The Monitor's guide to bestsellers

1. PRODIGAL SUMMER, by Barbara Kingsolver, HarperCollins, $26

The stories of three women 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 (Publishers Weekly): favorable

Audio available

2. A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT, by Michael Connelly, Little Brown, $25.95

Michael Connelly's latest novel has all the makings of a thriller parody: a Hollywood sex murder, a tortured Guy detective, and a homicide victim named 'Gunn.' Except that it's not funny. The popular thriller writer's latest effort unites characters from his previous novels - LAPD detective Harry Bosch, and former FBI investigator Terry McCaleb - to solve two seemingly unrelated murders. As the story unfolds, the men find themselves dangerously at odds with one another, facing a single gang of sinister sickos. (418 pp.) By Mary Wiltenburg The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted

Selected reviews (The Boston Globe): mixed

Audio available

3. 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

4. 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: no review noted

Selected reviews: favorable

Audio available

5. 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): unfavorable

Audio available

6. 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

7. THE FIRST COUNSEL, by Brad Meltzer, Warner, $25.95

Meltzer quickly entices his readers into the mysterious web of the White House pecking order. Michael Garrick, a White House lawyer, has taken on more than he can handle by dating Nora, the president's rebellious daughter. When the couple stumbles upon a secret among the higher-ups, Michael discovers there are few people he can trust, and Nora may not be one of them. Meltzer keeps his secrets until the end, but all this work is uprooted by a sickly twisted and far-fetched ending. (496 pp.) By Christy Ellington The Christian Science Monitor: mixed

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: mixed

Selected reviews (The Orlando Sentinel): unfavorable

Audio available

8. THE BODY ARTIST, by Don DeLillo, Scribner, $22

This stark literary experiment tries to pare its story and language to the bone. The results will fascinate professors of French literature and fans of Twin Peaks. Lauren and Rey have been married for only a few months, when he kills himself in his ex-wife's apartment. Returning home to grieve, Lauren finds a strange old man sitting in the bedroom. He speaks only in fragmented statements that echo her last breakfast with her husband. An uncharacteristically pretentious piece. (Reviewed Jan 25) (128 pp.) By Ron Charles The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: mixed

Kirkus Review of Books: favorable

Selected reviews (The Wall Street Journal): favorable

Audio available

9. 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

10. 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 (Boston Globe): mixed

Audio available

11. FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE, by Dean Koontz, Bantam, $26.95

Koontz delivers a story of two miraculous children born the same day, both under devastating circumstances and both destined to change the world. Their lives, entwined with a psychotic killer obsessed with their destruction, spiral toward an unavoidable and a most unbelievable confrontation. Koontz is a master at pulling the strings that disturb us most. The characters in this surprising novel are interesting, thought provoking, and - if you can stomach it - horrifying. (400 pp.) By Anne Toevs The Christian Science Monitor: mixed

The New York Times: no review noted

Kirkus Review of Books: no review noted

Selected reviews (San Antonio Express News): favorable

Audio available

12. 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

13. A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT, by Terry McMillan, Viking, $25.95

McMillan focuses on the Prices, a dysfunctional family that experiences a litany of woes, from teenage pregnancy to infidelity to gambling. Each chapter is presented from a different character's view, and McMillan seems to struggle with this challenging format. More problematic is the way she injects her own analysis into her characters' thoughts. In the end, the Prices face their problems, and, spurred into action by family crisis, they learn to be honest with themselves. (Reviewed Jan 11) (448 pp.) By Liz Marlantes

The Christian Science Monitor: unfavorable

The New York Times: unfavorable

Kirkus Review of Books: favorable

Selected reviews (USA Today): favorable

Audio available

14. LYING AWAKE, by Mark Salzman, Knopf, $21

Salzman's latest has all the ingredients of a philosophical mindtwister. Sadly, 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

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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