Straightforward, often lyrical prose and a sympathetic yet clear-eyed historical perspective characterize Wood's first novel following the successful trilogy that began with The Train to Estelline. This time, she focuses on four families living on the 900 block of Pine Street in the East Texas town of Cold Springs in 1944. As World War II rages in Europe, Grace Gillian, a 38-year-old high school English teacher with a ""wild Irish streak,"" is at the center of things on the home front. Grace's husband, Bucy, has recently abandoned her, unleashing a torrent of local gossip, and much of the novel turns on the question of which future Grace will choose will it be with the bereaved husband of a recently deceased neighbor, a handsome sergeant she meets on a train or her own estranged husband? Equally affecting are the stories of Bobby Moore, an earnest teenager with poor eyesight who desperately wants to participate in the war effort, and Bobby's seemingly mismatched parents, his oh-so-Southern father, Robert, and his outsider Yankee mother, Barbara. Passion pops up in unusual places, even as the war years offer the opportunity for everyone to finally grow up. As the war drags to an end, the distant horrors of battle are having a profound effect on the town, and insanity is in the air, changing lives irrevocably. Like a good parent, Wood stands back and lets the sturdy characters of her smalltown novel discover just what's important. Despite the sadness of loss and the bitterness of hard-won knowledge, the novel's conclusion is jubilantly triumphant, as satisfying as a snapshot of V-E Day. (Apr. 3) Forecast: Wood's move to Dutton from the smaller U. of North Texas Press, which published her Estelline trilogy, should bring added attention and sales to this increasingly popular author.