The Monitor's Guide to hardcover fiction bestsellers

Audio available mixed COMMON LIFE, by Jan Karon, Viking, $24.95

Aren't we tired yet of tales of true love? Nope. And neither are the small town inhabitants of Mitford. Father Tim's congregation joyfully busies itself in preparation for an unexpected wedding feast, when its beloved priest finally gives in to his overwhelming love for a neighbor. The story unfolds in a muddled, happy confusion. The sixth installment in a popular series, the unconventional love story is its saving grace. Sweet and unchallenging, you'll easily reach page 41 in 10 minutes. (186 pp.) By Kendra Nordin

Audio available favorable DEATH IN HOLY ORDERS, by P.D. James, Knopf, $25

P.D. James tosses elements of Gothic fiction into her latest police procedural, with Commander Dalgliesh sent to a crumbling Victorian divinity school on a harsh and lonely coast. The murder (well, one of them, anyway) even takes place on a dark and stormy night. Despite some lurid details and herring so red it's neon, James delivers her usual quality writing. More intriguingly, she weaves in a discussion of faith and personal responsibility that's more of a page-turner than the actual mystery. (415 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp

Audio available favorable

THE BONESETTER'S DAUGHTER, by Amy Tan, Putnam, $25.95

Tan, author of "The Joy Luck Club," returns with renewed poignancy and lyricism. Once again, she captures the humiliated embarrassment of the assimilated child and a mother's terror that her child is rejecting her home culture, and by extension, herself. Tan's latest begins with pages written by Luling, a mother who has frantically written to capture her memories before Alzheimer's strips them away. Ruth, her daughter, now uses these pages as a way to reunite with her mother. (400 pp.) (Reviewed Feb. 15) By Yvonne Zipp

E

Audio available mixed

ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE, by Mary Higgins Clark, S&S, $26

As soon as Emily Graham bought the family home in Spring Lake, N.J., the remains of her great aunt, who disappeared over 100 years ago, are found in the yard, along with those of a woman who disappeared just a few years ago. This case, along with a handful of others, has gone unsolved. Emily starts digging, but she doesn't know that the killer's plan includes one more victim: herself. Clark has thriller-writing down to a system. But if you've read her books, you already know how this one ends. (320 pp.) By Anne Toevs

Audio available unfavorable

THE LAST TIME THEY MET, by Anita Shreve, Little, Brown, $24.95

This love story comes in three parts - in reverse. In Part I, the most cliche, past lovers Linda and Thomas reunite accidentally for a weekend of painful memories. Part II backtracks to Africa, where Thomas was trapped in a land he couldn't understand, and Linda was married to a pleasant Englishman. They're torn by the passion they've felt for each other since their teen years. The story promises to catch gear and move forward here, but the final section concludes with a cheap gimmick. (320 pp.) (Reviewed April 5) By Ron Charles

Audio available favorable

THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE, by Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins, $26

Erdrich takes us back to the Ojibwe natives of North Dakota, where Agnes DeWitt has taken on the identity of a drowned priest and gone to live with the tribe. Over the next 80 years, Agnes struggles with questions of faith, searching for and eventually finding a divine trunk beneath the branches of her own theology and the native spirituality of the people she serves. Even the small incidents in this novel are moments of tremendous power, stripped of sentimentality or pretension. (368 pp.) (Reviewed April 12) By Ron Charles

Audio available favorable

A PAINTED HOUSE, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $27.95

Grisham steps away from the Memphis lawyer scene to pull from his childhood memories. "A Painted House" tells the story of Lucas, a small boy in rural Arkansas. As the harvest begins, he sees and hears things no one else suspects, and he keeps his secrets even when they keep piling up. After all, he's the son of a farmer, and he knows he has to do whatever it takes to protect the crop and his family. This is a complete break in Grisham's usual style, one that readers will want more of. (400 pp.) By Anne Toevs

