A MONITOR GUIDE TO THE BESTSELLERS

PRODIGAL SUMMER, by Barbara Kingsolver, HarperCollins, $26

The stories of three women living alone in southern Appalachia are wound together in this celebration of the erotic earth. In their separate settings, they struggle against a culture that denigrates them for not being "natural ladies," but through nature, they each find happiness. Unfortunately, among the fascinating ecology lessons and Kingsolver's typically wonderful dialogue is some truly syrupy debris. But the two oldest characters present the most refreshing love affair of the year. (464 pp.) (Reviewed Oct. 19) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: mixed The New York Times: mixed Kirkus Review of Books: favorable Selected reviews (Publisher's Weekly): favorable Audio available

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

THE CONSTANT GARDNER, by John le Carre, Scribner, $28

When a beautiful philanthropist is found gruesomely murdered in a remote area of Africa, her husband takes up her crusade against drug companies that are using Africa as a petri dish for experimental medicines. Soon, he's being tracked by the British police, the Foriegn Office, and a giant pharmeaceutical company that doesn't mind making a killing to make a killing. This is a smart novel laced with concern about how the world's most profitable industry treats the world's poorest people. (480 pp.) (Reviewed Dec. 7) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable The New York Times: unfavorable Kirkus Review of Books: mixed Selected reviews (The Washington Post): favorable Audio available

THE BLIND ASSASSIN, by Margaret Atwood, Doubleday, $26

Margaret Atwood is the literary world's greatest stunt woman. This year's Booker Prize winner is a historical mystery about an old woman who has spent her life in the shadow of her sister Laura, a one-book novelist who committed suicide 50 years ago and attained cult-hero status. Told in a wonderfully complex narrative, the story blends early 20th-century Canadian history with a science-fiction tale of intergalactic warfare on Zycron, a fictional planet from Laura's noir book. (400 pp.) (Reviewed Aug. 31) By Ron Charles

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable The New York Times: favorable Kirkus Review of Books: favorable Selected reviews (The Boston Globe): mixed Audio available

SHOPGIRL, by Steve Martin, Hyperion, $17.95

"Shopgirl" is the tender story of Mirabelle, a saleswoman in downtown L.A. She is a wallflower - shy, lonely, and naive. Enter Ray Porter, a lonely millionaire intrigued by her disarming personality - a fresh breath in the city of angels. When their relationship ends, Mirabelle must again battle loneliness, this time armed with courage and strength - and a plan to quit her job and become an artist. Martin's first novella is beautifully written, with great wit and insight into the struggles of the human heart. (130 pp.) By Stuart S. Cox Jr.

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable The New York Times: favorable Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted Selected reviews (The Wall Street Journal): mixed Audio available

THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON, by Tom Clancy, Putnam, $28.95

What happens when the world's most populous nation borders one with the world's largest undeveloped landmass? Might it be war? Tom Clancy has put together another of his incredible geopolitical thrillers. This time the US finds itself defending the declining Russian state against an expanding Chinese one. One flaw: Tom, it used to be a long kiss was hard to find in your novels. Do we need to know all the details that go on in the bedrooms of spies? Write for your readers, not movie directors. (1,028 pp.) By Jim Bencivenga

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable The New York Times: mixed Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted Selected reviews (The Washington Post): favorable Audio available

CODE TO ZERO, by Ken Follett, Dutton, $26.95

Claude 'Luke' Lucas, a rocket scientist, wakes up in a Washington train station in 1958 with no idea who he is. His quest to find out coincides with preparations to launch the Explorer I satellite, America's only hope to match the launch of the Soviet Sputnik. Luke reconstructs his identity and recovers a crucial piece of information about the mission that someone has tried to make him forget. A wonderful, fast-paced cold-war thriller, perfect for a blustery winter weekend. (368 pp.) By Julie Finnin Day

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable The New York Times: no review noted Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted Selected reviews (The Baltimore Sun): mixed Audio available

SOUL MOUNTAIN, by Gao Xingjian, HarperCollins, $27

In this book, Nobel Prize-winner Gao Xingjian tries to make sense of China's tumultuous political climate and his own recovery from cancer. "Soul Mountain" describes his journey to remote areas of western China and his encounters with nature, fellow travelers, and childhood memories. Each experience yields insights into his quest for identity and reality. His pilgrimage to Soul Mountain culminates in a discussion with God. Elegantly translated, this memoir offers a rare view of China and Gao. (528 pp.) By Kim Risedorph

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable The New York Times: favorable Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted Selected reviews (The Wall Street Journal): favorable

ROSES ARE RED, by James Patterson, Little Brown, $26.95

Don't spend $26.95 on this book. The basic plot: Kidnappers hold hostages from Washington, D.C. banks for ransom. When the ransom is paid, they murder the hostages, but then they are poisoned themselves. Detective Cross is enlisted to help find the criminal "mastermind." Of course Cross has his own troubles at home and has to balance his family and career. Patterson may have meant to be realistic, but his portrayals are so exaggerated and unbalanced that the story proves a farce, not a thriller. (400 pp.) By Jan Moller

