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1. PRIMARY COLORS, by Anonymous, Random House, $24

Scratch the surface of this novel about Southern governor Jack Stanton's campaign for president and you'll find Bill Clinton. And wife, Hillary. And a host of other political types who are cleverly fictionalized by the book's mysterious author (who denies that the characters and events are real). Deducing who's who and following the ins and outs of primaries make this an interesting read, although not an entirely satisfying one as subplots and lengthiness weigh it down. By Kim Campbell.

2. THE HORSE WHISPERER, by Nicholas Evans, Delacorte Press, $23.95

The storyline is formulaic, cliche laden, and noticeably influenced by "The Bridges of Madison County." It depicts a strong tight- lipped Montana rancher able to see into the "soul" of horses, and a British-cum-New York successful magazine editor who experiences a midlife crisis when her daughter-on-horseback collides with a semi-truck. The editor finds herself in an extramarital affair with the rancher. Parental guilt about putting career first emotionally tugs throughout this soap opera. By Jim Bencivenga.

3. INTENSITY, by Dean Koontz, Knopf, $25

Chyna Shepherd's battle with Edgler Vess, the psychotic killing machine, and ultimately with herself, is a taut, nerve-tingling thriller, where the intensity of the action starts almost from P. 1 and continues to the end. The book's success rests in Koontz's ability to make his two main characters so compelling. As we learn more about their common roots in violence, their confrontation seems preordained, especially for Shepherd, who recognizes in Vess the evil that plagued her as a child. By Tom Regan.

4. THAT CAMDEN SUMMER, by LaVyrle Spencer, Putnam, $23.95

"That Camden Summer" is an enjoyable second-chance romance novel set in 1916 with a feminist point of view. Rebecca Jewett makes the hard decision to divorce her philandering husband and raise her three girls alone. Her forthrightness and courage make for great dialogue, but more character complexity throughout would aid the book's believability. Kudos for laughter, warmth, and strength. By Terri Theiss

5. BEHIND THE LINES, by W.E.B. Griffin, Putnam, $23.95

This novel is based on the existence of US military guerilla operations in the Philippines during World War II. It is vintage Griffin. While detailing some violent combat, the action is character based. It skillfully weaves fictional heroes with real luminaries such as Douglas MacArthur, Chester Nimitz, and Frank Knox. Its best feature is a wonderful treatment of the male military ego. Often humorous, it does contain harsh, scatological language. Women play perfunctory roles. By Terri Theiss

6. THE CELESTINE PROPHECY, by James Redfield, Warner, $17.95

Well-intended but poorly written, the plot is a cross between "Indiana Jones" and a self-help book. The hero is on a quest for a recently discovered Peruvian manuscript that details the progress of spirituality at the end of the 20th century. At different stages of the journey, he and his fellow searchers discover spiritual "insights," nine in total. Rather than profound, the book is awash in cliches such as the need to "become conscious of the coincidences in our lives." By Yvonne Zipp

7. ABSOLUTE POWER, by David Baldacci, Warner, $22.95

When the trophy wife of a DC businessman is murdered after a graphic bout of rough sex, the only witness is a burglar hiding in her bedroom, and only he knows that the man behind the murder is her lover, the president of the United States. Baldacci starts off with an intriguing plot and interesting characters, but along the way the story bogs down. In the end, the resolution is predictable and the characters become cliched. By Marianne Le Pelley.

8. THE WEB, by Jonathan Kellerman, Bantam, $23.95

A trip to a Pacific island paradise offers ample opportunity for psychologist-detective Alex Delaware to uncover murder and mayhem in this choppily written, convoluted thriller. Whodunit is less important than why in an intriguing, grisly plot that incorporates cannibalism, bizarre experiments, psychological torture, and a hint of incest. A six-inch-long tarantula named Emma proves the most likable character in a book where even the "good guys" may be murderers. By Yvonne Zipp.

