Foreign Affairs, by Alison Lurie (Avon, $3.95). This novel about two American academics having unexpected (and unlikely) romances in London was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year. It is a skillful, witty performance, if a bit on the bloodless side; it has more bite than heart, but its bite is certainly on target. Its most sympathetic and interesting character is Vinnie Miner, a 54-year-old woman whose love affair at first seems implausible but in the end is more touching than the rest of the novel would lead one to expect.
Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich (Bantam, $6.95). A chain of stories closely linked by recurring characters and set in and around a Chippewa Indian reservation, this is one of those rare first novels that separated itself from the pack. Published to enthusiastic reviews, it went on to win last year's National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Louise Erdrich writes of daily life for native americans with humor, campassion and anger. Most poignant is the clear sense of otherness. Her families -- Kashpaw, Lamartine, Morrisey -- are filled with need and distrust, leavened with a keen sense of reality. As Nector Kashpaw relfects: "After a few years the babies started walking around, but that only meant they needed shoes for their feet. I gave in. I put my nose against the wheel. I kept it there for many years and barely looked up to realize the world was going by, full of wonders and creatures, while I was getting old baling hay for white farmers."
The Love Pavilion, by Paul Scott (Carroll & Graf, $4.50). Now that Americans have been introduced to The Raj Quartet through Masterpiece theatre, we're fortunate enough to have more of Paul Scott's novels in print. This one, set in postwar Southeast Asia, is a strange tale of an even stranger Englishman gone mystic and native in the Malayan jungles, a beautiful Eurasian prostitute, and the young Englishman caught between them. NONFICTION
Gifts of Age: Portraits and Essays of 32 Remarkable Women, text by Charlotte Painter, photography by Pamela Valois (Chronicle Books, One Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, Calif. 94102, $14.95). This handsome volume is a paean to older women. Its back cover carries a splendid photograph of a very handsome Kay Seidell who is quoted: "Old age is ten years beyond your own chronological age." Seidell, a doctor, is 81. The other women pictured and quoted in this collection of essays and photography range in age from 65 to 103. Some of them, like Julia Child and M.F.K. Fisher, are famous. Others have simply led very full, but more private, lives. Looking at the faces of these women, reading about their lives, hearing their attitudes toward aging is fascinating. Their stories are tales of strong wills and minds.
The Soap Opera Encyclopedia, by Christopher Schemering (Ballantine, $8.95). Some 20 million Americans watch soap operas every day, according to Christopher Schemering in the introduction to his exhaustive study of television's popular serialized dramas (which began in 1946 with a series called Faraway Hill). Today the so-called soap operas are not only available to afternoon watchers; Dallas, and Dynasty keep prime-time viewers glued to their screens as well. Schemering meticulously includes every one of these long-running tv dramas, summarizes their plots, and lists each character and actor -- all with a light touch and a flair for the hilarious or steamy anecdote. For the soap buff this book is a goldmine.
The Congress Dances: Vienna 1814-1815, by Susan Mary Alsop (Washington Square, $3.95). Alsop has written a lively account of Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Her particular focus is the Congress of Vienna, that nine-month-long affair of dipomacy and dancing during which the course of 19th- century central Europe was set. What went on behind the scenes in Vienna, in the salons and ballrooms, even the bedrooms, had as much import as words spoken around the baize-covered conference tables, and Alsop has a gift for conveying the flavor of intrigue, flirtation as well as power politics, which was the Congress of Vienna. CHILDREN'S
Hazel Rye, and Me Too, by Vera and Bill Cleaver (Harper & Row, $2.95 each; ages 10-12). Vera Cleaver and her late husband Bill wrote nearly a score of novels for young readers. They deal, as these two do, with ordinary but plucky kids. Sometimes they're in a tight spot faced with tough choices, or they may be forced to make some unexpected adjustment in their lives. Generally Cleaver characters are kids who have to grow up in a hurry. In the first of these stories, Hazel Rye, whose humor is like her last name, must cope with the unexpected departure of her mother for Tennessee, and the arrival of a rambunctious and unsettling new family in the neighborhood. In Me Too, a young girl comes to terms with the mental handicaps of her twin sister -- a difficult subject but one the Cleavers treat with honesty and a minimum of sentimentality.
Midnight is a Place, by Joan Aiken (Dell Yearling, $3.50; ages 10-14). Joan Aiken knows how to keep a kid on the edge of his seat. She's done it with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea and many other novels. This one, originally published in 1974, is no exception. Young Locas Bell, living with his uncle in a formidable country house called Midnight Court, must come to grips with first a newcomer to the castle -- a spoiled French girl -- and then a disaster which threatens them both.
One-Eyed Cat, by Paula Fox (Dell Yearling, $3.25; ages 10-14). This Newbery Honor book, by a leading author of fiction for young people, is about a boy with a guilty conscience. Ned Wallis has sneaked a shot with a rifle he discovered the attic. He fired at a half- seen shadow one night, and now he's seen a one-eyed wild cat prowling the neighborhood. He's certain it's his bullet which put out the cat's eye. Ned confronts his misdemeanor along with many other facts of family life and friendship, and in the process learns what being a grown-up means.