The Monitor's Guide to Bestsellers - Hardcover Fiction
1. COLD MOUNTAIN, by Charles Frazier, Atlantic Monthly, $24Skip to next paragraph
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The American Civil War is the shattering force that disrupts and rearranges the lives of the characters in this richly rewarding first novel. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, turns his back on a war that has robbed him of any illusions about military glory. He sets off to find his way home to Ada, the woman he hoped to marry. Frazier's writing style is aptly reminiscent of the mid-19th century but not distractingly antiquated.
By Merle Rubin
2. THE BEST LAID PLANS, by Sidney Sheldon, Morrow, $25
Leslie Stewart, who is madly in love with Oliver Russell, is publicly jilted by him. She sets out to destroy him. While he becomes governor and then president, she establishes a newspaper and television empire. She uses the power of the press for revenge. In the world of politics, it is easy to find or manufacture scandal, especially with evidence of womanizing, drugs, and untimely death thrown in. "The Best Laid Plans" has many allusions to recent news events, including the danger for journalists in Sarajevo. By Carol Hartman
3. UNNATURAL EXPOSURE, by Patricia Cornwell, Putnam, $25.95
The latest - and far from the best - installment in the adventures of Virginia medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. Here we find her coping with various bureaucratic obstacles while searching for a killer who is infecting victims with a deadly virus and taunting our heroine via e-mail. The plot lurches to an abrupt end, and the writing offers slim rewards for wading through horrific descriptions of disease and death.
By David Cook
4. Plum Island, by Nelson DeMille, Warner, $25
Suspense, love interest (no long-winded descriptions, albeit replete with sexual innuendo and profanity), great characters, and humor - a welcome touch when murder is the subject. John Corey, New York city cop and a male-chauvinist to his core, is convalescing from gunshot wounds on the far northeastern shore of Long Island. Two of his new acquaintances are found murdered and the local police chief asks him to be a consultant on the case.
By Janet Moller
5. THE PARTNER, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $26.95
John Grisham's latest involves a young law partner who fakes his death in a car crash, then absconds with $90 million from his firm. This thriller-cum-morality-tale has the hard edge of a Raymond Chandler; the brilliant legal maneuvering of an Erle Stanley Gardner; the surprise ending of an O. Henry or an Agatha Christie. People pay for their deeds, and friendship counts for something. Fans and new readers won't be disappointed.
By Lawrence J. Goodrich
6. IF THIS WORLD WERE MINE, by E. Lynn Harris, Doubleday, $23.95
This tale from the bestselling author of "And This Too Shall Pass" is about thirtysomething African-Americans who rekindle college ties by forming a journal-sharing group. Members read excerpts to each other on everything from their life goals to romantic fantasies. The characters - who include "Buppies," an "Angry Black Male," and a gay psychiatrist - often seem hollow, though the book does explore the unique challenges of being black in America.
By Abraham McLaughlin
7. THE NOTEBOOK, by Nicholas Sparks, Warner, $16.95
"The Notebook" proves that good things come in small packages. It is all that "Love Story" wasn't. Sparks has a winning combination of style and story. It's a classic tale of love found, lost, and regained that maintains respect for the characters. Poetry and metaphoric description course through the book like the creek that runs alongside the couple's house. Prediction: It will be on this list for months, not weeks.
By Janet Moller
8. SPECIAL DELIVERY, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte, $16.95
This novella from the prolific romance author has her trademark niceties but overall is unremarkable. The action considers the idea of unexpected love and some of the ancillary surprises that occur later in life. Basically a sweet little work, "Special Delivery" gets pretty darn funny near the end. Readers should be prepared for some sexually explicit subject matter.