiley nicely parallels Abby's difficult peer relationships at school with her hard work at home, helping train the horses for her stern father. Smiley combines a winning coming-of-age tale, as Abby learns new confidence from lessons with a "horse whisperer"-type character named Jem Jarrow, with memorable characters, both horse and human, and lots of detail about riding and training. The Jarrow character is based on a horse trainer who pioneered training methods tailored to horses' personalities.

-- Jean Westmoore

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>FICTION

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery; Europa Editions, 160 pages ($15)

A dying food critic spends his final hours lost in reverie, desperate to recall a sublime flavor from childhood that he believes will yield a profound revelation.

That's the entire plot of "Gourmet Rhapsody," published by Europa Editions as a follow-up to Barbery's phenomenally successful novel, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog."

"Gourmet Rhapsody" was actually written first and came out in France nine years ago. Now it's been translated into English by Alison Anderson, and although too slight an effort to summon the same devotion "Hedgehog" elicited, it's a quick and entertaining read.

Monsieur Pierre Arthens is told by his doctor that a "cardiac insufficiency" leaves him with 48 hours to live. The book's brief chapters alternate between Arthens telling stories from his colorful past and various characters weighing in on the misanthropic gourmand. Many welcome the news of his imminent demise, including his neglected daughter, who recalls her father's "raptor's gaze" and "imperious gait." Others offering testimonies about the self-proclaimed "greatest food critic in the world" are his wife, his housekeeper, a former mistress or two, and even his cat and an alabaster sculpture.

That he will expire by the end of the book is never in doubt; the only cliffhanger is whether Arthens will have one more taste of that beloved flavor of his childhood. He is pompous and self-absorbed to his final breath, yet his reminiscences on everything from sashimi to mayonnaise reveal his considerable charisma and brilliance -- as well as his hilarious vitriol.

-- Newsday

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