Tongues of Flame , by Tim Parks (Penguin, $5.95). This unusual and interesting first novel by a British writer is the story of a boy who is exposed to religious fanaticism and declines, after some temptation, to take part in it. The agent of his temptation is a charismatic curate who is slowly revealed to be no less than the devil incarnate, a revelation that permits Parks to reflect upon the thin line that separates the holy from the hellish. The novel is narrated by the brave young boy, who speaks in a jaunty fashion that is entirely appealing.
Edgar Huntly or Memoirs of a Sleep-walker , by Charles Brockden Brown (Penguin, $6.95). Hailed as the father of the American novel, Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810) is now largely forgotten. This is a pity: his melodramatic novels -- they were called "romances" then -- are still entertaining. They also engage the historically-minded reader with their attentiveness to period concerns -- in this case, the friction between the newly-fledged states and the Delaware Indians. Though a devotee of the best in European literature (he read Coleridge and Rousseau when they became available in America), Brown had no compunctions about snaring a wide audience. "You demand of me a confession of crimes," his narrator accuses. "You shall have it."
Blood Line: Stories of Fathers and Sons , by David Quammen (Graywolf, $8). David Quammen is best-known for his nonfiction, notably his "Natural Acts" column for Outside magazine; in 1987 he won the National Magazine Award for essays and criticism. He is also a novelist (The Soul of Viktor Tronko) and the author of one of the most-anthologized stories of the last decade, "Walking Out," which is rather in the Hemingway mode of manly adventure but without the posturing. Joined by two other long tales, one of them centering on the Civil War, "Walking Out" here anchors a book of its own.
The Locked Room , by Paul Auster (Penguin, $5.95). This is the third volume in Paul Auster's New York trilogy -- novels in which the conventions of the mystery are stretched, burst, and reassembled with an overlay of Kafkaesque angst. In this case, the narrator/investigator becomes so involved in his work that he marries the wife of a vanished man, adopts his son and follows his trail to Paris. Blended in with the book's cleverness are erudite, engaging asides: "Goffe and Whalley, . . . two of the judges who condemned Charles I to death, came to Connecticut after the Restoration and spent the rest of their lives in a cave."
The Real Coke, the Real Story , by Thomas Oliver (Penguin, $4.50). In the spring of 1985 the upper management of the Coca-Cola Company pulled off one of the most remarkable blunders in the annals of American business: it replaced the legendary "secret formula" of Coca-Cola with a new one, and in the process alienated consumers by the millions. The story of how this came to pass and how the company subsequently recouped its losses is a cautionary tale, one well told in this entertaining and meticulous book. Oliver is an Atlantan, but he is refreshingly irreverent about that city's most notable commercial institution; he is also sensible enough to recognize that however foolish Coca-Cola may have been to follow the advice of market-researchers and advertising gurus, in the end it had the good sense to acknowledge its mistake and give the customers the drink they really wanted.
Contact: The Story of the Early Birds , by Henry Serrano Villard (Smithsonian Institution Press, $19.95). This authoritative and colorful history of the early years of aviation explains the fierce international rivalries of the time, as well as capturing the exuberance of the daredevil young men in their fragile flying machines.
High Touch: The New Materialism in Design , by Robert Jangigian (Dutton, $19.95) "High Touch," a new trend that features the sometimes outrageously unconventional use of ordinary materials in furniture, lighting and accessories, could be described as the functional equivalent of found art. This glossy introduction puts High Touch into historical perspective and then, under headings ranging from Seating to Storage, highlights items such as rubber chairs, a concrete-and-barbed wire room divider, concrete clocks and stereo systems, lampshades of unfinished galvanized metal, and a chest of drawers balanced on three bowling balls. The effects, though sensational, put one in mind of Randall Jarrell's sketch of a modern sculptor: "Some of what she said was technical, and you would have had to be a welder to appreciate it; the rest was aesthetic . . . and to appreciate it you would have had to be an imbecile."
