It's a shame that Diana Ross' memoirs,...


It's a shame that Diana Ross' memoirs, "Secrets of a Sparrow," aren't available on CD. If it were, you could fast-forward, getting 30- or 40-second snippets from each chapter and be done with it -- rather than wading through all 280 pages.

Which is not to say this is a bad book -- you just have to looooooove Diana Ross in order to finish it without a couple of tablets of No-Doz and a high tolerance for overwriting.

Despite the title, there are no secrets here. Ms. Ross has not revealed anything we didn't already know -- or suspect.

"Secrets of a Sparrow" is page after page of Ms. Ross overcoming adversity, moving mountains (ah, yes, that again), succeeding where mere mortals would have failed and emerging victorious after vanquishing personal and professional demons.

Along the way she makes it clear that, 1) it was not her idea to sacrifice the Supremes on the altar of Diana, it was public demand and Berry Gordy's vision for her that did the group in, and 2) fame has an awful, awful price.

Ah, well. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

Title: "Secrets of a Sparrow"

Author: Diana Ross

Publisher: Villard

Length, price: 280 pages, $22 For mathematician Chris Barton, it was bad enough that the government problem he was supposed to solve was instead keeping him baffled and burnt. But now, driving home, he finds himself stuck listening to a raggedy old hitchhiker who questions Chris' grasp of what is and isn't in his life: "I wager the security of your existence against your assumption that you know what's real and what's unreal in your life." To placate the stranger, Chris accepts the wager; it is the worst thing he could have done. For it starts him on a dangerous international adventure that seems completely without rhyme, reason . . . or solution.

Richard Matheson ("The Incredible Shrinking Man") is undeniably one of the greatest figures in all of modern horror-writing. But "7 Steps to Midnight," his first work in more than 15 years, isn't horror, and it isn't very good.

Reminiscent of L. Ron Hubbard's 1940 story, "Fear," "7 Steps to Midnight" reads more like a draft of a novel than the finished product: Its characters are uninvolving, its plot underdeveloped, and its resolution hackneyed. Add to this, references to things (like smoking on flights) that belie its 1993 copyright, and one must wonder if there isn't a story behind this novel's release more interesting than the novel itself.

Title: "7 Steps to Midnight"

Author: Richard Matheson

Publisher: Forge Book/Tom Doherty Associates

Length, price: 318 pages, $22.95 Nicholas Linnear -- the Ninja -- is the hero in several of Eric Lustbader's previous best-selling thrillers. He is your normal hero: a gorgeous, globe-trotting, multimillionaire techno-business mogul who is a martial arts master in his spare time. When not running his multi-national company, Linnear is doing battle with evil forces.

In "The Kaisho," Linnear battles a sinister alliance of the Mafia, the Japanese Yakuza and a band of villainous U.S. operatives. Honoring a deathbed promise to his father, Linnear goes to Venice to protect an aging Yakuza. As Linnear unravels the conspiracy, he comes up against the confederation and a plot stretching back to World War II.

Before Mr. Lustbader found fame and fortune with the Nicholas Linnear books, he wrote fantasy novels and worked on DC Comics. Unfortunately, the biggest difference between his later work and the comics is the lack of artwork and the pretensions in the Linnear novels. Characters are ludicrously drawn, and the silly dialogue is better suited for balloons than quotation marks. The plot is hyperbolic, the action beyond belief. In the publisher's notes, "The Kaisho" is the first of three "interconnected" novels. Maybe in the next installment of Nicholas Linnear's adventures, there will be artwork.

Title: "The Kaisho"

Authors: Eric Lustbader

Publisher: Pocket Books

Length, price: 482 pages, $22


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