Audio available mixed

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

Audio available unfavorable

SCARLET FEATHER, by Maeve Binchy, Dutton, $25.95

The trials of starting a catering business are the least of Cathy Scarlet's worries, compared with her domineering mother-in-law, two waifs who landed on her doorstep, and a husband who's too busy saving the world to come home for supper. Unfortunately, the business proves more engrossing than the domestic difficulties. While warm and engaging, this tale is marred by a predictable ending and a simplistic world view, in which one's goodness is inversely proportional to the size of one's bank account. (528 pp.) By Yvonne Zipp

Audio available favorable

1ST TO DIE, by James Patterson, Little, Brown, $26.95

Writing as female homicide inspector Lindsay Boxer, Patterson concocts a violent, graphic, sexual thriller, focusing on a serial killer who targets newlyweds. Boxer forms a club for women colleagues intent on solving the case independent of the police. Two distracting subplots, Boxer's life-threatening illness and an on-the-job romance, detract from what seemed to be a women's bonding story. Coincidentally, the main suspect in the case is an author whose works parallel the real-life grisly crimes. (432 pp.) By Tonya Miller

Audio available favorable

THE DREAMCATCHER, by Stephen King, Scribner, $28

Each year, four friends reunite at a cabin in the woods. This year, they'll meet more than an unexpected storm. This is King at his finest - spooky and other-worldly, hearkening back to "IT" and "The Dead Zone," yet keeping a level of the new-found spirituality of his more recent works. Also, like classic King, there's a big dose of monster movie gore, graphic, but not gratuitous in this context. King fans will find a lot to like, but those new to the genre may consider the complex narrative a bit tiring. (544 pp.) By Alex Kaloostian

Audio available mixed

Cold Paradise, by Stuart Woods, Putnam, $24.95

Police detective gone lawyer, Stone Barrington, is back. This time the love stud must journey to Palm Beach to find the mystery woman that billionaire Thad Shames has fallen for. We come to find out she is none other than Stone's ex-lover and client whom he thought was dead. Despite the handful of scenes graphic enough to earn a chapter in "Sex for Dummies" and the seeming lack of intelligent female life in all of Palm Springs, Woods's writing remains energetic and his characters fun to read. (352 pp.) By Christy Ellington

Audio available mixed

Potshot, by Robert B. Parker, Putnam, $23.95

Once again, Parker brings us Spenser, the Boston-based P.I. In this slightly Spenser-meets-John-Wayne sequel, he must solve the murder of his client's husband in the Idaho town of Potshot, where a band of society's lowest have taken over the protection racket. The police can't deal with the gang's harassment, and in order to solve the murder, Spenser and his crew must challenge the gang and save the town. Parker pulls you into a story, which by a lesser writer, would be unoriginal. (320 pp.) By Jan Moller

Audio available mixed

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, Random House, $26.95

It's New York City at the dawn of WWII, and young Josef Kavalier has escaped from Prague. Determined to raise money to get his family out, he partners with his cousin, Sam Clay, to create a comic series: "The Escapist." This story of escape, survival, and hope is as action-packed as a comic book itself, yet Chabon's prose is hardly cartoonish. His imagination is boundless, his characters multidimensional. This year's winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. (636 pp.) By Amanda Paulson

Audio available favorable

Sticks and Scones, by Diane Mott Davidson, Bantam, $23.95

The 10th bestseller from this master chef of the culinary-mystery follows caterer-cum-sleuth Goldy Schulz as she attempts to solve a murder case in her hometown while preparing Elizabethan fare for important guests. The book includes 11 low-maintenance recipes, but overall the read is indigestible, and the writing is awkward. Throw in an overcooked and unlikable protagonist with a messy plot that requires plenty of tidying up at the end, and you have a recipe for boredom. (320 pp.) By Noel Paul

The Book SenseA™ bestseller list is based on sales from independent bookstores across America. 1-888-BOOKSENSE

* Dallas MXorning News; Library Journal; The Economist; Star-Ledger; Washington Post; LA Times; Boston Globe; Publishers Weekly; San Diego Union Tribune; Fort Worth Telegram; USA Today; Toronto Star; Buffalo News

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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