9. THE CAT WHO SAID CHEESE, by Lilian Jackson Braun, Putnam, $23.95

This is the 18th in a series of mysteries featuring Yum Yum and Koko, two pampered Siamese cats, and their owner, Jim Qwilleran, small-town journalist and amateur sleuth. These sassy felines are supposedly endowed with ESP and provide the clues to the mysteries that occur in a small New England town. Food (and especially cheese) is the main ingredient in this delightful yarn, a good read with no profanity, sex, or drugs and little violence. By Carol Hartman

10. CONTAGION, by Robin Cook, Putnam, $23.95

While the title of Cook's latest medical thriller gives the plot away, there is an interesting subplot involving the social ramifications of inner-city gangs. The depressed white hero's only socialization is playing in his neighborhood street basketball games, along with a Gatorade-chugging gang leader who avoids drugs and gang warfare. A dictionary would be helpful for the long list of disease symptoms and bacterial behavior. Not worth the bookstore price. By Jan Moller.

11. FIVE DAYS IN PARIS, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte Press, $15.95

This novella is an overall pleasant read, and an improvement over the author's previous bestseller. An American politician's lonely wife and a CEO who faces possible business ruin meet during a bomb scare at the Vendome. Interesting possibilities between them develop. The pace is uneven, and descriptions of Paris's charm and the pitfalls of celebrity become self-conscious. Better editing would help. More focus on the book's later action could have turned a nice story into an excellent one. By Terri Theiss.

12. HIDE AND SEEK, by James Patterson, Little, Brown, $23.95

This is a read-it-in-one-sitting kind of book. The fast-moving plot, which borrows more than a little from the O.J. Simpson trial, is simple: An internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter is accused, for the second time, of killing one of her husbands. The defense claims it was self-defense - a loving mother trying to protect herself and her family from a terrifying relationship. The prosecution says cold-blooded murder. It is sometimes lurid and always improbable and predictable. By Suzanne MacLachlan

13. SHOCK WAVE, by Clive Cussler, Simon & Schuster, $24

Dirk Pitt is back and as suave and daring as ever. This time he must race against both the clock and the elements to stop a diamond tycoon from plunging the world into economic and ecological disaster. It is standard adventure fare, with the obligatory bad guys but no shoot-em-up scenes, Cussler's usual attention to minute detail makes for a page-turning read, and it doesn't matter if this is the first time you've met Dirk Pitt or if you've followed him on all 13 adventures. By Marianne Le Pelley.

14. IN THE BEAUTY OF THE LILIES, by John Updike, Knopf, $25.95

Updike's 17th novel is the four-generation saga of an American family, their changing fortunes, beliefs, and values. It can be read as an extended meditation on the theme of values. Updike's survey of the current century poses the implicit question: What do Americans value? Prosperity? Worldly success? Self-confidence? In many ways, the story of this particular family becomes overshadowed by the more cliched and over rehearsed history of the changing American Zeitgeist. By Merle Rubin

15. THE MOOR'S LAST SIGH, by Salman Rushdie, Pantheon, $25

Rushdie's latest novel is an extravagant, tragicomic vision of a world exploding with violence, madness, and corruption. Set in India, this bizarre saga of a larger-than-life family is narrated by the last surviving member of a colorful clan. In the background, cultures clash, overlay, and mingle, forming a palimpsest of conquest, creation, migration, love, and betrayal that stretches from ancient times into the present. This bleak and bitter vision is painted in colors at once lurid and exuberant. By Merle Rubin.

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MONITOR'S PICK

Susanna Tamaro's "Follow Your Heart" is a gentle-spirited, bittersweet tale, a combination journal and love letter by a grandmother who tells her life story with a calm, occasionally wry self-awareness. Tamaro has a genius for detail and conveys with sincerity the love between grandmother and granddaughter. The result is a simple, charming novel, translated from the Italian, that resonates with quiet humor.

A runaway bestseller in Europe and the recipient of the Premio Donna Citta di Roma, it is written with great personal honesty, only rarely descending into self-justification or recrimination. The author's storytelling ability and lyric style transcend both the cliches and the dimestore philosophy liberally sprinkled throughout the narrative.

Olga, the narrator, offers her life story as a gift, one that will remain with her granddaughter after she is gone. Her granddaughter has left Italy and is now studying in America. She does not fear death so much as passing on before her granddaughter returns. "Imagine: whatever you wanted to say to someone you loved has to stay inside you forever."

After her parents' home is bombed during World War II, all that Olga has left is a cake pan that belonged to her grandmother, the one in which she taught her own granddaughter to bake. The pan and Olga's memories are her legacy. It is the truths learned late in her life that she is writing for her granddaughter, hoping to pass on the "glimmer of light" she only now perceives.

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