FICTION

Midnight Mouse: Her Life and Times , by Ann McCarthy (Scribner's, $5.95). Midnight Mouse is a middle-aged female rodent of whose lonely passion this is the bittersweet chronicle, comic-book style. Abandoned years ago by Betty's father ("Where are you going? The corn fritters are almost ready."), Midnight dwells alone, goes to movies "whenever she can" and museums "when she feels she ought," and develops a mild case of sexual hysteria. She has unsatisfactory affairs with Mort, "a divorced mouse" who is "a connoisseur of the erotic . . . but strictly Burger King in bed," with a bureaucratic mouse, with a Teutonic mouse, and with a perfectly perverse mouse named Colin. In the end, happily, Midnight washes her paws of these rogues and takes an Amtrak to our nation's capital where the Washington Monument offers ambiguous consolation: "After all, sex isn't everything."

Perfume , by Patrick Su skind (Pocket Books, $4.50). Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born into the realm of 18th-century France with absolutely no smell to his body, a phenomenon first noticed by his wet nurse. With this absence of scent comes an extremely sensitive nose, and finally an obsession with distilling the body odors of beautiful young girls into a special elixir. Grenouille thus becomes a sort of vampire of scent in this thriller-cum-horror tale that was a best seller in Europe before its American debut last year.

NONFICTION

Corporate Crime Under Attack: The Ford Pinto Case and Beyond, by Francis T. Cullen, William J. Maakestad and Gray Cavender (Anderson Publishing, 646 Main St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45201, $16.95). In 1978, just north of Goshen, Ind., three teen-age girls were burned to death in the crash of a Ford Pinto. The accident seemed to fit a pattern of other accidents, in which the Pinto's gas tank had exploded after the vehicle had been struck from the rear. When an Elkhart County grand jury indicted Ford Motor Co. for reckless homicide, the resulting trial attracted national attention. This is the dramatic story of the trial, which set a precedent for the criminal prosecution of a product liability case.

New Sounds: A Listener's Guide to New Music , by John Schaefer (Harper & Row, $10.95). As anyone who fiddles with his radio dial knows, there has been a recent explosion of odd-sounding music: New Age rhapsodies put out by companies with poetic names like Windham Hill, rhythmic blends of African folk tunes and American rock, classical concerti for sitar and orchestra, minimalist rock, and a requiem mass by the composer of Evita and Cats. All of these trends and works are explained, with ample discographies, by the erudite PBS disc jockey John Schaefer in this wide-ranging introduction to new sounds.

Nine-Headed Dragon River , by Peter Matthiessen (Shambhala, $12.50). Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard revealed him as one of the few authors whose writings on religious topics can hold the non-believer's interest (Aldous Huxley was another). The Zen Buddhism which sustained him in his search for the snow leopard in the mountains of Nepal is brought to life again in this collection of travel journals and meditations. The book includes a lively account of a major Zen scandal: the publication in the early 20th century of a book that purports to give the answers to many of the most renowned koans -- those thought-provoking riddles that embody much of the mystery and wisdom of Zen.

Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx , (Fireside, $7.95). That Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot were faithful correspondents may be implausible, but it is true. After the great poet's photo appeared in the newspaper, the great comedian wrote him: "I had no idea you were seventy-five . . . I would say, judging from this picture, that you are about sixty and two weeks." To someone whose first name was Goddard, Groucho was wont to begin a letter "Dear God." S.J. Perelman, who worked on the scripts for some of the Marx Brothers movies, aptly summed up the delight Groucho's correspondence must have afforded its recipients (unless, that is, you had crossed him and were destined for a dressing-down): "Your letter was a kind deed in a naughty world . . ."

Bird of Life, Bird of Death: A Naturalist's Journey through a Land of Political Turmoil , by Jonathan Maslow (Laurel, $6.95). Naturalist Jonathan Maslow went to Guatemala in search of the quetzal, a sacred, endangered and almost legendary bird. He found Mayan history, political upheaval and cynicism ("You know," commented a young man, "I don't think we'll be seeing any more Quetzals around here. The Quetzal is the bird of freedom. But here there is no freedom.") In a country where, as he notes, "natural science blends into the supernatural," Maslow has succeeded admirably in keeping fact and fiction apart.

Roughing It in the Bush , by Susanna Moodie (Virago/Beacon, $10.95) and Farewell Spain , by Kate O'Brien (Virago/Beacon, $8.95). The indefatigable editors of Britain's feminist Virago Press have launched a new series of classic travel writings by women, of which seven titles -- under the general heading Virago/Beacon Travelers -- are being released by Boston's Beacon Press this summer, followed by five more in the fall and another four in winter 1988. The first issue includes Isabella Bird's accounts of her adventures in Meiji Japan in 1878 and of her trek through China's Yangtze Valley in 1896; the 19th-century feminist socialist Flora Tristan's Peregrinations of a Pariah, which includes the story of her visit to Peru in 1833-4; and Dora Birtles' memoir of sailing from Australia to Singapore by way of New Guinea and the Java Sea in a 34-foot. cutter in 1932.

