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PAPERBACKS: Reissued Hollywood memoir a winner

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Robert Evans, the American film producer, was involved in some of Hollywood's biggest hits of the 1970s: Love Story, The Godfather, Chinatown, and more. His outspoken memoir, 1994's The Kid Stays in the Picture (499 pages, $20), has been reissued by HarperCollins.

Evans, who starred in a few movies before he decided he wasn't much of an actor, became head of production at Paramount Pictures in the 1960s and made the struggling studio an industry powerhouse.

Later, his battles with filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, and his run-in with the law (over his use of some, um, illegal recreational substances), made headlines around the world, turning him from a behind-the-scenes producer into a capital-C celebrity. There are lots of Hollywood memoirs, but few of them are as spellbinding, not to mention entertainingly written, as this one.

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In Never Saw It Coming (Anchor Canada, 252 pages, $8), by Ontario's Linwood Barclay, a woman who claims to be psychic targets the wrong man for her latest scam. Running her usual game, spinning a made-up story designed to convince the mark to give her money in exchange for clues to the whereabouts of his missing loved one, Keisha Ceylon just happens to spin a story that is very close to the truth... and her mark isn't too happy about that.

Barclay has written a string of excellent thrillers: No Time for Goodbye, Too Close to Home, The Accident, and so on. His most notable gift, aside from his skill as a storyteller, is his ability to create realistic, multi-layered characters who keep surprising us.

It's easy, at first, to think we have a handle on Keisha Ceylon, the fake psychic, but, as Barclay lets us see more of her, we begin to realize she isn't who she appears to be. This is another winner from a writer who always delivers the goods.

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They Eat Puppies, Don't They? (Twelve, 336 pages, $17) is another hilarious political satire by American Christopher Buckley, whose previous side-splitters include Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men and No Way to Treat a First Lady. Lobbyist Bird McIntyre, stymied in his efforts to get Congress to sign off on a new weapons system developed by his client, decides to force the issue.

Teaming up with Angel Templeton, the beautiful but abrasive chairwoman of a major Washington think-tank, McIntyre sets out to manufacture a conflict between China and the U.S. But a strategic rumour begins to escalate, and soon it's out of control.

As usual, Buckley's characters are larger than life, but not completely unrealistic -- Angel seems to be an exaggerated version of Ann Coulter, if such a thing is possible -- and the story begins with a ludicrous premise that turns out, as the story progresses, to be surprisingly plausible.

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Set about 100 years before Orson Scott Card's classic Ender's Game (1985), Earth Unaware (Tor, 450 pages, $10), by Card and Aaron Johnston, reveals how the Formic Wars -- during which young Ender Wiggin would save the human race from extinction -- began.

The book features another young protagonist, Victor Delgado, who comes from a family of asteroid miners and who stumbles onto evidence that something terrible is coming toward Earth.

Unlike many science-fiction writers, Card, who lives in North Carolina, is at his best when writing about children. His unusual approach, giving his young characters the wisdom and vocabulary of people much older, makes for compelling reading. And the novel's story, in which Victor must find a way to warn the people of Earth of the approaching threat, is dramatic and suspenseful.

Halifax writer David Pitt's column appears on the first weekend of the month.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2013 A1

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