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable The New York Times: no review noted Kirkus Review of Books: unfavorable Selected reviews (The Baltimore Sun): favorable Audio available

LAST PRECINCT, by Patricia Cornwell, Putnam, $26.95

Cornwell's latest picks up right where "Black Notice" concluded, with chief medical examiner Kay Scarpetta barely escaping a serial killer. Now the killer is back, but the tables are turned when Kay falls under suspicion in the murder of the deputy police chief. Kay is forced to examine her own life to uncover the clues needed to clear her name and stop the monster who has been trying to kill her. Cornwell seems to be wrapping up Scarpetta's long-time career in Virginia and getting her ready for something new. (449 pp.) By Anne Toevs

The Christian Science Monitor: mixed The New York Times: favorable Kirkus Review of Books: mixed Selected reviews (The Washington Post): mixed Audio available

THE PROMETHEUS DECEPTION, by Robert Ludlum, St. Martin's, $27.95

Jonas Barrett is having a bad day. Of course that's not his real name. He's really Nick Bryson, former government spy. The new life Bryson has been given as a professor is suddenly shattered when he's called back to his old deep-cover assignment, working for what he thought was a government agency. But was it? That's the question Bryson faces as he searches for the organization's remaining agents to get some answers. Ludlum has written too many books with nearly the same plot. His premise is getting stale. (384 pp.) By Jan Moller

The Christian Science Monitor: mixed The New York Times: no review noted Kirkus Review of Books: favorable Selected reviews (Publisher's Weekly): mixed Audio available

WINTER'S HEART, by Robert Jordan, Tor, $29.95

In the ninth book of Jordan's epic fantasy series, the saga of good vs. evil continues. Young Rand and his friends find themselves in much the same territory they have traversed before: a richly detailed world of politics, magic, swordplay, and romance. Fans will be pleased by the dramatic advancement of the main plot. Newcomers to the series will be dazzled by the many plots, subplots, and minor characters, as distinct and numerous as Chinese terra-cotta soldiers. (668 pp.) By Ryan Finnin Day

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable The New York Times: no review noted Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted Selected reviews (Publisher's Weekly): unfavorable Audio available

LYING AWAKE, by Mark Salzman, Knopf, $21

Salzman's latest has all the ingredients of a philosophical mindtwister. Sad to say, however, someone forgot to add the twist. Sister John is blessed with a connection to God, but when she finds out that she has epilepsy, she faces the possibility that the creator of her visions may be a disorder rather than the perfect God she has felt so close to. Unfortunately, what could have been a deep look at serious philosophical issues is undone by underdeveloped characters, who even at the end of the book feel like strangers. (192 pp.) By Christy Ellington

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable The New York Times: unfavorable Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted Selected reviews (The Washington Post): mixed

DROWNING RUTH, by Christina Schwarz, Doubleday, $23.95

A beautifully written first novel that treats the lives of two sisters, Amanda and Mathilde, just after WWI. Amanda has come home from nursing in the war to live peacefully with Mathilde and her daughter Ruth, while they wait for Mathilde's husband to return from battle. Then Mathilde is found beneath the ice that covers a nearby lake. When her husband comes home, he cannot put the loss to rest until he knows what happened. The story unfolds in careful doses as Ruth grows up and the pieces of the puzzle fall together. (338 pp.) By Anne Toevs

The Christian Science Monitor: favorable The New York Times: no review noted Kirkus Review of Books: favorable Selected reviews (Publisher's Weekly): favorable

DECK THE HALLS, by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark, Simon & Schuster, $18

The first novel written by mother-daughter team Mary and Carol Higgins Clark doesn't offer much to celebrate during the holiday season. Three days before Christmas, the husband of a famous mystery writer is kidnapped, and the couple's private-investigator daughter is left to solve the crime. The story has all the makings of a predictable, easily solved mystery, and it doesn't disappoint. With pointless banter and vapid jokes, this book is as good as a lump of coal in your stocking. (192 pp.) By Rebecca Davis

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable The New York Times: no review noted Kirkus Review of Books: unfavorable Selected reviews (The Wall Street Journal): unfavorable Audio available

PROTECT AND DEFEND, by Richard North Patterson, Knopf, $26.95

In this political melodrama, Patterson presents an impassioned case for women's right to choose. The intertwined stories involve a young girl seeking a late-term abortion over her parents' objections, a principled new president who must nominate a chief justice to the Supreme Court immediately after his inauguration, and the woman he nominates, who faces some tough choices of her own. Though his arguments are intelligent, his characters lack any nuance, and every plot twist is predictable. (544 pp.) By Amanda Paulson

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable The New York Times: unfavorable Kirkus Review of Books: favorable Selected reviews (Chicago Tribune): mixed Audio available

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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