cover image The Bailey Chronicles

The Bailey Chronicles

Catherine Cookson. Summit Books, $19.45 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-62387-6

In her first contemporary romance, Cookson ( The Parson's Daughter ) introduces a thoroughly delightful extended family. Fiona Nelson is a 28-year-old widow with three children when Bill Bailey enters her Tyneside home as a paying guest. Although the children are immediately taken by brash and demonstrative ``Mr. Bill,'' who heads a construction crew, it takes time for proper and reserved Fiona to thaw to the self-described ``middle-of-the-road man.'' When Bill and Fiona marry, he adopts not only her three ``lovable bairns,'' but also the orphan daughter of a co-worker. As we follow the lively family over a span of 10 years, we meet quirky and endearing characters, Cookson's forte. Among them are Fiona's man-chasing, disagreeable mother; young Sammy Love and his Irish father from rough Bog's End; Nell, the helpful neighbor who gets a second chance at marriage; and those of more genteel background who find the Baileys irresistible. Although the Baileys do not escape the pain of life, they triumph through love and laughter. Skirting the pitfall of sentimentality, Cookson spins an attractive tale, and gives her fans a treat in Bill Bailey, ``a Liverpudlian by birth, but a Geordie by inclination.'' Doubleday Book Club main selection; Literary Guild alternate. (Apr.)