Elvis Presley Boulevard: From Sea to Shining Sea, Almost , by Mark Winegardner (Atlantic, $7.95). Only months before he got married, Mark Winegardner told his wife he was going to hit the road. He and a buddy from college took off in a 1968 Chevrolet Impala, gone to look for America. What they found were the Foam House of Tomorrow in Gatlinburg, Tenn.; Easter Island Hole at Magic Carpet Golf in Tucson, Ariz.; Truth or Consequences, N.M., a town named after a game show. And Elvis. Elvis dolls, Elvis wax dummies, Elvis ashtrays, Elvis T-shirts, Elvis imitators. After a while, Elvis Presley becomes so ubiquitous that Winegardner and his pal, Bob Wakefield, begin looking out for him, anticipating the form their "daily Elvis" will take.
A Naturalist's Sketchbook: Pages From the Seasons of a Year , by Claire Walker Leslie (Dodd, Mead, $12.95; cloth, $22.95). As a young naturalist Leslie was advised to keep a journal; as an artist she soon filled it with drawings of plants, animals, and landscapes. This album -- an expanded version of Notes From a Naturalist's Sketchbook -- displays the mature nature artist's remarkable and enviable talent for "field sketching," for setting down in quick pencil strokes a bird on the wing, a turtle swimming, a pussywillow about to burst into bloom. Leslie's journal entries offer reflections about what she draws, sometimes little notes about colors or textures, other times full-fledged meditations about nature. Perhaps Leslie's greatest gift is the way she inspires a reader to look at and really see the world around him.
From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet , by Vikram Seth (Vintage Departures, $5.95) From 1980 to 1982 Vikram Seth -- who has since become famous as the author of The Golden Gate, a novel in verse set in San Francisco -- was a graduate student at Nanjing University in China. In the summer of 1981 he decided to hitch-hike home to his native Delhi, India; his route took him from the oases of northwest China across four Chinese provinces, to the Himalayas and across Tibet and Nepal. From Heaven Lake is based on the journal he kept while he was on the road. Fluent in Chinese, an irrepressibly curious and articulate observer, Seth throws light on some truly unfamiliar places; "to learn about another great culture," he remarks, "is . . . indirectly to add to that reservoir of individual goodwill that may, generations from now, temper the cynical use of national power."
Beethoven , by Denis Matthews (Vintage, $9.95). This book replaces a previous volume in the Master Musicians series on the same composer, in which the author compared the opening of the piano sonata Op. 31 No. 3 to the evening star tapping on a casement. Evocative as it is, this sort of writing, Denis Matthews drily observes, will no longer do. We demand accuracy and no-nonsense criticism of artists these days, and in this admirable volume written for the non-professional listener, we get them. We also get striking comments; instead of harping on the extraordinary choral finale of the Ninth Symphony, for example, Matthews notes that the first movement is "arguably Beethoven's greatest achievement in sonata form." MYSTERIES Under the Bright Lights , by Daniel Woodrell (Avon, $3.50). This powerfully written mystery introduces Rene Shade, a detective in a town that seems to be riddled with corruption. The plot centers on Shade's attempt to track down the killer of a city councilman and of the owner of a porn theater, and a trail that seems to involve the mayor, a construction kingpin and bad men from the Cajun mob. Woodrell can plot a novel with the best of them, keeping the action going and the reader's interest level high. The real pleasure of this novel, however, is in the taut descriptions, deftly sketched characters and the life-like relationships.
Kiss Me Once , by Thomas Maxwell (Mysterious Press, $3.95). This detective novel is a nostalgia trip to 1940s Manhattan. Tom Dewey, a former D.A., wants to be governor; Fiorello La Guardia is the mayor and, on the radio, Hildegarde is singing "The Last Time I Saw Paris" and Nat King Cole "If I Didn't Care." Meanwhile, Lew Cassidy (think Dana Andrews) has problems: his best friend is a cop on the take, and his lady love belongs to a gangster. The pace never slackens, and the nostalgia is a treat.