cover image A Certain Smile

A Certain Smile

Judith Michael. Crown Publishers, $25 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-517-70325-0

An exotic locale, a hint of danger, a dollop of fashion, a soup on of Confucian philosophy and a big dose of clashing cultures add up to tasty if unoriginal chop suey in the latest novel from the bestselling husband and wife writing team. Miranda Grant, a 40-year-old widow with two adolescent children, travels from her home in Boulder, Colo., to Beijing. Petite (size four) Miranda is, on the one hand, shy, fearful and mousy, and, on the other, artistic, creative and hungry for change. Her visit to China is a business trip, arranging knitting contracts for the cashmere sweaters she designs for a New York firm, but it becomes a two-week sojourn that will change her life. Although scenes detailing the textile negotiations add interest, the story focuses on Miranda's relationship with Yuan Li, a successful builder/construction engineer. The son of a Chinese mother and an American soldier, he becomes her soulful guide to China, romance and personal growth. Danger intrudes after Miranda innocently acts as courier for a letter from a former dissident, now in America; the authorities put Miranda and Yuan Li under round-the-clock surveillance. The supporting characters--Li's aloof daughter, scheming son, old friend's wife--contribute to the feel of an earnest and colorful travelogue and history lesson. The sense of being an American in a foreign culture is nicely conveyed as Miranda views such phenomena as the thick crowds of bicycle riders in Beijing, the dense army of terra cotta soldiers in Xi'an and the stunning architecture of the Forbidden City. This 10th offering from the practiced Michael (Deceptions; Acts of Love) will undoubtedly join its nine predecessors on the bestseller lists. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection. (May)