May 02, 2005 12:00 PM

FICTION

True Believer

by Nicholas Sparks

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Grab the Chardonnay and turn off the Lifetime channel. Time for a date with Sparks (The Notebook), who has turned out another reliable romance, this time with a paranormal premise. In True Believer, New York City journalist Jeremy Marsh, a Scientific American columnist and dedicated debunker, investigates his way to fame when he exposes a popular but shady spirit guide whom he brands “the worst kind of con man.” After his Primetime Live-aired coup, Marsh steers south to meet Doris McClellan of Boone Creek, N.C., who has written to him with a spectral story idea about strange lights in the town’s cemetery. “Maybe,” she writes, “you could make sense of what the lights really are.” Once there, Jeremy meets Doris’s orphaned grand-daughter Lexie, the local librarian who’s mysteriously single in her 30s despite her romantic-heroine beauty: “Skin, with just a hint of olive [that] made makeup unnecessary,” and “almost violet” eyes. He discovers that Doris is a “diviner” with the gift of guess. For all the suspenseful setup, the novel’s middling mystery is secondary to more pressing puzzles, like how Jeremy pays his Manhattan rent on a meager freelancer’s salary and how long it will take for divorced Jeremy and wounded Lexie to fall in love. The slow dance to the couple’s first kiss is a two-chapter guilty pleasure, but their debate over the North-South divide is annoying: In arguing the merits of city or country life (“Didn’t he understand that she cared nothing about…being able to buy Thai food in the middle of the night?”) Jeremy and Lexie draw Green Acres-level lines in the sand. Even so, your sixth sense should tell you that the South wins this one.

NOVEL

As Simple as Snow

by Gregory Galloway

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At first Galloway’s debut novel, As Simple as Snow, seems like an angst-y coming-of-age story: The unnamed narrator, a high school sophomore who describes himself as “bland,” falls for Anna, a Goth who reads Rimbaud. When Anna disappears, the novel promises to become a whodunit—but the clues don’t lead the narrator anywhere and the other characters’ actions are occasionally baffling. Yet even with these gaps, this strange tale manages to creep deeply under your skin, and to stay there for some time.

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