Other highlights from the summer list include: Roughing It in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie and Farewell Spain, by Kate O'Brien. When Moodie and her husband migrated from England to Ontario in 1832, there was no Ontario. The region was called Upper Canada, and for the most part it was wilderness. The couple established a farm in what is now Belleville, about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa, and in due course Susanna wrote this account of their travails, which has become a Canadian classic. To introduce it to modern and non-Canadian readers, novelist Margaret Atwood places the book firmly in the tradition of Eric Newby's delightful A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush -- "in which the horribleness of the journey, the filthiness and squalor of the accommodations, and the awfulness of the food are outdone only by the traveller's self-perceived lunacy in having undertaken the trip at all."

Written during the early days of the Spanish Civil War (it was first published in 1937), Farewell Spain is neither primarily a political manifesto nor solely a travelogue; it has elements of both genres, each enhancing the impact and the poignancy of the other. Beginning at the northern port of Santander, Irish writer Kate O'Brien takes us on a very personal journey -- actually a conflation of several journeys -- through Spanish villages and cities and towns whose old ways were everywhere under threat: Avila, Madrid, Villalba, Segovia, Burgos, Bilbao. "So I remember and mourn as the new ruins fall into place."

CHILDREN'S BOOKS

Jake and Honeybunch Go To Heaven , by Margot Zemach (Sunburst/ Michael di Capua/ Farrar Straus Giroux, $4.95; ages 4-8). One of children's literature's most original illustrators, Margot Zemach here applies her exuberant watercolors to an hilarious adaptation of black Depression-era folklore. Jake and his crazy, contrary mule, Honeybunch, suddenly find themselves outside the Pearly Gates one day after Honeybunch has -- mulishly -- balked at a railroad crossing. Heaven is a lively enough place already, with its cast of '30s-style angels and other denizens busy barbecuing, playing jazz, and just shooting the breeze under the stars. But once Jake and Honeybunch arrive, near-riots ensue, until God finds something useful for them to do.

My Little Island , by Frane' Lessac (Harper Trophy, $3.95, ages 4-8). "My best friend, Lucca, and I are going to visit the little Caribbean island where I was born. From the air it looks like a giant green turtle swimming in the sea." So begins this simple but charming account of an island journey which, with its bright, naive, detailed illustrations, conjures up a world of rainbow-colored houses, frangipani and jasmine, goat-water stew, mangoes and fried bananas, iguanas and barking frogs, calypso and reggae, even a volcano: all the color and heat and sound of the Caribbean lovingly evoked.

The One Bad Thing About Father , by F.N. Monjo, illustrated by Rocco Negri (Harper Trophy, $2.95). The one bad thing about Father -- in case you were wondering -- is that he is president of the United States, in this case Teddy Roosevelt. This means that our narrator, Quentin, along with his five brothers and sisters, Alice, Ted, Kermit, Ethel and Archie, have to live in the White House, which is not half as much fun as you might think. "Being President," opines Quentin, "can practically ruin your whole life." But Quentin and Archie "find stuff to do," despite the fact that nearly everything in the White House is "government property." Things look up in the summers, when the family repairs to Oyster Bay, Long Island, and Quentin and Archie see a little more of their fun-loving dad, helping him run the country, make peace between the Japanese and the Russians and so on. This is an amusing and instructive addition to the generally excellent (large-print, double-spaced) "I Can Read" series.

Landmarks in American History , 12 selected titles (Landmark Books/ Random House, $2.95 each; ages 8-12). Parents may recall this best-selling series of juvenile American history books from the '50s and '60s, of which a dozen titles by various authors are now being reprinted. Of uniform length and format, each book features a rapid narrative style and boldly-drawn, if simple, characterization to breathe life into key events and people of the past, from Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin and the young Mark Twain to the American Revolution, the California gold rush and the battle of Gettysburg. Latter-day historians may find fault with the sentimental reverence accorded Gen. Custer by Quentin Reynolds, but on the other hand no child will fail to thrill to the immediacy of Bruce Bliven Jr.'s eyewitness account of D-Day, 1944, or George R. Stewart's re-telling, in The Pioneers Go West, of the memoirs of Moses Schallenberger, who in May 1844 journeyed with his family from western Missouri to California in a covered wagon.