Express Reviews 

Hot new books for your delectation.

Girl with the Golden Bouffant
By Mabel Maney
HarperEntertainment, $14.95

When Jane Bond, James Bond's lovely lesbian sister, is recruited to stand in for her misfortune-prone playboy/secret-agent brother, Her Majesty's Secret Service doesn't know what it's in for: Unknown to all but the mild-mannered Miss Tuppenny, who moonlights as Chief of Operations for Girls in Europe Organized to Right Grievances and Insure Equality, Jane is a double agent for the all-girl spy ring and poised to pull off a crucial G.E.O.R.G.I.E. mission. In this smart, outrageous, laugh-out-loud spoof, no bit of Bond business is safe from satire. Readers are led on a riotous romp as Jane, decked out in her brother's drag and the Secret Service scientists' best efforts to hide her femaleness, travels to Las Vegas with her lover and sister agent Lady Bridget St. Claire and the scheming Mimi trailing at a not-so-safe distance. She is accompanied by the wonderfully fussy, terribly British Cedric, a delightful old queen, who is unaware that in her role as double agent, Jane has come to Sin City with a far different mission than to merely hush rumors of her brother's demise. Then, of course, there's the murder. Maney's thriller comes with a ridiculously complicated plot, surprisingly fresh characters, and a commanding knowledge of the secret-agent genre. An impressive waste of time, brilliantly funny, oddly enlightening, it's just about as much entertainment as one can squeeze between two covers. -- Joy Parks

Providence of a Sparrow
By Chris Chester
Anchor, $13.95

B was a house sparrow that electronics technician Chester felt moved to rescue after the bird fell from a nest into Chester's Portland, Oregon, backyard. Then B moved in, taking over the author's life as well as a room in his house. "I could have chosen wrongly -- I'd be unaware that a remarkable mind had died in my yard," Chester writes in this tale of observation and love. "If he were trapped in the house, I'd tear it down to the foundation, steal a supermarket cart for my stuff, and live in a bus kiosk with my rescued bird." It sounds clichéd to say that B (short for Bird Brain, emphasis on the brain) is no ordinary sparrow -- but it's so true. Given pretty much free rein, B plays intricate games involving bottle caps, and displays a beguiling array of emotions and intelligence. Heck, he can even type. No cuckoo in the nest, B wins over Chester's wife, Rebecca. "Thank God no one else was around," she says, her hair finessed with bird droppings while showering at her spa. "The people there already think I'm strange because I don't wear anything with a logo on it." Providence works best when focusing on B, but strays when it moves to other creatures in the Chester household -- obsession is best denoted in mono. Providence is an entrancing portrait of an outsider life with an indoor sparrow. -- Susan Compo

Beasts of Eden
By David Rains Wallace
University of California, $24.95

The story of mammals, in the hands of a skilled science popularizer, could be one of the most amazing ever. That's why Beasts of Eden is such a letdown. What unsuspected evolutionary advantages did warm blood, fur, and mammary glands confer? How has mammalian evolution, in its diversity, reflected the caprices of geology and climate, from region to region and from epoch to epoch? What little-known clashes among scientific viewpoints have given rise to our present-day understandings of mammals? And, while we're on it, why the heck does the male opossum have two penises? Wallace engages with no colorful questions, grand or trivial, in a field of study that must be rife with them. Instead, we get a painstaking rehash of the classification of ancient fossils, including the biography of each minor scientist involved. Wallace makes the mistake all too common among specialists who, when writing for lay audiences, assume that readers are already very familiar with key concepts and terms in the discipline at hand. The result, in this case, is a confounding stew of a narrative, without a discernible direction. Perhaps the author was hampered by a fear of producing a work that would read, in effect, little more than a high-school textbook, if he tried to explain too much. It's an understandable concern, but one that hasn't stopped any of a spate of popular-science writer-scholars in recent decades from producing memorable, erudite, yet accessible works on biology, cosmology, and psychiatry, to name a few. -- Karen Armstead

By Andrei Codrescu
Algonquin, $24.95

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "Wakefield," a man ditches his life for two decades and abruptly returns. In his latest novel, Codrescu adds a poignant midlife-crisis spin to this conceit. After a brief visit with the devil -- whom Codrescu imagines as a sensitive, if bored, consumer of souls -- the novel's eponymous hero discovers he has been sleepwalking through life. Satan allows Wakefield a one-year reprieve, so he hits the road looking for lives he could have lived, ideas he could have embraced. In the process he discovers America. A lecturer who dabbles in art, literature, and architecture, Wakefield has been delivering seat-of-the-pants addresses for corporations for years. The difference now is that he pays attention to the people he visits. In a Midwestern town called Typical, he flirts with becoming a suburban father. Visiting the stuffy World Art Museum in Wintry City, he privately remembers that art can make a difference. On a balcony in Santa Barbara he questions whether culture matters at all. Though baggy in structure, this novel plays well to Codrescu's strengths of poetic observation and scabrous riff-making. He rants about airline seats and the size of Americans' asses; he throws verbal Molotov cocktails at the enshrining of profit over people. Wakefield taps into every one of Codrescu's veins of interest and, in the end, comes home dry. There is no belief, Wakefield suggests, that can tidy up our lives or our world -- only engagement. It's a principle this author has embodied himself for thirty years. -- John Freeman

Internal Bleeding: The Truth Behind America's Terrifying Epidemic of Medical Mistakes
By Robert M. Wachter and Kaveh G. Shojania
Rugged Land, $24.95


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